Physical Activity Stress: Causes & Effects

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will discuss the causes and effects of experiencing stress and anxiety during physical activity. Symptoms and treatments for anxiety will also be reviewed.

At The Gym

Shena recently decided to make a commitment to getting her weight under control, and just joined a local gym. She decides to hit the treadmill first for twenty minutes before heading to the free weights. As she finishes her treadmill workout, Shena finds herself feeling dizzy, slightly disoriented, and hyper-sensitive to her surroundings.

Her heart is racing, but she's unsure whether to attribute this to her workout or something else. She decides to head home and try again the next day. When Shena returns the following day, she experiences the same unpleasant sensations and she wonders what's happening to her.

Physical Activity Stress and Anxiety

After a thorough medical evaluation ruled out physiological causes, the doctor informs Shena that it's quite possible that she is experiencing a reaction indicative of physical activity stress, or anxiety that is produced by exercising.

Although technically exercise is supposed to relieve stress and anxiety in most people, for some it brings on feelings of impending doom, and can bring on anxiety and panic attacks.


The majority of people who experience physical activity stress are no strangers to anxiety, and typically suffer from some form of generalized anxiety disorder. The symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid respiration
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Dizziness
  • Panic Attacks
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sound
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue

People who have suffered from anxiety-induced attacks, called panic attacks, often end up in emergency rooms or urgent care centers, fearing that they are experiencing a heart-related issue.

Due to the intense unpleasantness of these attacks, those who suffer from them often develop anticipatory anxiety, which is anxiety that is produced in situations that are not anxiety provoking, but in which anxiety symptoms have been experienced in the past. For example, someone who experienced a panic attack in a crowded store might be predisposed to developing similar symptoms in any crowded environment.

Because the mere act of engaging in exercise increases heart and respiration rates, this can also leave someone feeling a bit dizzy especially when they are not properly hydrated. Although most of us are able to accept this as the body's normal reaction to exercise, people who have anticipatory anxiety view this very differently and as a result experience physical activity stress.


Although physical activity stress and anxiety is very unpleasant, there are several ways in which to manage the condition and allow someone to cope and live a normal life. The following treatments and therapies have proven successful in dealing with anxiety:

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