alt=friendly people on exercise machines put a man's anxiety at ease at the gym

Overcoming the Anxiety of Going to the Gym

Last updated: September 2022

I couldn’t believe I was in a gym again. The back of the gym was the space where I would receive physical therapy for my shoulder and knees. I didn’t think about needing to go to a gym until I sat down for stretches and saw a group of college students working out with free weights.

I quickly glanced at the psoriasis on my legs, then looked up to check if anyone was staring at me.

The day the gym turned us away...

I avoided going to the gym for years. One bad incident soured the experience for me. When we were newlyweds, Lori wanted to get a gym membership. I applauded her desire to exercise regularly. However, I feared what others might think of my psoriasis.

Back then, my psoriasis wasn’t well controlled. When I asked the gym manager if my skin would affect my ability to join the gym, he said some members might feel uncomfortable around me. Lori and I quickly left the reception area, passing on the free first-month promotion that my wife wanted to take advantage of.

Showing my psoriasis in public

Ever since my teens, I’ve struggled with self-conscious feelings and anxiety in public spaces. In those early years, I covered up my psoriasis as much as I could, even during the hottest summer months.

While I became more comfortable in my own skin over time, I still avoided situations where I would need to expose my skin in public.

Instead of talking to others about these concerns, I hid my embarrassment. If my family wanted to go to the pool or beach, I would make an excuse about needing to work or not feeling well. I deftly steered vacation destinations toward large open spaces in nature, such as national parks, instead of amusement parks or resorts.

The anxiety never really goes away...

I also made it a habit to run errands when fewer people would be present, such as shopping for groceries near closing. When I wanted a short swim or quick sunbathe, I first checked to make sure nobody was at the apartment complex pool.

Given my past experiences and complex coping skills, I wasn’t surprised that after the first physical therapy appointment, I contemplated quitting. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my physical therapist. I appreciated how he didn’t make any comments about my psoriasis or wince when touching my arm to stretch out my shoulder.

When I mentioned I had a skin disease, he just nodded and listened as I explained my condition. But I felt anxious going forward that others might notice my skin.

The journey of feeling comfortable in my own skin

I had put off getting physical therapy for months and felt the urgency to go. My shoulder weakened to the point where I could barely raise my arm above my head. Vacuuming became unbearably painful. That’s when I called for an appointment, figuring I’ll try it once so I could at least say I did.

At the end of the first session, I learned that I would need multiple sessions to stretch and strengthen my shoulder and legs. I had to decide if I would allow the anxiety of going to the gym to keep me from doing something good for my health.

I could ask if a physical therapist could work with me at home, but I wouldn’t have access to the equipment at the gym. Ultimately, I decided to try going to physical therapy at the gym one more time and then reevaluate.

Small steps to overcoming this difficult anxiety

I’ve made it to eight physical therapy sessions so far. Each time I worry that someone is going to ask me to leave because of my psoriasis. But I haven’t had anyone ask questions about it. Everyone, there seems friendly and focused on their own workouts and therapy exercises.

It still takes courage and initiative to go to my every other week physical therapy appointment. I did cancel once when I didn’t feel up to going as my psoriasis flared, so my attendance hasn’t been perfect.

I’m excited by the progress I’m making in strengthening my joints and proud that I’ve overcome the anxiety of going to the gym.

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