How Exercise Improved My Ability to Cope With Panic Attacks

There are many triggers to body reactions that we are barely aware of.  Twenty three years ago, I had my first panic attack around 4:30am. It freaked me out.  My heart was beating fast, I felt a little light-headed, and jumped out of bed to the bathroom where my Ex was showering before going to work.

He thought I was hyperventilating, and told me to breathe into a paper bag.  We wound up dropping my 3-year-old at Mom and Dad’s and going to the ER.  All tests were normal, thank God, but they put me on a Beta-blocker for the next few weeks to control my tachycardia.

During the next 10 years I would have those attacks, but not as severe as the first one.  They happened mostly in the middle of the night, and I learned to cope.  I would take a crossword puzzle to the bathroom, first splash my face with ice-cold water, which brings your heart rate down… then sit doing crosswords for 20 minutes until I calmed down and could go back to bed.

It became a routine 3 nights a week for a year or so.  Then they went away, and when I did have them they were during the day, and once or twice more over the next 4 years I went to the ER.

I decided to go on a beta blocker permanently, since I just didn’t want to deal with the racing heart any more. I didn’t exercise regularly back then, and may have done myself a favor by doing so!

Below is an article on this topic written by my guest, Ryan Rivera; an avid jogger who promotes fitness as a cure for anxiety and panic attacks. He provides information on additional coping strategies at


How Exercise Improved My Ability to Cope With Panic Attacks

Ever since I was young I had to deal with panic attacks. For those that have never experienced a panic attack, it’s one of the most unique – and frightening – both physical and non-physical experiences that one can have. Panic attacks, in many ways, mimic heart attacks. You feel weak, light headed, confused, fearful, and your heart beat feels wither fast or irregular. Yet unlike heart attacks, panic attacks are not a physical health condition. They’re caused by a combination of regular anxiety and over-sensitivity to your own body’s physical responses, and often panic attacks are self-sustaining, in that the fear of getting a panic attack can actually cause a panic attack!

As someone who experienced panic attacks almost daily, I needed to find a way to cope. It was getting to be too much to handle, to the point where I was afraid to go outdoors. While I knew some relaxation exercises that worked well, they were not providing me with enough relief. That’s when I decided to take up jogging.

Benefits of Jogging for Panic Attacks

I’ll admit it – fitness was not a priority. When you suffer from panic attacks the thought of experiencing a panic attack on a hike or at a gym is somewhat frightening. Nevertheless, I could have done more to improve my own physical health. So, one day I decided it was time to start jogging.3 men jogging

Very quickly I realized I was having fewer panic attacks. I realized that jogging just for a little bit each day was giving me the relief I hoped for. That’s because there are many ways that jogging works as a coping strategy for panic attacks. These include:

•             Effects of Moderate Exercise on Anxiety

First and foremost, numerous studies have shown that exercise is an effective strategy for dealing with mild to moderate anxiety, possibly even severe anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins (feel good neurotransmitters), and destroys cortisol (stress hormones), both of which are excellent methods of relieving some anxiety. With less anxiety, I was less sensitive to my body’s changes and experienced less stress over the idea of getting a panic attack.

•             Reduced Energy/Better Sleep

Similarly, jogging – while it made me more energetic on the whole –also burns away excess energy, as well as helps one sleep. Both are important ways of reducing the severity of panic attacks, which are often more severe when I’m either sleep deprived or filled with extra energy. I did still suffer from a few panic attacks, but I could tell they were less severe.

•             Improved Health

Let’s be clear – panic attacks are not a health problem. They feel like a health problem, which is why so many people end up in the hospital after experiencing their panic attacks, but there is no underlying physical cause. There’s nothing that can be cured in order to prevent panic attacks, and they’re triggered solely by your own mind. If you experience this for the first time, it’s obviously important to get checked out to rule out a serious health condition.

That said, the fear that something may be wrong with you coupled with natural life experiences when you’re out of shape can actually trigger more panic attacks or make your panic attacks worse. When I first started getting panic attacks, I often worried that something was wrong with my heart. There wasn’t, but that worry still caused me to fear for my own health. The mind is powerful, and can convince the body that something is wrong. So controlling your mind’s tendency to fear the worse is one of your main challenges.

Jogging is an extremely healthy activity. The more I jogged, the healthier I knew I was, and  the less I worried about my heart and lung health. Without that worry, my panic attacks reduced dramatically.

Curing Panic Attacks

Not even jogging can cure panic attacks on its own. You need to deal with your anxiety symptoms, learn what panic attacks mean, and learn other coping strategies to make panic attacks less severe. But jogging played a key role in my ability to cope with panic attacks, and I recommend it for anyone that finds they are struggling with this mentally induced condition.

Jogging was right for me, but for those who are unable to jog for any reason, I’m confident any outdoor exercise that gets your heart rate up and exposes you to fresh air, will work. Expending stress and energy is the goal, while getting in shape and clearing the mind.


2 thoughts on “How Exercise Improved My Ability to Cope With Panic Attacks

  1. Very interesting subject cause I had to deal with rasha’s panic attacks after she broke with her boyfriend..they were in love forbmore than four years,but difference of religion was a major obstacle from his parents sides,he is an only son to a Druze family which to them meant the end of the world when they knew that he wants to get engaged,.to shorten the story shecstarted having these panic attacks for morevthan three months,I became crazy dealingvwith her until I discovered that they were panic took lots of patience from all of us to deal with her,thanks god she is partially now herself not as vivid and lively as she was,but much I definitely know what you are talkingbabout.

    1. Bless her heart… what an awful reason to go through such an alarming process. So glad she’s better. I have a very similar story I’ll tell you one day. Love to you both.

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