My experience with anxiety and how running helps me to control it
Before I continue with my story let me say that I’m not here to tell you that there’s a cure for anxiety that you can universally use and it will help you. I don‘t believe that. There are people out there with serious issues that no one can even imagine. But I believe that in the vast majority of cases, there is always something that can be done. You do not have to accept everything your brain is telling you. Sometimes it is simply wrong! You do not simply have to accept everything that happens to you as it happens. You can take specific actions to turn those things around.
But now, let’s continue with the story…
What is happening to me?
As soon as I arrived at the hospital and got in the hands of doctors I would start to feel much better. My symptoms would start to disappear and within a few hours, they were gone for good! Having the ECG results and knowing my heart is perfectly healthy helped me to feel better and I enjoyed the rest of my holiday without any problem.
I returned home, forgot about the issue, and let go. But only a couple of months later when a similar thing happened to me at work. Working as an IT professional I was sitting in front of my computer and having my morning coffee when symptoms I experienced on the board of the plane started to manifest themselves again. Chest pain, pounding heart, breathing difficulties, and lots of fear about what was going to follow. Luckily, I was able to get in my car and drive to the closest hospital. As soon as I got in hands of medical personnel, I felt better. Unsurprisingly I got the same results, I was completely fit. I did not understand what was happening to me (doctors could not believe it as well), but what I understood is that I had to do something. Living like this was no option for me, it was way too scary and difficult to handle.
Life with anxiety was depressing. I was constantly overthinking negative events in my life and flooded myself with negative emotions. I was low on energy as my body spent all of it on handling the stress I lived in. I developed light social anxiety and became afraid to meet people. Trying to avoid places or situations that could have caused me to panic, I was unknowingly feeding the dragon living in my brain. Until it became so big that my body had to let me know. But at that point, I still didn’t know what was actually happening.
I decided to put myself through all kinds of medical tests including electrocardiogram, cardiac stress tests, echocardiogram, neurological tests, or physiotherapy but always with the same results. Doctors discovered nothing wrong with me. But I knew there was something wrong, my body and brain were telling me and I was listening.
How I discovered I was a “panicker”
One lazy evening at home (I had many of those back then), I was scrolling my FB news feed and came across one video that got my attention. It was Jordan Peterson, a famous Canadian clinical psychologist, discussing the topic of women’s equality with a female TV journalist. She was quite mean to him and tried to attack him on his rather unpopular opinions, but man, this guy was something else. He stayed calm and articulated very well. With his precise arguments, he made her look like a fool. I was really impressed. I started to watch more of his videos and I could not stop! His teachings about the physiology of goal setting, responsibility or meaning talked directly to my soul. You know that feeling when somebody talks and it makes such perfect sense to you? That excitement you feel? That was what happened to me.
While listening to him, I felt so deeply connected that I felt I needed more of this. At that point, I did not understand why but I knew I felt had to follow this feeling. I ordered his book “12 rules for life” and started to read.
Surprisingly, the book was a life-changer. In the first chapter called “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”, Peterson describes how feeding yourself with fear and negative emotions creates a so-called “positive feedback loop” that may lead to anxiety and panic attacks. And here is the thing. Just by reading about the symptoms of a panic attack and how it may develop in my brain, I came to bring one up at the same moment. I experienced a panic attack. I was terrified!
At the first moment, I got so scared I could simply not go on reading. In my mind, I was back in the plane — my heart speeding, chest pain growing. But outside of that, I felt there was something very deep about this experience. Later I calmed down and started to think. I find it fascinating how my brain just by reading about the symptoms of panic attacks was able to bring my body to such physiological stress. Peterson’s description and insights were so exact and straightforward that it hit me directly in the weak spot. My brain basically announced to me — this is it! This is our problem! This is exactly what we have been struggling with!
When I finally understood, I could not believe it. That is why it felt so deep when I heard him talking for the first time, right? This was literally a breaking point for me. I finally realized that all my problems originate in my head and therefore all the doctors could not find anything wrong with me. I needed a psychologist.
Looking for medical help
I called my practitioner and asked for help. She informed me about so-called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and gave me a number for a psychologist. Later that day, I have scheduled my first appointment. I was so excited and nervous at the same time. I had no idea what to expect, but at the same time, I was hopeful as I knew there was something I had to do and I felt I was on the correct path.
The first session went great — we talked about my life, my family, my personal issues, and so on. We talked about the stuff I have never told to anyone. But surprisingly, it did not feel too awkward. I found out that it is actually way easier to open yourself to a stranger than to someone that you know. I told her things I thought I could never say loudly. I have felt such a strong drive to get rid of my issues that I was willing to be absolutely honest (to be completely honest I was not 100% honest) so we could really figure out together how to handle this.
I was arriving at sessions once in two weeks. We got deeper and deeper and she made me aware of multiple areas where my anxiety could be originating from. She also made sure to explain to me lots about anxiety and panic attacks in general.
Learning about anxiety
Anxiety disorder is a mental condition when people react to certain situations with fear and dread. It is a body’s reaction to stress. It is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating or pounding heart. To understand better how it emerges, how it is fed, and how it grows have a look at illustrated Vicious Circle of Anxiety.
Anxiety and panic attacks strike when you regularly expose yourself to negative emotions. When life puts some obstacle in front of you (exam at school, work assignment, doctor appointment), you tend to overthink all the bad things that could happen. You start to perceive a threat. Once you keep telling yourself that a bad outcome is not only possible but actually very probable, you make the threat quite real in your brain. You realize you are in real danger and you start to feel body sensations. You get stressed, you sweat, you may have difficulties breathing. As you watch yourself, you realize something is wrong with you, you start to feel worse and worse. That only supports your theory that you are getting in serious trouble and body sensations get stronger, leading to a possible panic attack. A panic attack becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
OK, so I finally understood my medical condition. Now the question was, how do we cure it? Well, the bad news is that in most cases, you cannot really cure it. You can work with it, understand it and learn how to handle it. And the reason for that is its level of complexity. An anxiety disorder may have its roots in family relations, genetics, overactivity of your emotional brain, chemical imbalances in your body, or traumatic experiences from your past. According to my experience Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and working with a psychologist is the best way to determine at least some of these reasons and dramatically improve not only your anxiety but also life in general. In general, it is useful to consider following instructions.
All these points are important and worked great for me. But I believe nothing had a bigger impact on me than implementing longer and more regular exercise and setting related goals. Since I became a runner, my anxiety improved a lot and I have not suffered a single panic attack since!
Why running is a game changer for me
How do I believe running has helped me to get there? Have a look at my list of how running prevents anxiety.
I RUN BECAUSE
- Running creates positive emotion. When I set running goal (e.g. running a marathon), I usually get myself a training plan. As I go through the plan, running 4 times a week different kinds of runs and I see myself getting closer and closer to my goal (which seemed to be impossible at the beginning), I feel extremely positive, motivated and excited. Positive emotion is ultimate weapon for anxiety.
- Running is another reason to wake up in the morning. A new habit that gets me going even if there would be nothing else to get up for. Healthy habits make huge difference in bringing down negative emotion.
- Running gives me morning energy boost before I start my daily responsibilities. The earlier I go, the better. Knowing that everybody sleeps while I am already working on my health makes me feel proud of myself. Knowing I went to run makes me feel proud of myself in the evening as well when I think what I did whole day. Feeling proud of your daily accomplishments is crucial to defeat anxiety.
- I clear my head after long day at work. If I feel angry or disappointed for some reason, I go for a run in the evening. It always changes my chemistry and I don’t bring these negative emotions with me in the bed. Running will help you to change your chemistry, stop worrying and overthinking.
- I sleep better. After I sweat out and have a hot shower, I come to bed in a much better mood. I also feel tired. I keep negative emotions out of my bed, I don‘t bring it to my dreams. My deep sleep is longer and therefore I enjoy more quality bedtime. Well rested positive brain is your major asset when fighting anxiety.
- I listen audiobooks and podcasts. Never had time to do that, now I finally can, while running. I have some favorite podcasts that bring me plenty of new knowledge and inspiration. Learning new things and looking in the future instead in the past is the good tactics when struggling with anxiety.
- I do something for myself. We often have a lot of responsabilities during the day, but most of the things we do for our family, boss or friends. Whilke this may be important, finding time for yourself and treating yourself nice equally is. Focusing on your own well being every day helps to keep the anxiety at the gate.
- I learn self discipline. I don’t feel motivated and ready to run every day. But when I don’t, I go anyway as I understand these are the most important runs. Runs when you don’t feel like running. Runs that teach me to win over myself. And guess what. These runs tach me that in order to achieve my goals, self – discipline is a must. Self discipline that running teaches you will spill into other areas of your life and you will become more effective in anything you do. These things make you feel good about yourself and hold anxious feelings back.
- I bulid my confidence. Challenging myself regularly, I am able to succeed in tasks that not many people can. Like running a marathon. I observe that I inspire people around me and that feels great. Being an inspiration, I develop more self – respect and confidence. Being confident means less stress and less stress means less anxiety.
As you can see, there are many things that a simple regular running exercise can do for your mental health. Actually I believe that it is the best treatment for anxiety currently out there.
I run because it helps me to control my anxiety. I am extremely satisfied with how it has worked for me so far. I would like you to try the same if you go through similar problems. Life with anxiety may try to put you down but eventually, it is up to you to find inner power and change things. And I am here to assist you in the process.
I hope you will like my blog and will find plenty of useful information that will help you in your own way.
All For Marathon founder