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Fighting Gym Anxiety... 10 ways to make the sweat box less scary.

Eat less. Exercise more. Get more sleep. Don’t worry.

That last statement is completely ruined by the 3 which came before it. Those statements were uttered by someone who was already fully on the path to a healthy lifestyle.

Personally, there is nothing I find more intimidating than people in the gym… or even just people who like fitness and the gym in general. There are so many opinions, ideas, routines, classes, machines, weights, methods, supplements… agh, the list goes on. Where do you begin? And most of these people are already turbo fit, where did THEY begin?

This photo was taken on January 1st 2020... New Year, New Me etc. etc. How long until 'New Year, Pass me that chocolate bar me' comes back?

I am a keen donator to ‘Gym Charities’, meaning that I give my annual membership and quit going within the first few weeks. I wonder how many machines my gyms have bought through my donations. I wonder if I could get an award from the Queen for charitable donations?

This time, however, I am doing it. I am about 6 weeks in and I have only missed a gym session if I had a really, REALLY good reason… (okay, okay, my bed being comfy may have won out a couple of times, but it used to win 100% of the time so I am definitely making improvements)!

One of the things I found hardest about going to the gym, was feeling judged. I am not strong. I use light weights. I can’t run far. I can’t run fast. I sweat A LOT. I look like a tomato within 30 seconds. My hair… it is probably best not to acknowledge that at all.

I actually can't find a photo which represents how awful my hair is... Completely plastered to my head but at the same time sticking out all over the place would be my description to the sketch artist.

I am a target for judgement… or so my evil inner monologue keeps telling me. 

That mean little voice in my head makes me stop going to the gym out of fear that people will laugh at me and talk about me behind my back. 

But not this time. I will not let gym anxiety win.

Here are 10 ways to get over your gym anxiety- tried and tested by Anxiety Girl herself… (that’s my superhero alter ego, if you had not guessed…)

  1. Headphones on. Volume up.

I am all about sensory situations; if I am being overstimulated in one area, it takes away from another. So I am all about putting on headphones and losing myself in whatever I am listening to.

I used to listen to music all the time in the gym. I had this great gym playlist that used to really hype me up. But, I also found that the music could negatively impact me as I would move (run, cycle, crosstrainer) in time to the music, and my pacing would be all over the place causing me to fail faster.

I also found that I wasn’t actually listening to the music, it was just in the background and my inner monologue was taking over anyway, making the headphones an unnecessary adornment which were just making me warmer (I wear over ear headphones as I hate things being in my ears).

I then switched to listening to podcasts. I have to be careful about the podcasts I do listen to, as I have a very loud laugh and when it bursts out I can definitely draw unwanted attention to myself.

I found podcasts to be a great anxiety relief in general, and transferring this to my work outs has been a great way to stay informed (I listen to a lot of current event podcasts), entertained and that monologue is much quieter because I am concentrating so much on what other people are saying.

Also, people speaking keeps a nice rhythm throughout a work out.

So, get your headphones on, volume up, and get moving.

Facial expression is not a pre-requisite for using headphones. 

  1. Realise that no one probably cares about you.

This might sound mean, but it was a great piece of advice that has really stuck with me. A lot of people in the gym are there for themselves.

Maybe they are insecure about something and they are wanting to fix it, or they are super competitive and they want to be beating their goals and constantly improving. Either way, they aren’t interested in anyone else. Accept that, realise how GREAT it is, and you will feel much better about going.

I know that when I am in the gym I have the same recurring thoughts about other people:

  • All females: I wonder where they got their leggings… (I am obsessed with gym leggings, especially those with pockets).

  • Fit people: I wonder what exercises they do? Do they eat? How often do they come? She has a nice bum, I wonder if I will have a nice bum if I squat a lot… I wonder where she got her leggings…?

  • People using gym equipment: What the hell are they doing on that one?

  • People of a larger size: Good on them! I hope I stay as motivated as them! Are they as worried as me? Can they give me tips? Are they progressing more than me? Are they scared?

  • In the changing room: Am I ever going to be confident enough to get naked and change in front of other people?

I am quite a judgemental person, and most of my thoughts aren’t negatively judgemental at all… so I really do think that people only care about themselves.

  1. Set a routine.

Before I go to the gym, I work out exactly what I want to do there so I don’t need to worry about wandering about and finding machines or equipment. I know in my head exactly where I am going and I make sure I have alternatives in case some rude person is already on the machine I wanted to use, and I modify accordingly.

I like being able to tick something off... It makes me feel like I am achieving. I also hate the guilt if I don't tick it off. 

  1. Claim your area.

Once I have my routine planned, I know what equipment I am going to need and the sort of space necessary. When I am working out, I like to have an area to myself which I can take over. I try to make sure it is near a wall, or ideally in a corner to take up as little space as possible.

I don't like sharing. My space is MY space. 

  1. Kill them with kindness.

If I catch someone looking at me, I smile. Not a flirty smile...although I don’t think a tomato can actually produce a flirty smile… but a sweet and innocent smile. People can’t be mean to someone who is cute… right?

I don't think I am ever going to get how people take mirror selfies... 

P.S. I never want to see what my ‘cute and innocent’ smile looks like, as I fear it might be The Joker with sunburn.

  1. Find the right time to go.

I have tested out many different times to go to the gym. I used to hate going when it was quiet because I thought it gave people more opportunities to look at me. So I used to go when it was busy, but I hated that because I thought there were a lot more eyes on me.

Now, I go at 8am because the mad rush of the people wanting to work out before work is over, and really it is just me and some older peeps getting physio. Bliss.

P.S. There is an older ladies aqua-aerobics class around this time and they tend to be getting ready when I am in the changing room… I get ALL my local gossip there!

  1. Find the right gym for you.

Not all gyms are the same. They have different sorts of clients, layouts, specific rooms, classes, changing room setups… lots of things can vary. I have been members of some gyms that I have loved and some that I have hated. I have also been a member of 2 gyms which were up 3 massive flights of steps, and I just thought that was unnecessary really.

Less scary weight room!

Find a gym that you enjoy going to and you feel a bit more comfortable with. I like my current gym because I go with a lot of older people and I feel less judged by them. They also have a mini gym with its own weights... so I don't need to worry about being in a weights room very often! I used to go to a gym in Italy which I hated because it was just lots of skinny people wandering around and posing, rather than working out.

If you hate your gym, you are less likely to go so really invest in doing some trials to find one that suits you.

  1. Key feisty phrases for real judgement.

I don’t really like confrontation, but in my head I wouldn’t shy away from it. I like to have some key phrases in my head for if I ever caught someone openly judging me. I do quite like calling people out on their bad behaviour…

In my made up, anxiety induced drama there are always two beautiful and skinny girls who are pointing and laughing at me… subtly, but loudly enough for me to see them.

I walk over to them and very calmly and quietly say:

  • I am trying my hardest and do you really think hearing you make those comments helped?

  • I hope you feel happy that you have made my already difficult gym experience even harder.

  • Do you feel good now that you have made me feel shit?

I am fairly certain that if I ever did have to do one of these, I would not be calm or quiet and instead I would just be shouting, ‘YOU ARE MEAN!’ as I burst into tears and ran to the changing room.

  1. Trick yourself into confidence.

Change your mindset on your behaviours in the gym. If someone is looking at you, maybe it is because they are wanting to take advice from what you are doing. Maybe they are thinking ‘oh, I could add that to my routine’ or ‘WOW, she is strong!’

You might be completely in denial, but if it is making you confident then that is all that matters.

  1. Realise you are not alone.

I am fairly sure that most people will have felt some form of gym anxiety at some point in their life. It is normal. But exercise is so important for your well-being that you really can’t let your anxiety win.


11. (This is an extra point for glasses wearers) Take your glasses off.

If you really can’t see anything, then this is terrible advice and you should ignore it. My eyesight isn’t great and I wear glasses 90% of the time. I never wear my glasses in the gym though, because I become so sweaty they fall off and become a real annoyance.

I also find that if I can’t see the people judging me, and they are just fuzzy blobs making weird noises around me, my anxiety levels drop. I think I live in a little illusion of ‘If I can’t see them, they can’t see me’.

Note: Not wearing your glasses becomes difficult when you are trying to spy on what other people are doing. I like to take advice from people in the gym by watching the exercises they are doing.

Find some inner confidence and get yourself working out ASAP!

What are YOU going to do to conquer your own gym anxiety? Let me know what you are going to try and how you got on.