One of the most common lifestyle changes people tend to make when suffering anxious thoughts is taking up exercise. It gets you out of the house, distracts you from your restless mind, and promotes the release of endorphins in your body which make you feel good (endorphins can “act as natural painkillers,” according to Dr Mark Winwood, a Director of Psychological Services).
But did you know there are certain exercises that can be more beneficial for helping anxiety than others? Richie Norton, former rugby player and founder of wellbeing brand The Strength Temple, has suffered with depression and anxiety himself, and knows first-hand just how much exercise can act like a therapy during difficult times. He’s teamed up with AXA PPP healthcare to launch Headstrong, an initiative to shift the nation’s attitude to championing mental health as well as physical health, and has talked Cosmopolitan UK through the physical activities he believes are most beneficial for people with anxiety.
This one might not come as a surprise considering the ancient practice of yoga, famous for bringing together the body and the mind, has been scientifically proven to have the potential to ease the symptoms of stress and anxiety. But with so many types of yoga, Richie recommends deciphering which type works best for you and your body when you’re feeling anxious. “While there are many different types of yoga, the two that are best known for helping with anxiety are either Restorative or Vinyasa,” says Richie, who’s also a yoga teacher himself.
“Practicing a slow, calming breath focused practice like Restorative Yoga (sometimes offered as Gentle Yoga or Yin Yoga) could really help to relax you when you’re finding it hard to cope. The key benefit with this form of yoga is providing physical and mental balance in the body, which helps to prevent stress and anxiety.
“A gentle flow practice like Vinyasa Yoga (which can sometimes be referred to as Hatha Yoga), also focuses on the breath, which can help to relieve the feelings of anxiety too,” adds Richie.
The biggest benefit of yoga when it comes to anxiety is the distraction technique it offers. “When you are thinking about the breath, your mind is less likely to wander off,” the expert points out. “Plus, the controlled count and slow exhalation has been shown to stimulate the calming parasympathetic response of the nervous system.”
“Calisthenics is a form of exercise that uses only the weight of your body and gravity as resistance,” explains Richie – and it’s been known to help reduce feelings of anxiety. “Animal-style movements can help to free you of your inhibitions while gently taking you out of your comfort zone and building your confidence. The key is to let your body go wherever it wants,” he explains.
Plus, you only use your body for calisthenics, making it a completely free form of exercise that can be performed anywhere, at any time.
3. Walking in nature (or getting outside in the fresh air)
“If you suffer from anxiety, then being in public places can often feel completely overwhelming. But being outside in the fresh air helps to provide a mental clarity like no other,” Richie tells Cosmopolitan UK. “By removing yourself from a situation that brings on feelings of anxiety and getting outside to connect to mother nature, you can help to release tension.