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Exercise Gave Me Panic Attacks

December 21, 2013 3 min read

  Workouts gave me panic attacks. (I’m not kidding). Interestingly enough, I had no idea they were panic attacks! It began with a terrible bout of mono. From there I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s Syndrome. Those two maladies mired me in a depression that is hard to verbalize because I didn’t even realize it at the time. I’m editing a book by a chiropractor on chronic pain, and the interesting fact is that when you suffer a chronic condition, the patients are exponentially more likely to suffer from anxiety. What’s a good solution for anxiety? The mind/body connection attained through exercise. The problem was that I had a damaging “sick patient” mentality. I couldn’t work out! “I’m sick, I’m sick,” I said. I had an autoimmune disease, after all. Telling myself, “I can’t” actually made it to where I actually couldn’t work out. Anxiety crippled me, literally. Whenever I tried, I couldn’t catch my breath. My limbs just didn’t function. My legs were jelly, and my lungs simply couldn’t get enough air. I was out of breath – Oh no, my lungs don’t function!I thought. I’m too out of shape to do anything rigorous. Then I found myself gasping for air, feeling like a cement block was on top of my chest, preventing me from getting any oxygen. I freaked out. I even called 911. …the life of an anxious person = exhausting. After going to a pulmonologist because I was utterly convinced that my autoimmune disease destroyed my lungs, I got a clean bill of health. “Do you have any relationship problems? Personal turmoil?” the doctor asked with a face lined in concern. “No, we’re doing great. I’m okay, except I’m just worried about my disease,” I said slowly. I began feeling like a royal idiot. Therein lied the nub of the issue. Something as innocuous as a little concern was preventing me from working out. My body responded to the directions of my brain – “You can’t, you’re sick.” From there I nervously decided to join a yoga class. I repeated to myself, You’re fine. Your lungs function at 95 percent. You’re fine. Because I now believed I was okay and had just been psyching myself out, I started seeing a difference. My body was capable of much more than I thought possible. Slowly, I started shedding my sick person mentality. After all, even if you have a disease, exercise boosts immunity. It’s good for your body. Once I started thinking healthy, I became healthier. The truth became evident: Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are correct. My best friend is an intern with a therapy practice. She says that a lot of what an anxious person needs to do is simply work out. Develop that mind/body connection. See, exercise promotes the creation of excitable brain cells. When these fired up neurons continue firing off long-term, stress – even anxiety – ensues.  So it would easily seem that exercising would cause stress, right? Not exactly. In a study where active lab mice were plunged in cold water (to induce anxiety), GABA, a neurotransmitter, was released and actually quieted brain activity at the same time. GABA soothes the excitable neurons and is also released by exercise. When you exercise, you adapt to inhibit the anxiety caused by the action. Sedentary lab rats took much longer to be calmed after being plunged in the water. When you exercise, over the long-term you learn to inhibit stress. But if you're nervous to begin exercising like I did? Starting is the hardest part. Approach something you find less intimidating (like yoga for me). Do something you find fun, like dancing or Zumba. Gradually work your way up according to your comfort zone or, if you're enjoying a certain practice, then the passion for it will help you stay consistent. Just get moving! Even a walk with your dog - it doesn't have to be Insanity. :) Our needs are different. For me, high impact isn't great with my autoimmune disease. It really is about mind over matter, so if you say you can’t, you can’t. But it’s also about just taking the plunge. Just exercise. The benefits are physically and mentally rewarding. Source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/how-exercise-can-calm-anxiety/?_r=0  

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