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Getting over anxiety about being outside?

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Old 02-19-2011, 05:55 PM   #1
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Default Getting over anxiety about being outside?

The weather is starting to warm up and I'm very excited about going hiking and biking soon. I got a whole bunch of cute and comfortable shirts on sale at Sports Authority yesterday (20% off on top of clearance prices, I'm so glad I just happened to decide to go look at their weights!) and I'm really looking forward to wearing them.

The problem is, when I start to think about actually doing it I get panicked about the thought of being around other people. Last summer I ended up going hiking a lot less than I would have simply because when the weekend came I didn't want to go in case we ran into people on the trail.

Biking holds another problem for me because when I lived in Indiana we had abundant trails. My husband and I would go out for day long rides and pack a lunch and everything. But there are no trails to be found here because everyone bikes on the road. I'm terrified by this. I wish I could say it is because I'm afraid of being hit by a car, but really it's just that I'm afraid of being in the way and aggravating people. I would rather not do something I enjoy than aggravate strangers.

I do not want to miss out on all the fun outdoors stuff this year. I even bought a nice sunscreen for my sensitive skin last summer that I ended up not using. I want it to be all used up by this winter! My plan is to force myself to do something outside at least once every weekend no matter what so it becomes a habit.

I'm still afraid that I'll end up hiding again all summer though. It's so silly that is bothers me so much but even the idea of it makes me feel horribly nervous. I start to worry about looking bad, annoying someone, being in the way, people thinking I'm fat, etc. And even though I tell myself no one is going to care about or even notice me enough to think those things I can't make it stop.
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Old 02-19-2011, 06:32 PM   #2
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Do you think it will make you feel better to be out there with someone supportive, like your husband, who can say affirming things to you when you start to get anxious (like, "you're safe", "you are NOT in the way", "you're beautiful just the way you are")?

I'm not gonna lie... it's probably still going to be really scary for you at first. But a lot of things worth doing are, but then it ends up not being nearly as bad as we envisioned at first, and then we feel accomplished for facing up to our fear.

P.S. - You've done an awesome job with your weightloss! If nothing else, it could be rewarding to experience how you feel out there with your body at this new point (and to show off your hot new body! )

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Old 02-19-2011, 06:55 PM   #3
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I picture my anxiety as a little bunch of raggamuffins that trail after me, tugging on my sleeves and saying "watch out, be careful, danger ahead!" It sounds like yours are saying "stay inside, you'll be in the way if you go out there, it's not safe!"

What I do it reassure my anxiety that it can come with me, I acknowledge it, and I then explain that we can feel what we feel but we still are going to move our body in the direction that will lead us towards what we value.

So, in your case, you can say, "Self, I acknowledge that you are nervous about being in the way. That's ok. You can feel that way, but I'm still going to walk out this door and get on my bike and ride down the street. You are free to continue feeling nervous that we are in the way, and I'm going to continue riding my bike."

Acknowledging, accepting and making room for the anxiety goes a long way. And doesn't feel like platitudes by saying "oh you are fine, don't worry about it." Because you are worried, but you are still going to ride and hike and do what you want to do.
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Old 02-19-2011, 07:25 PM   #4
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The problem with this kind of avoidance is that it is that it pays off - it's self-rewarding. When you avoid the feared situation, you are rewarded - you successfully prevent all the bad things you think about from happening.

It's hard to give up behaviors that "work."

So the best way to make it not work, is to go anyway. "Just do it," which is a lot more difficult than it sounds, but it does get easier and easier, honestly and truly.

What's funny though is that it's not always easier across the board. I have no problem swimming in public. I LOVE the water, always have, and learned very young to ignore the critical voices in my head - and in reality. Sometimes I did get stares and comments, but the water was more of an incentive than my fears were disincentive. Even though swimming is easy, when I bought a bike a few years ago, it was relearning courage all over again.

On an objective embarassment scale, I would have assumed that I would be more concerned with swimming than biking (the lack of clothing involved, all the bodies to compare mine to, the more opportunities for commentary...) so I assumed biking would be easier. If I can swim without fear, biking's going to be a breeze, right?

Nope. On one hand, I did learn faster (it took me years to feel ok swimming in public, biking only took a few months), but on the other I was just as afraid. I still had to learn, but the more things I do in public, the easier it gets.

I'm not going to deny that it's easier for some people than others. I've had an easier time with social anxiety than my pretty, thin sisters and some of my pretty, thin friends. I just have an easier time saying "what the heck, if the worst happens, I'll get over it."

If you really can't overcome it by just doing it anyway. Consider talking to your doctor about meds for social anxiety (he or she may or may not refer you to a psychiatrist, because they're more familiar with the meds - it doesn't mean you're "crazy"). This isn't a first choice for anyone, but my sister had extreme social anxiety and was extremely introverted and shy. She really wanted to go on a church trip to Europe though and was terrified of interacting with strangers in the tour group and of flying. I don't know what her doctor prescribed, but it not only helped her during the trip, it helped bring her out of her shell in general. She was only on the meds for a very short time. The meds helped her learn that most of the time, the bad stuff doesn't happen, and even when it does it's never as bad in reality as it is in the the imagination.

Obviously if you can do it on your own, that's ideal, but anything you can do to get out there and do it, even if it's initially a medication or counseling, it's well worth it, because the rewards outnumber the risks. Until you experience the rewards though, it can be really hard to take the risk. To experience the rewards, you have to get out there.
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Old 02-19-2011, 07:28 PM   #5
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I used to feel the same way...the fear or working out in public whether outside or in the gym. Then one day while spacing out at a red light I saw people running and riding by. I realized at that moment that I don't think ANYTHING when people are riding or running by--shape, pace, outfits...nothing. It was at that time that I realized that there is no way that people are paying attention to me either. To ease my way into it, I started walking at a very brisk pace with my dog (I have a yellow lab.) I dressed like I was hiding from the paparazzi!! I wore a baseball cap and giant sunglasses with my ipod strapped to my arm so I could have a reason to ignore anything anyone had to say (like they even would lol.) Then I'd start jogging for a block. When I was out of breath I'd walk. And so on.
Also...when I'm walking or running down the street...I've found that I'm so into either counting how many blocks I've made it, looking out for traffic, mentally pushing myself to keep running, whatever, that I have forgotten all about my self consciousness. And ultimately--I'm trying to increase my cardiovascular health. If people want to criticize me for that THEY'RE the ones with the problem. NOT me.
I no longer have any fear of working out in public.

As for the biking...any chance you could get to a local bookstore...I live downtown in a major city and didn't think there were many trails. I stumbled into a local store and found a book with every trail in the county!! It is a total gem and I reference it often and am so surprised at how many trails are hidden away.

Hope this helps!!

Last edited by lucyford : 02-19-2011 at 07:34 PM. Reason: Left some things out...
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Old 02-19-2011, 07:50 PM   #6
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What you could do is take little steps. Go out for a walk or a run for maybe thirty minutes or an hour with your hubby. Get the feel of the land.
Maybe do it during the week when there are less people? And then work your way up.
If you're upset about upsetting someone else, don't be. As long as you're polite and respectful you'll be fine. If someone has a problem with you and verbalize it you can just apologize, correct your 'mistake' (if there even is one) and keep moving on.

Fretting takes up and adds negative energy.
Don't worry, be happy.
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Old 02-20-2011, 02:09 PM   #7
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Oh man, I know exactly how you feel. This has been a huge issue for me. I love hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, etc, but I find it quite difficult to do these things that I enjoy in a comfortable environment. I get so self-conscious, sometimes to the point of having panic attacks. Even when the only other people around are my friends. I'm always the slowest and the most out of breath, even with friends who hardly ever workout (naturally thin individuals) while I train hard just to be able to be there. Under the right conditions, these activities boost my self-esteem and make me feel great, but under the wrong conditions, they can really get me down. I used to live in a flat city that was easier to bike around, but now I live in Seattle, which is built on large and steep hills. I almost never ride my bike now. My super fit roommate always wants me to bike places with her, but she doesn't understand how emotionally difficult it can be for me.

These are my preferred forms of exercise, but I hate being noticed for my size. Once last year I was jogging in a park and a thin woman passed me, turned around, and said "Good for you." I know she meant it in a positive way, but it made me want to curl up in a ball and never run in public again. I had to keep running though, because I promised my dad that I would run an 8k with him (which I did, twice actually) and I needed to keep training. Plus I wasn't even, and still am not, that big. If this is what it feels like at 180-200, I can't imagine what it would feel like to be any bigger and trying to improve my fitness. I really admire the strength people have to be able to enjoy outdoor activities in public at any size. I have always been relatively fit, even when I was at my heaviest (213). I wish I could just get over this and do the things I enjoy regardless, but it is really difficult.

So anyway, I'm working on it, and you should go for it. Get out there and have fun! Don't let your fears stop you from having fun and getting fit.
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Old 02-20-2011, 03:23 PM   #8
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my heart went out to you, reading this post. I've had some of those same anxieties. Living in NYC being extra sensitive and anxious has been some fun to deal with at times. plus, people here can be dang mean about being heavy (less so now, since the number of large size people has significantly increased over the years). Just do it, sounded like good advice, and helped me.

Grouchy people abound in NYC, and it's pretty crowded in general, so it's impossible to go out here and not annoy or get in someone's way at some point (and pretty often), and people annoy and get in my way too. It's the way of things. You deserve to exist and take up space and enjoy the world as much as the next person. Maybe that thought will help you.

and if 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, I would imagine almost everyone you encounter will be heavy or have a loved one who's heavy (and I don't mean you're heavy when I say that, am commenting in general).
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