Group fitness classes are a great idea in theory, but if you're fearful of working out in front of a bunch of strangers, the experience can be less than ideal.
Debra Kissen, PhD, executive director at Light On Anxiety and a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), says that for some of us, exercising in front of others might be its own special form of hell.
"It's vulnerable," she says. "You might feel uncomfortable in what you're wearing, and the way you're moving your body."
For some, working out is when you're most exposed — whether it's because you're wearing tight clothes or just trying something new, which pushes you to your limits. Either way, those emotions can be amplified when you're in front of a lot of other people. Even if you logically know that everyone else is mostly paying attention to and concerned with themselves.
Dr. Kissen's advice? Do some recon before you jump in.
"Maybe observe a class and look at how much [the people in it are] looking at each other," she says.
If the studio is pretty laid-back, they might let you drop in on a class for a few minutes before you commit to taking one, and you can observe what really goes on. How many people are actually looking at each other? Are they too busy to even look in the mirror at themselves? Seeing for yourself can assuage your nerves. Plus, it'll help you see what to expect, workout-wise.
Once you're there, Dr. Kissen says that the best way to tackle anxiety is to go big or go home — mostly, go big and dive right into whatever you're doing.
"If you’re doing little tentative movements trying to get it all right, it’s just going to keep that anxiety cycle in motion because your body is going to be tense," she says.
In other words, don't think about making mistakes. Chances are, your fitness instructor will offer you some help if they really think you need it, and all you have to do is try your best. If your first session (or first few sessions) doesn't go as well as you'd like, Dr. Kissen says to give it a little time.
"Make a commitment to not just give it a try that first time but maybe at least four times, and the more frequently the better," she says. "If you go once a month, it might stay feeling really uncomfortable, but if you went four days in a row, your brain will get more comfortable more quickly."
Of course, not all of us can afford to go to a workout class that often in a week, but you get the point: The more often you can go, the more comfortable you'll become, even if the first few classes make you really self-conscious. And if you need help quelling your anxiety, Dr. Kissen says that therapists can work with you to help you feel more at ease.
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.