Exercise Induced Panic Attacks: What Do You Do?

For many people exercise can be used as a method to control feelings of anxiousness, panic, and stress. It is a method of control recommended by many health care professionals- but what happens when exercise is one of your panics attack triggers? How do you still get your physical activity in without sending yourself into a fully fledged panic?

What is a panic attack? 

According to Dr. Stephanie Long, a medical professional: "a panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers your sympathetic nervous system and, in doing so produces a physical reaction." Your sympathetic nervous system is the system of the body that is responsible for activating the fight or flight response.

Why do I have a panic attack during/after exercise?

The effects that exercise has on the body- the heavy breathing, the sweating, the high heart rate, the chest pressure are just a stone's throw away from a panic attack- meaning that exerting yourself can quickly and seamlessly morph into a panic attack. Once you reach a certain threshold of intensity it makes it very easy for a panic attack to be triggered.

How can I control an exercise-induced panic attack?

Exercise is a vital part of maintaining both your mental and physical health so there is a downside to avoiding exercise all together out of fear of having a panic attack. There is a few ways you may be able to exercise without that happening:
  • Avoid sudden spikes or drops in your heart rate
    You can achieve this by making sure you are warming up and cooling down effectively. This is obviously important for your physical health and to avoid strains and injuries, but by making sure you gradually rise and fall your heart rate instead of spiking and suddenly dropping you can have more control over feelings of panic.
  • Prepare your mind before your workout
    Just like you have to physically prepare yourself to exercise you also have to prepare yourself mentally. This could be giving yourself a pep talk, assuring yourself that if a panic attack does happen it will pass, and telling yourself not to worry about having a panic attack, rather knowing that what will happen will happen.
  • Exercise in an environment that is comfortable 
    TIA Active is all about working out in an environment that makes us feel safe and comfortable- it is the reason that many of workouts can be done at home because that is my comfy space and where I workout from. If the gym heightens your anxiety before you even walk in the door it probably isn't your safe space and it could be time to find an alternative place to workout.
  • Have control over your breathing. It is easy to forget to focus on your breathing during a workout. Make sure you do control your breathing because it can be easy to not notice hyperventilation until its already happening.
  • Distract yourself 
    If you are doing something cardio themed, for example running on a treadmill or running on the stationary bike use a distraction to think less about what is happening in your body and more about what is going on in front of you. Think along the lines of your favourite TV show or loud music.
  • Try to work through your panic
    Don't stop moving your body completely because you are panicking, but tone down the intensity. Don't pack up and leave just because you had a panic attack, it will set you in a routine to do the same every time it happens. 
Do you experience exercise-induced panic attacks? How do you deal with them? Let us know in the comments!

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