I recently read an article about Panic/Anxiety issues that was posted on July 12, 2011 by the Stone Hearth News. It was titled “Panic, related disorders may be lessened with physical activity: new study”. The quick and dirty of the article was basically that a person’s sensitivity to anxiety/panic attack triggers can be lessened with exercise. Obviously, those with higher anxiety sensitivity have an elevated risk of experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. The article goes on to talk about carbon dioxide enriched air being introduced to exerciser and non-exercisers and how the exerciser were less likely to report increased levels of anxiety. I didn’t really buy that part of the article, but that really isn’t my purpose here.
Being an exerciser and a sufferer of anxiety related issues (mostly behind me now), I agree whole heartedly that exercise will reduce anxiety issues. My anxiety peaked in my early twenties and was debilitating to the extent that I truly thought that I was going to have a break down. After going to the doctor and being prescribed Zoloft, Lorazapam, and Ambien, and taking the meds for a couple of weeks, I decided that chemical medication was NOT the route I was going to take. It was awful. I slept about 2 hours a night if I didn’t take the Ambien. If I did take the Ambien I was freaking zombie. I would do all kinds of things in my sleep (including driving my car) and have no recollection of it in the morning. Crazy, scary stuff. The Lorazapam just gave me the Jeff Spicoli mashed potato head and rendered me useless. So, with this new found motivation to work things out on my own, plus the understanding that I was not in fact going nuts, I started exercising and paying attention to what triggered my anxiety and slowly but surely I have gotten a pretty good hold of things.
The number one thing I noticed was that exercising increased my self-confidence. Fear of the uncertain played a large role in my attacks. I was hesitant to step outside my comfort zone, meet new people, and try new things. I didn’t want to appear awkward or uncomfortable so when I felt that way, the cycle would begin. As my exercise routine began to progress and goals were accomplished and replaced with new ones, I started to notice that my interaction level with strangers began to increase. All unfamiliar circumstances were less intimidating and I knew that I could handle any situation I was put in. This positive cycle began to replace the old negative one. As I handled more and more uncertain circumstances, the more confident I became and the more uncertainty I would take on.
I believe there are several other factors that come into play here as well, such as the decrease self-consciousness about my body and chemical reactions in the brain as endorphins (natures anti-depressant) are released but I don’t see the need to make this any longer than it has to be. It was all kinda summed up for a couple years ago with a Mark Rippetoe quote, “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.” I’m no Rip disciple, but he certainly knows his niche and this quote really rang true when I think back about why I was having problems back then and how far I’ve come.