How can we use exercise to improve mood and release stress? Here are a few ways!
Keep an exercise and mood journal to help figure out what’s most helpful.
- Each day, write down when you have different moods (timing and circumstances) and details of your exercise—what you did, where you were, how long, how intensely, who was there, any other details. Pay attention to any trends in your moods and how you exercised. Over time, you’ll learn when and how exercise is helpful for you! There are also some great apps for this type of journaling that can make it easier to track.
- Play with the “Best Exercise” list and see what you find helpful. Combine this with your journal so you can see what’s most effective.
Try the practice of mindful exercise:
- Mindfulness is the practice of noticing or observing without judgement. The end of the definition is the most important! It takes practice, but the practice of mindfulness has been shown to be very helpful for a wide variety of mental health conditions. Try using mindfulness in other aspects of life: meditation, eating, just walking down the street.
- Try mindful exercise: focus on different aspects of your physicality while you exercise and reserve judgement. For example, just notice that you are sweating, the feeling of it on your forehead and dampening your shirt, and hold no judgement. Focus on the feeling of your muscles working as you lift weights, notice if you are tensing muscles that don’t need to be tensed. Feel the air as it comes through your nostrils or mouth and into your lungs, your chest expanding and contracting, your heart beating in your chest. This can be a form of mindfulness meditation that can help you become more confident by allowing you to let go of judgement. And if you notice you keep having judgements about your exercise experience, that’s okay—notice it, maybe even say to yourself “I notice I’m judging this,” and then let the thought go.
Use exercise to help with anxiety symptoms.
- Exercise can also be a way to learn to tolerate anxiety symptoms, and even help alleviate them over time. Much of what happens in your body during exercise is also what happens when you have high anxiety: your heart races, your breathing is heavier and faster, you sweat, you may feel jittery or a little shaky.
- You can use exercise to learn to tolerate those feelings and work to have them without judgement. For example, you could do a fast walk and some mindfulness meditation about your breathing, reminding yourself that you’re breathing faster so you can supply your muscle with oxygen, that it’s normal, and it will be ok. Over time, this can help you tolerate exercise better, as well as helping you stay calm during situations that may be stressful. Use a mental health professional to help you with these skills, if you need support! This can be a hard path to walk, so use those resources.
Listen to some great music that makes you feel good.
Work out with a friend who always helps you feel positive.
Use exercise time to practice positivity (or at least non-judgement!)
- While you’re working out, challenge the negative or anxious thoughts you are having, and replace them with positive ones. If you’re having a hard time thinking of something positive, you can always keep reminding yourself that what you’re doing is possible! Some good phrases to try: “I can do this.” “I’m strong and can finish this workout/set.”
Here is a list of different ways you can get exercise. There’s something here to appeal to a wide range, and we’ve left some space for you to add more—so if you have something else, go ahead and write it down!
- Running/jogging (road, track, trail)
- Biking (mountain, road, stationary)
- Cardio machines (stepmill, precor, arc trainer, etc)
- Lifting weights
- Bodyweight exercises
- Nordic walking
- Cross-country skiing
- Dance (ballroom, tap, jazz, ballet, club, breakdancing)
- Water aerobics
- Yoga (multiple styles)
- Playing with kids
- Rock climbing
- Snowshoeing/snowshoe racing
- Ice skating
- Beach sports (volleyball, soccer)
- Water running
- Sports training
- Martial arts
- Obstacle races
Your exercises! Add them here: