Exercise-induced panic attacks?: Is it... - Anxiety Support

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Exercise-induced panic attacks?

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Is it possible for anxiety to get worse during exercise? Ever since I was a kid, I have struggled with my breathing and fast heart rate when running or walking, or any form of exercise. I thought it was due to something physical and being unfit however I was extremely active as a child so i don't think it would be anything physical but i'm unsure. This anxiety still exists now, even when i'm just walking i feel my throat close up as if i'm starting a panic attack... i've been so scared to get back into exercise due to this stress, it seems that exercise has the opposite effect on me and that's why i do not find it therapeutic or relaxing even afterwards. Does anyone else have this issue? I've done brief research and I know this is possible but there are just so many possibilities, will probably see my doctor about this to see if anyone can rule out any physical reasons so i can stop having health anxiety about having some sort of physical problem.

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I have the same problem and when I was little, I was fine. I think its anxiety related, because when I sit down or slow down, my heart slows and I can breath.

Hi kelly555, I just finished some physical work outside. The outside basement stairwell collects leaves, dirt etc. I put my surgical mask on when sweeping it because it fills the air will heavy dust.

It took a while the first time I did it in order to realize I was working hard, holding my breath while sweeping and trying to breathe through the mask. It's hard work but I no longer get panicky doing it. It's all about letting go of the thought of anxiety and thinking rationally that when you are exercising or working hard, you better hope your heart is keeping up with you. x

Me too, my thoughts are that we lack the good feel chemicals that are "allegedly" released during and after exercise!! Possibly due to excessive anxiety induced chemicals that are "definitely" released during exercise because we are not happy at doing exercise, as we are in a lot of pain, accompanied by terrible depression, which in turn causes our anxiety levels to spike!! Just a thought! John.

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Agora1 in reply to aber218deen

aber218deen, and yet, I'm in a high right now from working outside. I can feel my endorphin level is high. Nothing does it for me like accomplishing something. I will agree that we are all in a different level of anxiety which can make the difference chemically.

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aber218deen in reply to Agora1

Hi agora1, it's strange for me, as I never get a chemical high, I honestly don't know what it feels like! But I'm glad that you and other's in our situations get some "happy" chemical releases. John.

the thing about exercise is it does mimic the same sensations as the start of having a panic/anxiety attack...the fast heart beat the sweating the difficulty in breathing...so i understand why you feel this way.

it took me a while to educate my brain into realising exercise,in my case walking,was good for my anxiety and that all those symptoms were getting rid of the built up adrenalin in my body which was causing my anxiety.

even when i'm really anxious i force my outside and i admit it's really uncomfortable sometimes and doesn't always work but i know the alternative is me hiding away and the anxiety getting to nerly unbearable levels and lasting a lot longer...stick to the exercise maybe at home at first if you're feeling too anxious then gradually going out then a gym...i wish you well...john

Interesting about built-up adrenaline! I'm talking propranolol daily and for the past few years, so I'm wondering now if you need some adrenaline to be able to get a chemical rush during exercise? The reason for this question is I used to work as a milkman for many years, and walked about 5 miles a day, and never got good feel chemical releases! I only got pain and fatigue!! At the time I thought this was "normal"!! So there's something going on with me that has caused this (so far) life long condition!! So I don't know. "help". John.

i think it's a fine balance of not having enough adrenalin and having too much.

i get Propranolol,i still can't spell or say that properly lol,from my Doctor when my anxiety starts to affect my heart beat but i only take it for a month or so but i've heard some people say it's great for reducing the rush of adrenalin which can cause anxiety.

It really is like finding a needle in a haystack sometimes knowing which,if any medication and how much you should be on.

I really do find walking eases my anxiety and if i've had a good long anxious free walk i find my anxiety and mood lifts and think that must be some good chemical being released into my blood system that does that.

i wish i could bottle it and cure us all...john

Hi again John, bottling it would be wonderful!! So the onus is on your shoulders to get this chemical, so I can put an order in!! LOL. Regarding the propranolol effects on adrenaline, I had a horrendous weekend and was really suffering with huge anxiety and took a couple extra propranolol than what is prescribed, and felt a little bit more relaxed! So now I'm thinking it was excessive adrenaline that was causing the rise in the normal levels of anxiety that I normally have day to day? I don't know! John.

i think you may be right but don't go popping to many extra.lol.

i've got an appointment with my Doctor soon and i'm going to ask to be put on the propranolol for an extended period to see if this helps...i'm on paroxetine just now which helps my depression but i'm not sure it helps my anxiety that much...it's like the old Woolworth pic n mix lol trying to get the right combination.

i'm wary of being on too much medication and my walks along Ardrossan shore help but i'm willing to try anything to help ease this awful illness...john

Hi John, rest assured I only took the extra propranolol to combat the horrendous levels of anxiety over the weekend. If you read my post on the PTSD forum, you will see why I had to try them. I'm feeling a lot better today, so it's back normal service regarding medication. I'm currently in the process of coming of sertraline and going on duloxitine, plus going up to the highest dose of pregabalin, to see if this combination works better for fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression. I told doc that sertraline was helping me with my anxiety levels, but he said duloxitine would have the same effect with the added bonus of combating my pain and depression. Good to speak to you John. John.

Forget to say, my ex wife's mother lived in the flats overlooking the sea in Ardrossan. Sadly she died last year, but her husband still stays there, I think. Small world!!

fingers crossed you get the right combo..hope to speak to you again...all the best john.

If you have anxiety, exercise is a two-edged sword.

One the one hand, it has tremendous benefits, like:

•Decreasing heart palpitations

•Sleeping better

•Reducing stress

On the other hand, in some people with anxiety, exercise can actually induce panic attacks. Not just a little nervousness, but a full-blown panic attack:

•Shortness of breath

•Heart palpitations



•Choking feeling

•Chest pain

•Thinking that you’re having a heart attack, or you’re about to die.

If you, or someone you know has anxiety, and gets this reaction to exercise, how do you get the upsides of exercise, without any of the downsides?

Why Can Exercise Induce A Panic Attack?

There are a lot of commonalities between exercise and a panic attack, like:

•Increased heart rate

•Increased adrenaline

•Faster respiratory rate (you breathe faster)


so if you have anxiety, and you’ve experienced a panic attack before, exercise can sometimes feel just like that. It can be hard to tell the two apart. Once you reach a certain intensity threshold with your exercise, a panic attack comes immediately.

Strategies to Reduce Exercise-Induced Panic Attacks


#1: Proper Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Yes, this is a “basic” of exercise, but for someone suffering from exercise-induced panic attacks, this becomes that much more important.

If your normal heart rate is 70 beats per minute, and you just start exercising, without a warmup, it can spike very quickly. It might go from 70 all the way to 150 in a matter of just a few seconds. To someone who doesn’t suffer from panic attacks, that’s not a big deal. To someone who does suffer from panic attacks, this very sudden rise in heart rate might trigger a panic attack.

So you want to gradually, and slowly increase your heart rate over a period of 5-10 minutes.

Likewise with a cool-down. Sometimes, panic attacks happen not during workouts, but after workouts. This can often be due to a sudden drop in heart rate. Again, that’s something that can be avoided with a proper cool-down 5-10 minutes.

#2 Self-Reflection

After you experience a panic attack, it’s important to do a little introspection. Although a panic attack is scary, it’s not fatal, even though it feels like it at the time. So how can you take the edge off from panic attacks?

Next time you have one, afterwards, reflect yourself, and ask yourself two questions:

1.Did I die?

2.Did it hurt?

This works better, if you write down these questions, and the answers to them using pencil and paper, as opposed to just verbalizing it.

You’ll notice the answer to both questions is “no.” It might not have been a comfortable experience, but it usually doesn’t physically hurt. Do this after enough panic attacks, and eventually, the panic attacks decrease in intensity. If initially, you believed that you would die during a panic attack, the next time you have one, you’ll remember that last time it happened, you didn’t die. Knowing that you didn’t die, and that you weren’t hurt will make the next one more tolerable. It still won’t exactly be pleasant, but at least, you’ll be calmer.


Exercise in a Comfortable Environment

You hear that exercise is good for anxiety, so you decide to join a gym that feels intimidating. There are people who look like they know what they are doing, and you are a first-timer, and you feel like everyone is watching you, and judging you.

First of all, that’s not true. For one thing, people are too self-conscious to worry about anyone else, but themselves (yes, even the ones that look like they’re in really good shape). Others are too narcissistic, so they spend 95% of their gym time checking themselves out in the mirror. You have nothing to worry about.

But even so, it can be intimidating. So you have a couple of options:

1.Find a gym that isn’t intimidating to you. Look for one with ugly, fat people. Just kidding. But look for a gym where you’d feel comfortable.

2.Work with a person trainer who you’re comfortable with, and makes you feel at ease.


Distract Yourself

Sometimes, if you focus on the sensations you have during exercise, you’ll notice that your heart rate speeds up, your breathing speeds up, you start to sweat, and that all reminds you of how you feel during a panic attack. So you start to backwards rationalize that you must be having a panic attack.

However, if there’s a TV show that you’re watching, that’s really engaging, and makes you forget that you’re exercising, it might just be the distraction you need.

#5 Baby Steps

Start with an amount of exercise, that even you think is too low. You know how “they” say you need to exercise for ___ minutes (fill that in with whatever number you want… 30, 40, 60, whatever), or it doesn’t count? Forget about that.

A 5-minute workout is better than a 0-minute workout. So do something light, and do something short. Your GOAL is just to break the psychological connection between exercise and anxiety. It takes a lot less time to break that connection, than it is to improve your cardiovascular fitness or your strength.

Exercise can induce a panic attack because it mimics exactly what a panic attack does. When you exercise your heart rate increases as does your respiratory rate and you release adrenaline which is exactly what happens during a panic attack. If exercise is is a trigger for your panic attacks do NOT avoid it through the fear of having a panic attack. Your heart is a muscle and needs to be exercised in order to keep strong. The more you exercise, your heart will become stronger resulting in a slower heart rate overall.

Do not be afraid of anxiety. It will only take over you if you let it. Of course, see a cardiologist to rule out anything underlying but if it is just anxiety then know that no medication will cure you. You yourself have the key to a cure.

I battle with anxiety every single day and some days are worse than others. The only way anxiety can be beaten is to face it, accept it and understand that anxiety will give you symptom after symptom and ignoring them is the key to them slowly going away.

Good luck


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