Physical Exercise for Panic Disorder and Anxiety

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There are many physical symptoms of panic and anxiety. Some of the most common of these symptoms include muscle tension and trembling. Panic attacks are often associated with shaking and shortness of breath. Research has shown that maintaining a regular exercise plan can actually provide relief for many of the symptoms of panic disorder and other anxiety-related conditions.

Benefits of Exercise

There are numerous benefits from regular exercise. For example, exercise has been found to enhance mood, improve energy levels, and promote quality sleep. For people with panic disorder and other anxiety-related conditions, exercise can be a proactive way to release pent-up tension and reduce feelings of fear and worry. Additionally, a regular exercise program can help ease symptoms of other common co-occurring conditions, such as ​IBS or depression.

Exercise can help alleviate common issues that are often brought on by nervousness and anxiety. First, exercise can help reduce tightness and tension held throughout the body. Second, regular exercise can assist in producing endorphins, the body’s natural mood-enhancing chemical that is involved in fighting off pain and stress. Third, studies have shown that exercise decreases a person's sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety, as well as decreases the intensity and frequency of panic attacks in some cases. Last, the reduction of stress hormones that can occur from exercise may help improve one’s sense of well-being.

Starting an Exercise Plan

Do you feel ready and motivated to begin an exercise plan? To get started on a physical fitness routine, it is important that you first get medical clearance to exercise. Your medical history, current medications, and diagnosed conditions can all play a role in your ability to exercise. Sometimes people with panic disorder are triggered by the increased heart rate and shortness of breath that occurs when exercising. Your doctor can discuss this with you and help you determine the most appropriate exercise plan.

Once you have obtained your doctor’s approval and recommendations, you will want to decide on an exercise program that's right for you. There are many options available that can potentially help reduce anxiety in different ways. Cardio exercises are a great way to relieve stress while having fun. Some common forms of cardio workouts include biking, dancing, running, hiking, or swimming. Cardio exercises improve the circulatory system, which can help you in lowering stress levels, releasing muscle tension, getting a good night’s rest, and boosting energy.

You may also want to consider strength-building or flexibility exercises. Weight lifting can help tone your muscles and improve endurance. Yoga and Pilates have the added benefit of stretching out muscles to release tension, improve flexibility, and create a sense of relaxation.

Maintaining an Exercise Program

When starting a new exercise plan, you may initially feel very motivated. This motivation to exercise can be extremely beneficial in helping you get started on your new exercise plan. However, being too eager in the beginning has the potential to lead to overdoing it, which can possibly cause physical injury. Plus, motivation can wax and wane over time and it is important to not become quickly burned out by your exercise routine.

Here are a few tips to maintaining your exercise plan:

  • Don’t overdo it. Be careful not to push yourself to extremes in the beginning, as this can lead to physical injury. Remember that exercise can be fun and can help improve your panic symptoms, but it should not be causing physical issues. Take it slow in the beginning and gradually increase your workouts over time.
  • Make a commitment to your exercise plan. From stressed-out executives to frazzled stay-at-home moms, everyone is busy. Putting time aside to exercise means that you have made your health and well-being a top priority. It can take time before you notice improvements in your panic symptoms. For the best results, stay patient and consistent with your exercise program.
  • Know that your motivation may change at different stages of your exercise plan. It is not uncommon for your initial enthusiasm to fade over time. It can help to change your routine a little or find new exercise options altogether. For example, if you're getting bored with the treadmill at the local gym, try walking locally or joining a hiking group. These alternative options can also have the added benefit of helping you socialize while you exercise.

    Exercise is one proactive way that you can begin to practice self-care for panic disorder. There are many benefits to maintaining a regular fitness routine. Through exercise, you may notice a shift in your self-confidence, reduced anxiety, and improved physical health.

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    Article Sources
    • Bourne, E. J. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 5th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2011.