Let’s face it. Going to the gym can be downright intimidating and anxiety producing. But, it’s worth exploring strategies for moving through the fear because the gym is an excellent place for camaraderie around fitness, expert advice and structure for achieving health and fitness goals. Here’s how.

Sign up for the tour
Sign up for two tours, in fact. During the first tour just get the lay of the land. Find out where everything is and get answers to your basic questions. Be sure you understand gym rules to reduce the risk of running afoul of fitness club culture. Next, have staff explain how to use all of the equipment. Much of gym anxiety is owed to fear of looking foolish with unfamiliar equipment. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second explanation, it takes (almost everyone) time to learn how to do something new.

Visit during off-peak hours
Gyms often have lots of mirrors. Add to that all the eyes from other patrons and your anxiety level can ramp up quickly. Try visiting when there are fewer people around.

Take a class

Find fellow newbies and non-natives in entry-level classes. In this setting, you are likely to have an instructor who will take time to be sure you are at ease. You’ll also find a few kindred spirits. Smile at someone else that seems anxious, you’ll feel a bit more at ease seeing you aren’t alone.
Enlist a buddy
Drag a friend, spouse, co-worker or sibling if no one agrees to accompany you willingly.

Download a power playlist and let the tunes spinning in your ears transport you to a place where you aren’t moved by anything except the beat.

Dare not to compare
You are uniquely you. Your progress and path are yours alone. Despite how it may seem, gym performance is not a competition. You are equally lovable and valuable whether you can do a mile in 6 minutes or 60 minutes. Remind yourself that you are not at the gym to prove anything to anyone. You deserve to be there even if you are not fit or the world’s best athlete.

Build gradually
If your anxiety is very high, try giving yourself an out. For example, if on a scale of 1 to 10 your anxiety is an 11, tell yourself you will only stay ten minutes. Work out as hard as you can and check in with yourself again at the end of 10 minutes. Give yourself permission to go if anxiety is still off the charts. If it feels more like an 8, consider staying for another 5 minutes and so on.

Have compassion for yourself
Anxiety is a normal, human feeling. Remind yourself that everyone experiences anxiety sometimes, there is nothing wrong with you. When the feeling comes up, try to slow down and notice where it is located in your body. Is there pressure in your chest, is your heart racing, are your shoulders tense? Just notice and take several deep breaths. Notice if the feelings have shifted or changed in any way. Remind yourself that feelings come and go, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t like so much. Offer yourself some compassion using phrases such as I’m having a hard time right now and may I find ease in this moment, may I remember that I am safe. Try asking yourself what you need when seized by anxiety. Or try saying something like, anxiety – it’s you again. What are you trying to tell me? Use that information to respond to yourself in a way that feels comforting.

Going to the gym can be anxiety producing. Give yourself the time and support you need to feel more comfortable. Remember, no feeling is final – they all come and go. Be willing to work out and work through the anxiety whenever possible.