Can you really pull yourself out of a panic attack?

Probably not, writes our columnist. But the benefits of focusing your mind and engaging your muscles are a win in themselves.

During a particularly terrible period of relentless anxiety, I begged my therapist to find a tangible solution, something I could do to improve my situation. He told me to get on the treadmill three times a week for 30-45 minutes. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, has been shown to relieve anxiety in research studies.

Desperate to change the horrible feelings I was having, I took his advice to heart. I went to the gym every day and ran mile after mile. If it was 8 p.m. on a Saturday night and I was too excited to see friends or go out to dinner with my wife, I would get on the treadmill, start a podcast, get my heart rate up to 120, and do some more. of kilometres.

The result after three months of this: I lost 30 pounds. My anxiety? It was a little better. Don’t get me wrong, exercise helped me, but it wasn’t the solution to all my problems. It was, however, a temporary relief from some of the symptoms I had been dealing with. Moving my body released mood-boosting endorphins. Also, for the hour or two I ran on my hamster wheel, I wasn’t worried about anything I had done wrong in the past or anything that might go wrong in the future. coming. This awareness of the present moment felt a lot like relief. My anxiety was still affecting my quality of life, but instead of only being able to hide in my apartment in a cocoon of fear, I could now add the gym to my short list of safe spaces.

A way to take control

This wasn’t the first time exercise had improved my mental state. In fact, when I think back to the past two decades, exercise was a big part of my lifestyle for most of the time when I was able to put my anxiety aside. When I practiced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu four times a week, I felt more in control and more resilient. BJJ is a wrestling martial art derived from traditional judo and other disciplines, and winning means forcing your opponent to punch. More than just a tough cardio workout, BJJ got me into awkward situations (like a triangle choke or being mounted) and made me think and pull through. You need to stay calm, focused, and rely on your training to get out of a painful hold. For an anxious person, it’s both a nightmare and a valuable life skill.

One of the best anxiety therapies I’ve experienced has been training with Christian Montes, BJJ Black Belt and Gracie Certified Instructor. He was aware of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and made me and the rest of the students feel like I was in a safe and controlled environment, even during combat.

Two steps forward, one step back

On the other hand, exercise can sometimes mimic the symptoms of a panic attack. During a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session, my heart rate jumped and I had trouble catching my breath, which is completely normal for anyone who exercises. intense. And sure enough, my post-PTSD mind and body recognized the familiar effects of fear, so they did what they usually do: turn them into a full-blown panic attack. It’s actually a thing, backed by a study. Isn’t that a slut?

My advice for people who have frequent panic attacks and want to increase their cardio is to be very kind to yourself. Understand that these uncomfortable feelings are normal. Most people get out of breath at the gym! Remember that they are not always the first signs of a panic attack. (It took me a while to figure it out, but if I can make it happen, so can you.)

Exercise is an important part of living your best life with an anxiety disorder, but it’s only one part. A Spin course will not stop all your panic attacks. But it might help smother the one you’re cooking up right now. And if you don’t, well, you’ll be a stronger, faster, leaner version of yourself, which has to count for something, right?

Eddie McNamara

Meet our writer

Eddie McNamara

Eddie McNamara is a 9/11 first responder turned vegetarian chef and author. He’s been living with panic disorder and PTSD for 17 years, and he’ll be sharing his hard-earned experiences, thoughts and advice each month.

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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