Do Fear, Anxiety or Panic Keep You From Walking?

Walking Through a Dark Tunnel

Thorsten Henn / Cultura / Getty Images

Are you afraid to go walking? If anxiety, fear or panic disorder is keeping you from walking outdoors or going to the gym, you are not getting the benefits of exercise.

Everyone is afraid of something, even fear itself. Fear is what makes us avoid dangerous situations. But if fear is keeping you from doing what you want to do, you may have a fear or anxiety problem.

Common Fears That Keep You From Walking

These are some of the most prevalent fears that cause people to avoid walking for exercise or transportation.

  • Attack or assault, mugging, rape
  • Darkness—especially when the only convenient time for you to walk is early morning or late at night
  • Traffic and lack of safe street crossings, sidewalks, and paths for pedestrians.
  • Crowds
  • Insects
  • Fear of worsening a medical condition or suffering a heart attack, stroke, blood sugar crisis, etc.
  • Fear of being alone when walking without a partner
  • Discomfort with people looking at your body while walking on the street or on the treadmill at the gym
  • Fear that you look silly when racewalking or powerwalking

If you have a fear or know someone who does, understand that fear is very real, and it takes time and conditioning to relieve the anxiety associated with the fear. Simple reassurances are not enough.

How to Address Common Fears

With some effort and support, you may be able to overcome your fears and begin walking or participating in another activity you have been avoiding. If fear is causing you to miss out on activities you wish to participate in, admit that you have a problem and brainstorm possible solutions with friends.

Safety Concerns

If you are concerned about your safety when walking, join a walking group or club. There is safety in numbers. You can also select your routes and walking times to avoid dangerous situations. Walk in daylight hours and on paths frequented by other walkers and runners. Learn basic self-defense techniques and attack aversion strategies. Review spiritual, religious, or motivational quotes on overcoming fear.

Body Image

Give yourself permission to look however you look—whatever size, shape or weight, you are or regardless of whether or not you walk in a unique style. You are doing what is good for your body and life. Any negative comments come from those who don't reap those benefits. Walkers and runners are very supportive of people with all body shapes, sizes, and walking styles. You will be applauded especially if you are older, younger, overweight or a racewalker.

Health Conditions

Discuss your exercise plans fully with your medical care provider to learn what precautions you should take, how far and how fast you should go, and any special considerations. Your doctor will most likely be very encouraging of your walking plans.

Fear, Anxiety, and Panic Disorders

If your fears are excessive and are keeping you from leading a full life, you may want to consult a medical professional to see if you have an anxiety condition. If you do, treatment is available to help you feel better and return to activities you are having difficulty participating in now.

  • Social anxiety disorder: As many as 13% of people have a lifetime prevalence of social anxiety symptoms, including a fear of being watched and judged in public.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: If you worry excessively about everything and feel like you have no control over your anxiety, you may have this disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: It's not just for war veterans. Anyone exposed to a traumatic event may experience PTSD.
  • Panic disorder: This condition is characterized by intense, recurrent panic attacks. A panic attack is an episode of a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger.
  • Agoraphobia: If you avoid situations where you might feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed, these behaviors can be a sign of agoraphobia.
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Article Sources
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  1. Richards, T. What is Social Anxiety Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, Prevalence, Medications, Insight, Prognosis. Social Anxiety Association.

  2. Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. National Institutes of Mental Health. Updated 2016