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Exercise and Panic Attacks, Exercise for Anxiety

Exercise and Panic Attacks

Exercising has so many great benefits it’s surprising that so many people are unaware of this.  From my own experience it’s just such a good way of instantly relieving the horrible sensations of panic very quickly.  So why don’t people do exercise?

I think the benefits are fantastic but it does require taking action and perhaps going into an area which you are uncomfortable with.  Many panic sufferers believe that they are unable to exercise because of their condition.  This is totally untrue.  You may have some medical condition which stops you undertaking certain activities, but if you think creatively you can usually find a way to ‘work-out’ in same shape or form. 

NO Excuses

exercise joggingBesides thinking that you can’t exercise many people also find excuses why they cannot exercise.  Through out Positive Panic Attacks I make crystal clear that overcoming anxiety is hard work, and unless you put the effort in you will not recover to be totally free of it.  It’s very easy to just sit in a chair and let your body semi-relax as best it can and not do something energetic.  I know your symptoms can be disabling, intense and overwhelming, but exercise is exactly what your body needs. 

I found that when things become increasingly difficult for me to do like, social events  or undertaking my weekly supermarket shop, there was a tool called exercise that could help.  I did this by going to the gym after work and releasing all my pent up aggression, anxiety and nervous energy.  After an hour in the gym and a hot shower, I felt like a new man.  I found walking around the supermarket was much easier.  I would feel slightly anxious but nothing more than this.  I would no longer be gasping for breath, leaning on my shopping trolley as my legs were wobbly and feeling scared. 

Sakyong Mipham“ Many of us are slaves to our minds. Our own mind is our worst enemy. We try to focus, and our mind wanders off. We try to keep stress at bay, but anxiety keeps us awake at night. We try to be good to the people we love, but then we forget them and put ourselves first. And when we want to change our life, we dive into spiritual practice and expect quick results, only to lose focus after the honeymoon has worn off. We return to our state of bewilderment. We're left feeling helpless and discouraged. It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why don't we think about training our minds?” Sakyong Mipham - Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training the Body and the Mind

 

 

Exercise for Anxiety

Neurotransmitters

Exercise is exactly what the body needs in order to metabolize the flood of neurotransmitters produced by the Flight or Fight response.   

If you start telling yourself negative thoughts about exercise, then you will never take action.  So just to demystify any myths, exercising is not dangerous if you have anxiety.  It’s what your body is expecting – run or fight.  Exercise will not make your symptoms worse.  Although exercise produces a lot of the same symptoms as panic attacks, sweating, heavy breathing, thumping heart, etc.   Once you have learnt to relax during exercise and to accept the feelings that may occur, you will notice any unpleasant sensations will subside.  I often use an MP3 player with my favourite music playing through ear headphones to district any negative thoughts or feelings.  I can assure you everybody is capable of doing some exercise, so there is no excuse for not exercising!

Many believe the flight or fight response will lock your body with fear and prevent you undertaking exercise.  But exercise is the perfect antidote to releasing you from these rigid, panicky feelings and making you feel so much better.

Exercise is great for processing and removing the build up of neurotransmitters in the brain and it helps us return to a state of calm.

 

Neurotransmitters are types of hormones in the brain that transmit information from one neuron to another. They are made by amino acids. Neurotransmitters control major body functions including movement, emotional response, and the physical ability to experience pleasure and pain. The most familiar neurotransmitters which are thought to play a role in mood regulation are serotonin, nor epinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, and GABA.’  Neurotransmitters

As with any program its best to build up slowly.  As you find your body gets stronger and fitter you can then increase the level of the activity.  If you do find yourself feeling anxious during exercise, its best to remind yourself of How to Stop a Panic Attack by disempowering all the unpleasant feelings.  Remember that these sensations are harmless and that once you understand the scientific explanation behind each symptom, you can go forward with complete confidence.  Your body is perfectly healthy, so exercising is fine.  Enjoy the experience as well.

Unpleasant Sensations

 

I have felt the terrible sensations of panic and anxiety and can completely understand that sometimes if difficult to stand, let alone run about.  Also panicking all day is extremely tiring as its takes a lot of energy from the body.  But this ultimately is what the body requires.  It’s simply letting you know that when you sweat, shake, can’t breathe, etc; it’s expecting you to spring into action and burn energy.  When this doesn’t happen, that’s when all this energy has no where to go and creates horrible feelings.  You will find after exercise you will feel better and more energized in a positive way. 

Take small steps at a time and gradually build up an exercise regime.  You may be so ill that just leaving your house is a problem.  If this is the case then gradually work on others areas like relaxation, challenging your thoughts, diet and then start exercising gradually.  Even if you can only manage a 5 minute walk outside at first, work at your own pace.  Keep persevering and eventually you will be able to do more.   You will find overtime you can manage more and more. The benefits of exercise include reducing your panic symptoms, you will be fitter, have more stamina and your confidence will increase.  You may even lose some weight! (If you need to).

Over Ambitious

exercise bikeA common mistake is for a panic attack sufferer to be over ambitious in their plan to exercise.  Remember this is a life style change.  So it’s something to be incorporated into your life tomorrow, in 6months time and in 6 years time.  Of course no-body knows what will happen in the future but it should to be realistic and something that is achievable.  Don’t fall into the mistake of thinking you should be able to jog for 45 mins every other day.  Create a plan that meets your needs today.   Get creative, if you look on  you may find cheap gym equipment in your local area which you can fit into a spare room or garage.  You can then exercise in the comfort of your own home when it suits you.  When you get fitter and have more confidence, you can extend your exercise regime to outside.  You will see your physical endurance improve.

Don’t expect immediate success straight away.  The benefits will sometimes not be apparent straightaway especially if the exercise is not vigorous enough.  If all you can manage is a few minutes exercise a day then start off there.  It doesn’t matter if your neighbour is running marathons or your husband can lift 80 Kg in weights.  Create an exercise plan to meet your needs right now.  The key is to build up to a level of exercise where you’re actually breaking into a sweat and giving you a cardio vascular workout (see other book name).  Ideally I would recommend as a minimum you should be undertaking around 30-45 minutes exercise, 3 times a week.  The exercise should be active enough to make you out of breath and make you sweat a little. 

At the start maybe all you can do is lift your finger, but several months down the line you need to build up to the 3 times a week around 30-45 minutes of exercise.  If you can do more great.  The more you push yourself the greater the benefit will be felt.  Remember it’s what your body exercise skippingwants to do.  It wants to burn energy.  Success breads confidence.  Once you feel your body getting fitter and having more stamina you can push yourself to the next level.  Never over push yourself.  If you’re gasping from breath I would say you have gone too far.  But after a few weeks unless you expend your horizons to feeling slightly out of breath, you will never be fully experiencing the benefits you can get from exercise.

By its nature panic attacks tend to happen in teenagers/young adults which mean the majority of sufferers will be young, and will have probably been involved in sport in their childhood.  So if your young, active and there is nothing wrong you (apart from anxiety and panic attacks) then no excuses, get out there and exercise with a smile on your face.  You will be glad you did.

Once you have built up to a decent level of endurance and physical activity its worth bearing in mind a good ‘workout’ can leave the body with feel good chemicals for up to 36 hours after the exercise.  So if you are looking for the optimum benefits look to exercise four to five times a week.  Personally like most panic attacks sufferers I am not at my best first thing on the morning.  My Diet / Food article explains that after sleeping 8 hours your blood sugar can be low making you feel not at your best.  We are all unique.  If you’re an early riser and after a good breakfast feel like exercising (perhaps before work) then do it.  The obvious benefit of this will be it will set you up nicely for the day will lots of feel good chemicals in your body.  Personally, I don’t like exercising in the morning, so I tend to exercise gently in my lunch hour by walking my dog and then more intensely by jogging, Gym workout or by 5-a-side football.   To be honest earlier in the day would be better as its sets you up for day but do what ever suits you. 

It’s much better to incorporate exercise into a lifestyle, whether that’s after work or before you pick the kids up from school.  You are then much more likely to stick at it.  Fitness classes, spinning, aerobic are a great way of incorporating fitness into your life.  They have the added benefit of being a social activity which will help you overcome social anxiety (if you have this), and hopefully it’s enjoyable as you’re exercising as part of a team.   You can then encourage each other to exercise.

Andrew SolomonListen to the people who love you.  Believe that they are worth living for even when you don't believe it.  Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills.  Exercise because it's good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you.  Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.”  The Noonday Demon [Paperback]

 

To Summarize

Ideally you should be exercising 4 to 5 times a week to feel the ultimate benefits.  You need to undertake an aerobic exercise which makes you sweat and makes you out of breath. Build up slowly to this if your not use to exercising.  Try not to push yourself to hard especially at first, and pace yourself according to how you feel. 

Taking action is the key and you must find someway you can incorporate exercise into a daily regime.  When you get this integrated into a lifestyle it’s much easier to keep it going. 

To help

  • Focus your mind on a distraction activity when exercising if you start to have anxious thoughts.
  • Listen to music whilst you exercise and sing along to your favourite song.
  • If you like jogging concentrate on small landmarks as you jog around block.  Take each landmark as a stage post.  Some days you may be able to jog to landmark 3 and then walk to the landmark 4 (get a breather) and continue jogging.  Other days may be different; on the whole you will see a steady increase in your stamina.
  • Remember your breathing.  Your body will naturally start to breath from your chest area when you increase the intensity of the exercise.  This is normal.  When you’re relaxed you should be breathing from your abdomen area.  Exercise can trigger panic symptoms via chest breathing.  So it’s important we relax during exercise, and try and breathe from our tummy region taking in deep breaths.  That’s why it’s a good idea not to push yourself too much at first but to build up confidence and a tolerance to exercise, so that it does not trigger panic attacks symptoms.
  • Repeat positive affirmations to yourself and really take note of your self-talk.  If you’re telling yourself you feel embarrassed exercising then you likely to produce negative feelings.  If you tell yourself how fit and healthy you’re going to make yourself feel, this will promote positive feelings of self-worth and confidence.

RESOURCES

Books

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being
In this book, psychologists Michael Otto and Jasper Smits present a comprehensive, action-based approach for using exercise as a means to manage mood. In particular, they give much attention to one's motivation for exercise, focusing on the idea that although it will take time to fully address symptoms of depression or anxiety, exercise can provide IMMEDIATE mood benefits. Therefore, the authors strive to help their readers make the actual experience of working out more pleasant. Otto and Smits also address other motivational factors, including preparing for low motivation and directing one's thoughts for success. Later in the book, they talk further about both increasing one's enjoyment during exercise via using mindfulness-based strategies and rewarding oneself after exercise.

Stress Management Skills Training Course: Exercises and Techniques to Manage Stress and Anxiety - Build Success in Your Life by Goal Setting, Relaxation and Changing Thinking with NLP
This book takes an in-depth look at stress, exactly what it is and how to deal with it. The author showa you how to identify your unhealthy stress, and then gives you a number of strategies to help you effectively manage and deal with any areas you want to change. Remember, not all stress is bad, some stress is good and can be healthy - plus it's often a great motivator. Throughout the programme they take a holistic approach to stress management.

 Conquering Depression and Anxiety Through Exercise [Kindle Edition]
Essentially a collection of clinical evidence (and stories) that highlight the extremely strong link between regular moderate exercise (for example, 3-5 times a week for 20-30 mins at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate) and reduction of anxiety and depression. Get your running shoes on!

Free Yourself From Anxiety: A self-help guide to overcoming anxiety disorders
This book I recommend elsewhere but it also contains information on the importance of exercise.  A good general book on anxiety.

GP Referral Schemes: Working with GP Referred Clients (Fitness Professionals) [Paperback]
A good general book to learn exercises for medical benefit. 

Other Articles

What are the symptoms of Panic Attacks?

Prevent Panic Attacks - Challenging the Thoughts which Cause Panic

How to cure Panic Attack Disorder?

Panic Attack Breathing?

How to Stop a Panic Attack?

My Tools of Recovery


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