INSHAPE NEWS Q ‘N’ A
Reader Graham Durdin asks:
“I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. Can exercise or other health and fitness techniques help me to overcome these conditions?”
Phil Owens – Leading Australian Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner
Anxiety and panic attacks are exceptionally common Graham. According to research, severe anxiety is suffered by 17 percent of the Australian population. Therefore, you are not alone when suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, and there is a lot that you can do to get beyond it.
Exercise and fitness can be excellent ways to help you overcome anxiety. This is mainly because you ‘focus’ in on the activity rather than focusing on what would normally make you anxious or panic. The general rule is, ‘what we focus on we amplify’. So if you focus on things that are not a problem, then these tend to diminish your anxiety for a while. But, there is no research to suggest that exercise alone can shift what is a ‘way of thinking’ issue.
Anxiety and panic attacks are two common issues that I treat with hypnotherapy. The results are great. What I tend to find is that people who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks do a couple of things that can be changed rapidly:
- They over-estimate the risk and under-estimate their capacity to cope and manage. If you take a step-back and then ask yourself, “How do other people make decisions about what I am anxious about?” What do you learn?
- People suffering anxiety run the ‘what if’ game. They keep asking themselves ‘what if’ questions around what they fear, but they never answer these questions. So, from now on, every time you ask a ‘what if’ question, make sure you then stop and answer it. For example, if you ask yourself, “What if I say something silly?” Then answer it with, “I could apologise or I could ask a question to clarify my point or I could ask for advice. All of a sudden the ‘what if’ has been reduced to a series of possibilities.
- People with anxiety also have a negative expectation of the future. They think that their worst case fear is always going to come true. Yet when they really look back at all the times they were anxious, the worst case rarely, if ever, occurred. What does this then tell you about your evaluations, Graham?
Panic attacks often stem from an ‘overwhelming’ of anxiety. By dealing with the underlying problem or instigator of anxiety, then the panic attacks can be removed or dramatically reduced.
Using hypnosis is an effective way of giving you the opportunity to ‘focus’ on how you can shift your focus to better ways of thinking about anxiety or panic. My advice Graham is to keep exercising, but to also realise that you have more skills and strategies available to you. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnosis combined with exercise can make a big difference to your anxiety and panic attacks.
Philip Owens is owner and director of Reflective Resolutions and is a leading Australian hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner based in Melbourne, Australia. Using scientifically validated and pragmatic approaches, Philip is a passionate about creating lasting change in and for his clients.
Working in his clinic with individuals and also with corporate clients, Philip’s international experience, state of the art training and processes have led to successful and happy clients all over the world. Focusing on the issues of modern life, Philip routinely works with clients presenting with anxiety, fears and phobias, addictions, traumas, weight loss, insomnia and smoking cessation.
Nikola Ellis – Yoga Instructor and Studio Owner
Yoga, is the original rescue remedy.
Yoga is a tried and tested technique for combating panic attacks and anxiety. I should know, it was panic attacks that first brought me to yoga over 20 years ago.
The year I turned 21 was the worst year of my life. Struggling with my final year at University, I was buckling under the pressure of exams. That’s when the panic attacks began. Great big, horrible black holes of fear that swallowed up my vitality and confidence.
A friend suggested yoga and the classes were such an effective antidote to the panic attacks, I was soon hooked. Yoga teaches you to relax the body and mind. The physical movements release muscle tension, the breathing techniques switch off the ‘fight or flight’ response that triggers panic attacks, while meditation calms the mind and teaches you how to avoid being overwhelmed by your thoughts.
The best way to start is with a private lesson. An experienced teacher will develop a short home practice that you can do every day — little and often is the most effective approach. Then join a weekly group class where you will find motivation and a sense of community. These are both important factors in overcoming anxiety.
There are lots of different yoga styles and it’s important to find a class, and teacher, that suits you. Avoid hot yoga styles, at least to begin with, as practicing strong poses in a heated room can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Instead, look for a small class taught by a teacher with several years of experience.
If you want to start right away, try this simple routine every morning before breakfast. Make sure you synchronise your movements to match your breath and think ‘relax’ as you exhale.
1. Child Pose
- Start on your hands and knees
- Exhale, sit back on to your heels, placing your forehead on the floor with your arms stretched out in front
- Inhale, return to your hands and knees
- Slowly repeat this 6 times.
2. Belly Breathing
- Lie on your back. Close your eyes and place your hands palm down on your lower belly.
- As you inhale, breathe into your palms and feel them rise as you inhale.
- Exhale and feel the hands fall as the belly moves downwards when the air leaves the body.
- Make the exhale slightly slower with each breath.
- Repeat 6 times.
Nikola Ellis is an experienced yoga teacher and studio owner that has an alternative take on the weight loss battle. She seeks to teach her clients a holistic approach to life and the battles that they encounter. Nikola is happiest when surrounded by her family and friends and when teaching yoga.
Simone Samuels – Australian Holistic Health Coach
I strongly believe that a regular exercise routine can help with issues such as anxiety and panic attacks, as well as depression and stress. Anxiety and panic attacks are often related to the feelings of being overwhelmed and out of your comfort zone. The reason that exercise can help with managing situations like these is that it gets the good endorphins going in your body, which trigger feelings of calm and happiness. The release of these good hormones into your body can help to fight feelings of anxiety that can then lead to panic attacks.
Also, exercising regularly is a way to mentally calm the mind. When you are working on moving your body, you can take your mind away from the stressful situations in your life. You then give yourself the time you need to relax your mind and “switch-off” from anxiety laden situations.
I recommend 20 to 30 minutes of gentle cardio such as walking, swimming or even getting on a treadmill or stationary bike. Plug some music in your ears, and really take the time to focus on your movement and your body. If you do this every day, you will find that your anxiety lessens. You can also focus on your breathing while practicing your daily movement.
Learning how to regulate your breath and to practice taking full, complete breaths into your lungs is a tool to implement when you feel a panic attack coming on. Exercise also has a way of improving your overall sense of well-being and self-confidence, which will also help you to manage panic attacks.
If you are really not into exercise, you might find that a regular yoga practice can also help you a lot. Try a Vinyasa Flow or Hatha yoga class, where your movement and breath are in alignment. Not only will your breath control improve, but you will also find that you will feel relieved of stress and anxiety after doing a yoga class. Yoga helps you to connect with the present and to control your feelings, which can also mean leveling out the anxiety you feel.
Simone Samuels is an Australian holistic health coach raw food chef. She also comes under the titles of yogini, scuba diver, photographer, fitness lover, writer, world traveller and life adventurer. She believes that being happy and well is a state that everyone deserves to feel, every day. Simone runs the practice Integrated Wellness so she can help busy women to reclaim their wellbeing and empower them to feel happy and hot! Simone received her training as a Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s cutting-edge Health Coach Training Program. During her training, she studied over 100 dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and innovative coaching methods with some of the world’s top health and wellness experts. She also holds a Master of Education, and worked as a teacher, trainer and tutor for over a decade before transferring her skills to the role as health coach.
Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer
Anxiety, stress and depression are all prominent conditions found in modern society and they are continually on the rise due to our hectic lifestyle and also our inability to listen to our body’s needs. Exercise can be used to help these conditions, but a sensible approach must be taken, otherwise it can make these situations worse and create addictions which can lead to even more severe conditions.
I have found over the past 4-years, after working with over 50 different clients, who have suffered with chronic anxiety that there was a need for a multi-staged plan. This ensured long-term success and not short-term destructive habits.
Below is my solution. This has been delivered to some 30 different clients, with great success.
Step 1 – Identify your Dreams or Visions
Write down your dreams and visions. Make sure these make you happy. Then set goals based on these. Make sure you then fit one thing into your day that makes you happy. Make sure you do this EVERY DAY.
Step 2 – Practice Normal breathing techniques
Take up Yoga or Tai Chi and learn how to breathe through your belly and through your nose.
This will stimulate your rest and repair hormones allowing your body to heal itself.
Step 3 – Eliminate all stimulants such as coffee and alcohol and drink only water
This will prevent your body being exposed to toxins. It will also not “wire you up”.
Your mind will already be doing a good job of that anyway. It does not need any more assistance. Water will purify your body and this will also nourish you leaving you with feelings of good energy and mental clarity.
Step 4 – Perform exercises that stimulate extension and improve posture
When we are stressed our body moves itself into a flexed position, similar to the foetal position, in order to protect itself. This position often leaves muscles short and tight making it hard to breathe and hold ideal posture. This, in turn, then becomes a chain reaction, with one making the other worse.
A simple exercise that I use to correct this stressed position is to lie flat on your stomach with your hands by your hips. Then lift your chest up off the ground and rotate your arms around so your palms point outwards. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.
Doing this exercise every day will help to improve your body’s posture and extension. Plus, your body will begin to recognise this as something it does when it is NOT STRESSED. I also recommend that you take care if you are thinking of taking up running or cardio exercises. While these can give you an endorphin release, they can also have a catabolic effect on the body. Catabolic being the flight response in the stress response of “fight or flight”. When the body does not have energy it is not wise to try and take more, as you will leave yourself exposed to greater dangers. There are many other techniques I would use, but if you start with these exercises and do them daily you will begin to gain control and start to overcome your anxiety.
Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called NO Regrets Personal Training.
Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.
Mathew Skate – 2008 QLD Marathon Champion, Life Coach and Personal Trainer
I appreciate that exercise is one of the last things that anyone would feel like doing whilst in an anxious or panicked state. But, working up the courage or motivation to take that first step outside, to the gym, or even sign-up for a fitness class can make a huge difference. Sometimes even running this thought through your head and choosing to create a positive intention will stimulate your mind.
The first step of committing to some form of fitness or exercise regime can sometimes be the biggest hurdle or barrier that you may face. Once this barrier is broken down the benefits of exercise are limitless.
Exercise is responsible for releasing your feel good brain chemicals. Most of us have heard of exercise releasing endorphins which are often referred to as our “happy hormones”. Exercise also strengthens the immune system by increasing body temperature. This, in turn, makes us feel better, look better and be healthier. The list goes on and on.
The psychological effects of exercise are also limitless
- You gain greater confidence in yourself by setting goals and feeling better about how you look and feel.
- Maintaining an exercise routine helps you create healthier coping strategies. Choosing to focus on the positives in your life, rather than the negatives can also assist in reducing symptoms.
- Exercising in a social setting can be a fantastic way to meet new people and also acts as a distraction that will take you away from the cycle of negative thoughts and behaviours.
What exercise is right for you?
Whatever you choose will be the right thing. Exercise does not have to be pushing weights in the gym or spending hours on the treadmill. You may want to gradually ease your way into exercise and start with some gardening and light walks around the block. It is important initially, depending on the level of your anxiety and panic attacks, to take it one step at a time. The last thing you need is to trigger a full-blown panic attack and retreat back into your negative state. Taking one step at a time is the key to success and don’t forget to keep pushing yourself that little bit extra as you go.
Your plan of attack
- Establish what you are prepared to do. This should include how often per week you will exercise and for how long.
- Set some realistic goals. These can be modified as time goes on.
- Make sure your exercise time is “fun” time. If you feel like it’s a chore then you won’t do it.
- Be aware that things will come up. Obstacles will arise and if you miss a day here or there it is no big issue. Keep focused on the big picture.
As with every great plan, a second set of eyes is extremely important. So, make sure that you discuss your plan of attack with your doctor or mental health professional.
Now that you appreciate how exercise can assist with your anxiety and panic attacks here are some questions for you to consider. Take your time to consider your answers, before you jot these down.
- What is your panic attacks and anxiety costing you right now in terms of your personal life, relationships and career?
- What will your life look and feel like in five years time if you choose not to implement some positive strategies such as exercise?
- What will your life look and feel like in one year from now, after implementing some positive exercise strategies? Paint a picture in your mind and associate any feelings you will have.
- Write down what you are prepared to do to achieve this. DO THIS NOW.
Matt Skate is a life coach and personal trainer. He served in the Australian Army for 19 years as a physical training instructor and then started Weight to Life in 2011.
Matt assists people to lose weight and create a healthier lifestyle by helping them break through their negative beliefs, behaviours, and expectations. He loves to train in all forms and at all levels of fitness and was crowned the QLD Marathon champion in 2008.