Getting angry after exercise
November 4, 2021 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I get really ANGRY/tearful during and after exercise, but not exercising isn't an option. I'm fairly sure I know why this happens, but what can I do to avoid this?

After being pretty sedentary over the lockdown period I'm getting back into some semblance of an exercise routine and it is not fun. After any kind of exercise session (gym/group class/solo Youtube session at home etc) I tend to feel angry and tearful for 2-3 hours afterwards. That whole endorphin thing really doesn't seem to work for me.

This doesn't take a PhD to figure out: I don't enjoy a lot of exercise, a lot of times it just doesn't feel good, I'm always the worst or one of the worst people in the class (a thing that is harder to ignore now that I'm back to in-person classes), a lot of times I can't do the moves or I have to do the 'less difficult' option in order not to injure myself and then I feel like a failure for taking the soft option. A lot of times I can do the harder option but I am very prone to injury so I do need to be careful. I have lots of bad childhood memories around being forced to exercise as a kid, being laughed at during PE, being picked last for team sports etc. Being forced to be in my body makes me focus on what is wrong with it and all the things I can't do, thanks to injury, some chronic health issues and overweight/lack of fitness.

However, I know it's good for me and I do not intend to stop exercising. I also go for walks and things, but I think I need the varied movements afforded by intentional exercise like cardio and yoga, so not doing the classes isn't an option. Also my schedule and location means that I don't have all different kinds of exercise at my disposal, e.g. I have to stick with the classes I currently have access to. So what can I do proactively to feel better after exercising?

There are some similar questions floating around AskMe (which does make me feel better as it means I'm not alone), however, they are more about the 'why does this happen' than 'what can I do to stop it from happening'.
posted by unicorn chaser to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have very specific references, but I think supplements or boosters exist for before or after care for these reasons. It's also why people recommend warm up stretching- it can affect mood.

Honestly, can you buy a bike instead? Or go to a gym with a pool and sauna? Sauna can regulate some of your concerns, and cycling is great for cardio, but not a knee destroyer. The thought is lesser intense exercise will still work your individual needs, but not feel so intense in other areas. This sucks, sorry it's happening!
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:04 AM on November 4, 2021

I loathe group exercise/fitness activities. I love bicycling because it's a solo activity, done on my own schedule and in a totally self-directed way. And the slightly hilly terrain where I ride ensures decetn aerobic and cardio workouts. But I don't know whether your situation makes it practical for you to ride and/or store a bike.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:12 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

It sounds like it's classes with other people that are upsetting to you. I feel the same way and long ago decided exercise had to be a solo experience for me. Are the classes you're taking at a gym? Could you use the cardio and weight equipment there on your own? If you can, but it's overwhelming for you, it might be helpful to invest in one or two sessions with a trainer who can show you how to use equipment and give you some varied workouts to do on your own. I'm sorry this is causing you so much unhappiness - you deserve joyful movement - I hope you will find something that works for you.
posted by tangosnail at 10:12 AM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

Is it possible to focus/prioritize solo/remote classes for the moment? I think a lot of your negative emotions is related to being perceived and judged. That's the key mindset that I would work on. Would it help to have examples of statements that reorient your thinking? You can apply them to redirect your thoughts as you enter a class and as you leave it.

With that work started you might be in a better frame of mind to reassess again your exercise options and pick something that's better suited to you, as I wonder if your choices are influenced by the idea that these are objectively 'the best exercises', when it's subjective. A bad fit can be improved but the process goes faster if the attitude is that the classes don't suit you, not that your body is wrong. And even if these classes are your best options now, it's absolutely your right to adapt the moves as it's appropriate for you. That's why instructors provide them, not to make you feel bad, but for you to join the class in the most optimal way.
posted by cendawanita at 10:14 AM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

You’re injured. You’ve got trauma from being bullied as a kid around exercise, and trauma in general makes it much harder to do things that don’t feel good. Get some trauma therapy, if that is accessible to you, and read about trauma and how it locates in the body. You deserve care, and you are meaningful no matter what happens around exercise. I’m so sorry you got bullied!
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 10:17 AM on November 4, 2021 [11 favorites]

I agree with the person above me at 11:17

There was a time I had this happen to me with regularity and it was not because I was out of shape, or not keeping up with the other people in the class, it was because I had emotional stuff going on in my life that I wasn't processing, and when I flooded my body with both endorphins and stress hormones (exercise is a form of stress on the body, even though it has many health benefits) I would be unable to repress what I was repressing, for a while. Eventually I had to process the stuff. Just giving you another reason why this might be a thing.

It sounds like you need to monitor how hard you're actually exerting yourself to avoid getting into the frustration zone; a heart monitor or smart watch can be helpful for this, also don't work out to the point where your perceived level of exertion is over a 7/10 on a 10 scale. When I started using a heart monitor in the last year as a former athlete who is now fat and has many injuries, I realized I was actually overdoing it most days and needed to slow down. When my heart rate got above 65-70% of my max for too long I would have the emotional/physical hangover after the workout that seemed out of proportion to what I had actually done. However my memories of my former athlete days and also negative body image thoughts were driving me to push myself more than I should be.

Weightlifting and calisthenics at a steady pace are things you can do fairly slowly & still get major benefit for your overall health. Now when I lift weights I strive to not let my heart rate shoot up and make myself take longer breaks between sets, which makes me feel better both during and after. You can do a lot with one kettlebell or two dumbbells in a space slightly larger than a yoga mat. You can do a lot with just your bodyweight and a chair. You don't need to be in a group setting, if that's preferable.

And anyway, the best thing to do is the thing you do consistently and look forward to, so find something that fits that description and do it for several months consistently, even if it's not "the most effective" or the most challenging or the most common thing other people are doing or whatever. The beauty of this not being PE class anymore is that you can design it the way you want and once you reach a level of consistency where your body wants that stimulus, then you can work on making things more challenging to increase your fitness level, if you want.
posted by zdravo at 10:20 AM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

I think the right teacher could make a big difference for you. I don't know what your financial situation is, but if you can afford to have some one-on-one yoga lessons, you might find you have a good basis for practice at home.

One teacher I like a lot because of her client-focused approach is Emily Burrows. You might also try searching on google for gentle yoga online classes. A benefit to online class would be that you wouldn't see other students, so the risk of being mean to yourself with comparisons is much lower.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:28 AM on November 4, 2021

If there is a teacher who made you feel less-than because of a modification, you should never go to that person again. But this sounds like it's coming mostly from your own head. I also despise exercise. I refuse to do anything that requires coordination with others because I just was never good at the team sports thing as a kid (like you, always picked last, taunted for lack of skill, a bit of a femme boy and never had a male coach take me seriously). You might find it less intense to explore options that are physically less intense, like walking, swimming, yoga. I am someone who believes the body physically holds trauma, so some of it might be your body trying to let it go. I once broke down into a full sob for 10 minutes after a modified back bend in a yoga class. Like full on went into childs pose and just wept quietly for 10 minutes on the mat, having no idea why I was upset until days later when I was able to process what I was thinking about during the backbend.

It might help to reframe your thinking going into the exercise. Like set a tiny goal -- "I'm going to protect my knees today and maintain a constant breath through class" and then celebrate the fuck out of yourself at the end for hitting that small goal. It sounds like you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself, and you should seriously celebrate the fact that you are taking care of your health in whatever ways you are able.
posted by archimago at 10:28 AM on November 4, 2021

It sounds like the kind of exercise you’re doing isn’t a good fit for your physical skills and personality / history. I think part of exercise being the right fit is that it mostly feels good. If it’s triggering unpleasant feelings to this extent, maybe a different type or f exercise in a different setting would be a better fit?

It’s also true that trauma is held in tight muscles so maybe you’re releasing something and it will feel better down the line. If you think it’s that, therapy on class days might help.

But for what it’s worth, it’s not necessarily because of your body’s size, skill level, life history, or injury prone-ness that you hate group classes- You might just hate them because they’re kind of annoying!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:31 AM on November 4, 2021

I have a story for you that I hope will help, and then some strategies. When I started working out I could have written your post word-for-word. I hired a trainer over the phone who turned out to be a blonde bombshell body builder. The gym I also picked over the phone had professional athletes working out.

My trainer took me over to the mirrors (!) with free weights (!) my first day and gave me a barbell that was maybe 5 lbs. Next to me was a Toronto Blue Jays player with a barbell with like, I dunno, a million pounds. She had me doing bicep curls. Then she made me watch him. Then she said, and seriously changed my life, "you're doing exactly what he is doing. You're working where you are in your range, and he's working where he is in your range. The effort is the same, or even more for you since it's new."

Genius. It's true. Look, the people around you are working in the same place you are - at the point for their bodies that they are exerting themselves to get stronger. That's it. Physed classes give us the idea there's a point of failure or a range that's acceptable but that's bullshit garbage that needs to go. You are working as hard or harder than anyone in the class and it's just about the work.

I hope that helps. Anyways here are some strategies:
- listen to a good book or podcast while you're working out, if it's not a class
- after a class have a treat for yourself planned like meet a friend, have a fancy tea, queue up a video you've been looking forward to, have a nap
- try to get angry before the class and use the class to spend the anger - I'm not sure I can explain this right but for me getting angry about something not me before helped
- hang in there, it does overall get better - you may never love it but your comfort level should increase

Also as a fitness insider - instructors just simply want you to be there. Literally none of my instructors ever are interested in what people couldn't do. They are a bit self-obsessed like "I was losing the class at the 24 minute mark" or "I showed this move backwards."
posted by warriorqueen at 10:34 AM on November 4, 2021 [30 favorites]

I know it's a bit woo, but there really is something to the "your body is using the exercise to work through some emotional shit" angle. It might not be the main thing behind your specific anger response, so I'm not trying to invalidate your self-reported explanation. I just don't think your narrative reasons and the physiological reasons are necessarily at odds with each other.

I also find that I seldom feel "better," as in, "happy" or "cheerful" after exercising. Instead I am often very tearful or alternately, like you, pretty angry. But the thing is, I don't think I'm NOT those things the rest of the time; I just have the blocks in place to feel them less and definitely express them less. After a workout everything I have been tamping down and boxing in comes right up to the surface; either I don't have the energy to tamp it down OR, alternately, now I DO have the energy to contend with it.

So rather than try to make it stop I have just sort of embraced it as part 2 of a good workout: the emotional workout. Fuck that instagram bullshit with sweaty people bragging about how fucking great they feel after CRUSHING IT. First, they're probably lying half the time, and second, they aren't me! I don't feel great! I am tired and sore and I had a shitty childhood and there's a pandemic and I'm fucking sad and pissed! And that's fine! I should be!

Negative emotions aren't bad to feel; they help you reckon with those shit memories and shit narratives that are plaguing you. They put you in touch with what is going on underneath your social-facing mask. The more you contend with them on their own terms the more you will start to resolve them.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:52 AM on November 4, 2021 [16 favorites]

Added: "I know it's a bit woo, but there really is something to the "your body is using the exercise to work through some emotional shit" angle."

It's actually scientifically broken down in Nagoskis "Burnout," exercise unlocks tension that keeps people in a lesser mobile state by unlocking the stress cycle and regulating stress/depression. ..just fyi.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:55 AM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

It sounds like (you already know) this is trauma. So when you work out, you're pushing the limits of both your physical system and your emotional system. In theory, as physical exercise gets easier, the emotional component of exercise will also get easier, but not if you don't have social support and people around you who recognize that your reactions are normal and okay to have. So, let me pile on with the rest of the commenters above and say: your reactions are normal and okay to have! You are doing the hard things!

As a side note, I've read some recent stuff about the use of d-phenylalanine (considered a relatively safe dietary supplement in the US) in a rodent model of fear extinction, and I think taking it before or shortly after anticipated stressors like dentist appointments or anxiety-provoking meetings has helped me fear those events less when they come around again. Could be a placebo, your mileage may vary, but it's something to try.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 11:58 AM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I too was always last picked for teams and gym class was torture. I find I am able to feel better about exercising if I focus on how much my body has done for me over the years (I'm 62) and how grateful I am for what it can still do. While I'm working out I think, "These legs might not be the greatest but they are mine, they've carried me so many places in my life. They might not look good and they sometimes hurt but in the past they got me to the top of the Eiffel Tower, they've danced my wedding dance, swam in the ocean and let me run around playing with my little nieces. They've helped me in countless ways to do so many things I love. They get tired now or sore but still they keep me upright and moving forward. I am grateful for my legs. I love my legs." Continue on with our back and arms etc., thinking of all the wonderful things they've allowed you to take part in throughout your life. Be specific.
posted by FormerMermaid at 12:02 PM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

There's some great advice posted above. I'll just add this bit:

I saw a photo meme thing circulating the other day that (I think) was meant to be humorous and the basic sentiment was "I don't want to exercise. I want to have exercised." It actually got me right between the eyes. I run, and I only sort of enjoy it (and then usually not towards the very end), but I always feel good later in the day. Directly afterward, the usual feeling is "well that's over, thank goodness."

So I shifted my focus to the after-feeling as the motive for getting out there. Especially this time of the year, when I crave the sunlight for combatting winter-seasonal blahs. If walking and moving around that way is something you enjoy, I'd say do more of that! You'll get the cardio, the outdoor time, and so on. On a regular route, you'll start seeing other regulars and in my head we're sort of an informal tribe. Hey, it's That Person Who Always Has The Dog! And there's Older Couple! I wonder if Recumbent Bike Trio is out today. Here comes Marathon Guy - he looks intent! We all wave at each other, etc.
posted by jquinby at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2021

I didn't see this mentioned, so apologies if I missed it. Could you save your gym/class money and hire a personal trainer instead? I think that might be a great way to sidestep the comparisons and build some confidence. Plus it improves accountability which might get you to a place of this being less of an issue.

Also, I saw on here in another post a recommendation for the Fitness Marshall on YouTube. He strikes me as funny, kind, and models a positive self talk voice. If you haven't tried his stuff you might find it helpful.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:23 PM on November 4, 2021

Wild card idea, but since you say you're committed to carrying on with the classes...

Do you ever stop and chat to other people in your exercise class afterwards, or do you dart away feeling awful? Because chatting with other people in the class is a good way to discover just how mortal everyone else in your class is too, how they were also struggling with elements of it. It also reminds you how completely and utterly they were focussed on themselves and not anybody else around them. And gives you the chance to build some positive social experiences around the session instead of just feeling awful. A few words exchanged on the way out one week can become a quick chat the next week and over time it can make a difference. Maybe you're doing all this anyway, but just an idea.

It stops the class from feeling quite so much like it's made up of "All those people in class who can do it... and me". Instead it's "My friends Ava and Biba, who I have a running joke with about how every yoga class is nothing so much as an hour long exercise in trying not to fart in public and we quietly catch each others' eye mid session when the class overachiever is being particularly overachievy" or whatever.

Source: I once lived in a really small community and did a yoga class where pretty much all of us knew one another before we even started the class. We all had that running joke about trying not to fart in yoga class, the end of our sessions were like a plenary discussion on which exercise had brought us closest to farting, which covered up all of our frustrations about which exercises we'd found difficult, gave us the release of laughter, made us all feel on a level with each other again and like it didn't really matter that we couldn't do it. One day, someone who'd arrived in the community for some short-term work, who none of us knew, came along. And she actually farted. And if it had been any one of us we would have all dropped from our poses and hooted and cheered with relief that it had finally happened and we could all relax, and the farter would probably have been carried out of the school hall on our shoulders. But we didn't know her, so we were on best behaviour and nobody reacted. At the end of the session, she darted out of the door as quickly as she possibly could and we never saw her again. If she'd only hung around for five minutes as we all rolled up our mats, she might have discovered that she was the same as everyone else and been bombarded with love and good humour and been invited down the pub.

Which is all to say: Exercise classes are full of poker faces, but they're all covering up a huge variety of physical and emotional goings-on that you'd never guess unless you got talking.

I say all of this as someone who has literally come last in races. And who has been last in organised jogging group sessions where I was the actual jog leader. I know how it feels to be the exercise dunce. Wishing you the best. I'd chum you to a class if I could!
posted by penguin pie at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

It sounds like it's classes with other people that are upsetting to you. I feel the same way and long ago decided exercise had to be a solo experience for me.

This is me, so maybe you can play the long game and be like "Classes are where it's at for me right now and over time as I start to _______ (whatever the goal is) I will work towards doing more on my own which is my happy place"

Because, I am one of those people who really don't like exercise. I was slow and scrawny as a kid and I got teased a lot, picked last for teams, whatever. And at some level when I was going through some stuff a long time ago (bad breakup, thought I'd never recover) I started taking a daytime yoga class. And this class was a misfit class in a lot of ways. A lot of very elderly people. Some people who clearly had some physical challenges. One lady who was heavy enough that movements were difficult for her. And the teacher was so unbelievably supportive and amazing with everyone. Everyone got personalized attention, everyone got a pose that would work for them. No one was encouraged to "push it" any way that they didn't feel comfortable. And as much as the exercise was helpful for me, it was also so healing for me to feel like I was in the right place, not the wrong place, in relation to exercise. That there COULD be a right place for me in terms of exercise.

I brought that idea forward with me, that if there's a exercise situation where I don't feel right, maybe it's that thing, and not me. And that doesn't mean don't go to classes, but maybe be okay with just not liking them much right now, for good reasons. And then afterwards, be kind to yourself and treat the emotions you are feeling but don't go back and rehash the exercise class, for now. Take a great shower. Pamper yourself with some things that smell great. Get some great shampoo or soaps. Put your feet up and read/watch something you really enjoy. Be like "Nice going me, that sucked, let's keep doing it for a while and eventually we'll get to a place that feels better"

Because for me, the big change was swimming. An absolutely solo activity that made me feel strong and powerful in the water. I had to get out of my own head to do it. I got a great shower afterwards and it made my skin feel good. That got kind of screwed up during COVID but now I go for walks alone, with my favorite podcasts, wave at neighbors, get some sunshine. I still don't like it THAT much, but I come home feeling okay about things, ready to shift gears into whatever else I am doing. I have some good-for-me snacks that are for afterwards. I sleep so much better on days when I get a good walk in. Exercise can be medicine in a lot of ways, in both good ways and bad. Go you for doing the thing!!
posted by jessamyn at 1:28 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I didn't learn how to breath while exercising until the last few years. Your breath is your fuel. Anger and all often is the way the body gets adrenalin going to get oxygen to our organ systems. While exercising make sure you breath out on exertion and in, in between. I had to find a waltz tune for walking, two breaths out one breath in. I am fat and never short of breath as long as I remember to breath on exertion. After exercize, totallybrelaz and let your body have air and a break. Don't think. Don't measure yourself against others.
posted by Oyéah at 3:03 PM on November 4, 2021

if you're going to be angry either way, maybe try martial arts classes for exercise?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:05 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another tack, perhaps: I found that I stopped hating a lot of things that I *have* to do in my life, but don’t enjoy doing, when I reframed it as taking tender care of myself. It became less begrudging and feels more like self love. I’m talking things like doing the dishes, flossing my teeth, keeping the cat box clean.

I wonder if this reframe might help you turn around your exercise experience and the self judgment that permeates your question. The way to improve any aspect your physical fitness is to exert yourself just past the point of your comfort zone, repeatedly. Not a lot farther than point, because that’s where injuries and burnout happen.

So, maybe recalibrate your expectations about what your physical limit means. Working out right up to the uncomfortable edge of your capacity, and no more, is taking tender care of yourself. Giving your body a right sized challenge so you can be stronger and fitter, because you want to treat yourself with care and kindness and do whatever you can to be as healthy and capable as you can be.
posted by Sublimity at 6:36 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Are there any movements or movement activities that bring you joy, and that don't carry as much of a risk of injury for you? What happens if you put on your favorite music and dance by yourself in your house? Are you still angry if you're not comparing yourself to other people?
posted by bluedaisy at 12:46 PM on November 5, 2021

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