Exercise to Treat Anxiety on the Spectrum

Exercise to Treat Anxiety on the Spectrum

Life on the spectrum involves navigating different social and sensory environments every day. This can feel overwhelming, and it’s why many autistic people experience high levels of anxiety. 

Whether you feel nervous all the time, or you get a little antsy sometimes, we have an idea. You can exercise to treat anxiety on the spectrum. Read on to learn how physical activity can help you regulate your nervousness!

Please check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Anxiety and Autism

Anxiety disorders often come with ASD diagnoses—that’s why you should develop a plan to address them. You may not know for sure whether you have an anxiety disorder, but that’s okay! If you ever feel stressed or worried, even in normal situations, getting some exercise can still help you.

In addition to exercise, there are several ways to reduce anxious feelings. They include:

Knowing your triggers. You may get nervous about things that others don’t—and vice versa. Consider keeping a diary to note when you feel anxious and where the feelings are coming from. That way, you can try and avoid those situations in the future.

Self-soothing. Some people find sensory tools very helpful in reducing anxiety on the autism spectrum. Give them a try if you haven’t experienced them before.

Relaxation activities. We will talk about yoga and stretching shortly, but you can also do breathing exercises to reduce anxiety. Try inhaling through your nose, then slowly exhaling through pursed lips. Meditation is also a great way to calm yourself down—here’s how to start if you’re unsure.

Mood Booster

Anxiety is known for coming with crummy feelings. It may cause you to panic or give you a churning sensation in your stomach. Physical activity fights those feelings by improving your mood. This allows you to either ward off anxiety with positive feelings or replace nervousness with upbeat energy.

How you go about exercising is up to you! Some people start their day with physical activity to get things off on the right foot. Waking up and stretching your muscles can help you greet the day with optimism. You can also exercise to work out your anxiety after the fact. Anxiety tends to come with energy, so going for a jog after a stressful experience can calm you down.

Calms the Mind

Many exercises are centered around a routine. Lifting weights, for example, involves repeated sets in a particular pattern. This repetition can often help you become more peaceful, even after extreme nervousness. 

Physical activity also increases endorphin production in your brain. Endorphins are hormones that make you feel good, and they are why many exercises end with a satisfying feeling. 

Improves Social Health

Those feel-good hormones can also make you more motivated to spend time with your family and friends. Exercise may help you reduce feelings of stress when you need to be in a social situation. That usually leads to a more comfortable social experience since you aren’t worrying while you’re in it.

Depending on your exercises, you may even meet new people while you work out! If you go to a gym or play a team sport, you can make friends while decreasing your anxiety.

Raises Self-Confidence

Many people deal with anxiety and low self-confidence at the same time. Exercise helps you strengthen your body while making you more and more fit as you work out. This can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem even before you notice visible results. Feeling stronger is very empowering, even if you can’t see the muscles that are forming yet!

Where Should You Start?

Now that you understand why you should exercise to treat anxiety, let’s talk about how to start!

Yoga and Stretching

You’ve probably heard that yoga is great for calming the mind while boosting your flexibility—and it’s true! Yoga and general stretching are great ways to get in touch with your body while performing calm, focused actions. If you’re looking for active exercise, we would still recommend stretching before your workout to warm up your muscles.


Exercises like walking, running, swimming, and riding bikes are examples of cardio workouts. This type of exercise means you’re repeating an activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe harder. 

Our walking challenge is a great tool to keep yourself motivated—check it out!

Workouts that get your heart rate up are excellent for treating anxiety because nervousness often targets your heart. The next time you feel anxious, take note of how fast your heart is pumping. Cardio strengthens your heart and can help you keep your heart rate down, even if you’re feeling stressed.

Recreational Exercise

There are dozens of different activities that will give you a great workout, so pick what you like! From martial arts to sports to rock climbing, consider choosing an exercise that’s fun for you. This will help motivate you to work out regularly, since you actually enjoy doing it!

Do you suffer from anxiety? Now that you know how you can exercise to treat anxiety on the spectrum, start your fitness journey. We would love to hear about your progress—how has working out helped you fight stress? Reach out on Facebook or Instagram and let your friends at Ability Life Solutions know how it’s going!

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