Exercise Anxiety

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‘We Can Do Hard Things.’

This saying is popping up everywhere lately. I even purchased a wooden plaque with the saying from a thrift store the other day. I put it up on my husband’s bed stand, and looking at it makes me giggle just a little bit. Double entendre aside, I like the sentiment. I DO do hard things. Raising my son, looking after my mom, writing a novel, going to endless grad school…

But one of the hardest things for me to do is live an anxiety-free life.

And it’s very, very hard for me to workout; like REALLY workout.  Proper exercise.

Last week I went to Zumba. I’ve gone through phases of doing Zumba regularly, but I always modify it, and leave for at least one song to get a break for my sanity. In the past few years I’ve avoided it completely.  But Lauren, my workout buddy, and I had been doing such a great job at pushing ourselves every day, that on this one day she couldn’t do our cardio/strength routine, I went to Zumba by myself. I felt confident I could do it alone.

The fun ensued and I sweated through a few songs. My heart raced and I tried to ignore it. I shook out my hands, stood in front of the fan, and kept moving. I slowed down the next song, took a drink of water, and willed myself to keep going. But my heart raced and raced,  and as I took a certain misstep I thought for sure I  was going pass to out.

I panicked. This it it, I thought. Death by Zumba.  I wobbled to the door, mopping up my sweat with a towel and willing my heart rate to slow down. It didn’t. The evening remained hot and sunny, and the corridors of the gym filled with warm damp air as I wished for nothing more than a cold place to sit. Everyone walked past happy and fit, unaware I may be dying.

I hyperventilated my way to the locker room. Happy women sat chatting on the chairs and my vision was going blurry but I ran to the toilet and locked myself in, willing myself to stop panicking, trying to ignore the throbbing in my chest, now painful. I tried some vasovagal maneuvers.

I made my way outside somehow, and into my car. I blasted cold air on my face, took a drink of water, an anxiety pill, and sat with my head between my legs. Slowly my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. I was going to live.

It surprised me. It always does after a panic attack.

I texted and called my husband and a few friends, seeking comfort, distraction. I felt better.

Eventually I went on with my evening with nothing but an eye twitch to remind me of the episode.

I cried a bit that night for no real reason. I guess I felt a bit sorry for myself. I couldn’t finish Zumba. I obviously needed Lauren or someone to keep me from panicking. I couldn’t even go to the gym like a normal person.

Because this is one truth about me: I’m a worrier, and I’ve had a fear of cardio exercise for a decade.

It sounds almost silly to say. As I gained weight, doctors told me to exercise. I agreed, but never did. Not REALLY. Not in the P90x sort of way. I stuck with yoga and walking.

Finally I admitted it to my GP: “I  can’t do vigorous exercise. I hate the feeling of my heart beating quickly; it makes me panic. I literally think I’m going to  die every time. I actually look for the defibrillator to make me feel better. ”

“That’s not normal,” she said. “I’ve never had a patient tell me they look for a defibrillator for comfort.”

She raised her eyebrows.

I’ve had many heart tests done, just to rule out if I were paranoid or they really were after me. Anxiety is an expensive disorder.

In the end, it turns out I am able to overcome this particular fear through a variety of methods:

1. Distraction –  I work out with a friend. If alone, I listen to really loud music. Really. Loud.

2. Support –  I feel ‘safe’ with a friend.

3. Something to grab- If I’m feeling panicky on the treadmill, I can grip the sides. Steady myself, as it were. Zumba is so open. A definite  trigger for me. (But sooooo fun if I can do it)

4. Channeling my inner calm. Deep breathing, utilizing CBT techniques..

5. Anxiety medication.

6. Strength training. Less risk of getting short of breath.

Exercise may easy for some people. For me, it’s one of the hard things I have to do.

It’s not as hard as most things  in my life. But I know that to be my best self and to be the mom Alistair deserves…I need to overcome my exercise anxiety.

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