‘I feel more anxious’ – How lack of physical exercise triggers negative emotions

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Students experience increased feelings of unease as gyms remain closed for at least another month because of the extended lockdown in the Netherlands.

Research has shown that unused energy creates mental tension and that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Many are beginning to experience the  strong link between mental health and exercise firsthand, as the options for physical activities remain limited.

“You can’t replicate the gym at home,” says Corey Cashman who studies clinical psychology at the University of Groningen. He used to work out four to six times a week but now that gyms are staying closed, getting regular exercise has become difficult. “It’s difficult to think clearly because you can’t blow off steam. To me, not training is more of a strain than training,” says Cashman.

Dr. Yannick Hill who is a teacher for developmental psychology and specialized on sports sciences, confirms that the changing of daily routines in terms of physical exercise can be unsettling. “Sitting at home the entire day to work or study is a big problem,” says Hill. “When you are prohibited from sports and don’t move very much the feeling of anxiousness could be attributed to people being aware that they don’t live healthily.”

Corey Cashman first signed up at a gym when he was 16 years old. For Cashman the reason to follow a fitness scheme in the first place was to gain weight, because he was “very self-conscious about being skinny” in his teens. He explains that to him adhering to a fitness plan has improved his life significantly. When he wasn’t able to follow his routine anymore as a consequence of Corona, he noticed changes, both mentally and physically almost instantaneously. “I got very frustrated and felt fragile. I also started losing a lot of weight and wasn’t eating as clean as I should have been,” says Cashman.

Student for clinical neuropsychology Lynn Hugel, who has been going to the gym consistently for the past five years, also says that not being able to work out poses a real burden. According to Hugel the disruption in her exercise routine is difficult to deal with. “I feel more anxious and more moody in general. I need to move my body to  feel calm,” she says. “I noticed that not having that outlet is hard, especially during the exam period.”

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