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How Running Helped me Overcome Anxiety and Panic Attacks

“I remember collapsing in the stairwell and I thought I was having a heart attack. The staff that was in the building at the time recognized this as a panic attack and thankfully did not make the situation worse. Nobody there referred me to a counselor or therapist though.”

Struggled with:
Panic attacks

Hello! Who are you?

Hello, my name is Teresa. I live in Southwest Michigan. I work full-time as a Registered Nurse and maintain a health and fitness blog. I’m married with 8 children.

I like to refer to myself as a supermom.  My hobbies include running, yoga, biking, a little bit of swimming, and cooking. I had a difficult childhood, but I am very proud of the person I have become.

I have learned to step out of the patterns I was taught growing up, how to take care of myself, and how to be compassionate and kind, but still use self-love and self-compassion. I feel very blessed and happy in my life and strive to share peace and joy as often as I am able.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I have had lifelong anxiety. It started in my teens. I distinctly remember my very first panic attack at 16 years old. I had a difficult childhood, a dysfunctional family life, and many stressors at that age. I was living in a group home during this time of my life and not with my parents.

I remember feeling intimidated by a peer. She didn’t actually threaten me, but nonetheless, I was very intimidated by her. Then this feeling of impending doom sunk in. I remember collapsing in the stairwell and I thought I was having a heart attack. The staff that was in the building at the time recognized this as a panic attack and thankfully did not make the situation worse. Nobody there referred me to a counselor or therapist though. I don’t remember even labeling this as a panic attack at that time.

I had several more panic attacks of that severity over the following years. I did get better at recognizing them on my own. I stopped collapsing and hyperventilating and other obvious physical symptoms of anxiety, but I still had a long way to go on really overcoming anxiety.

Anxiety still kept me from doing things and held me back from opportunities.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

I got much better at coping with the symptoms of anxiety, but I still hadn’t learned ways to fully manage anxiety.

I remember the second time anxiety reared its ugly head was in nursing school. Nursing school is filled with opportunities for anxiety. Nursing instructors are notoriously intimidating. As I mentioned before, feeling intimidated is a huge trigger for panic attacks for me.

I literally flunked one of my simulation exams due to anxiety. It was one of the most awful moments of my life. I knew the material, but I had such severe anxiety I used the wrong words. I called my patient by the wrong name. I called a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope! It was mortifyingly embarrassing.

At this point, I saw a physician and had a formal diagnosis of anxiety and panic attacks for the first time. I received a prescription for anxiety medication. This helped. I had to take medication prior to all my simulation exams.

I was not happy. I did not like having to rely on medication, but I didn’t know any better ways to manage anxiety.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I started running in 2006 when I was 33 years old. It took me a little while to notice the mental health benefits, but by 2009 I could definitely tell by my moods whether I had run that day or not. Running immediately helped with feeling “happier”.

It also helped me feel less anxious if I went for a run, but I hadn’t quite squelched my anxiety yet. After all, you can’t just step out of the building and go for a run every time you feel anxious.

Running was a piece to the puzzle though. It’s one of the things I consider preventative care for anxiety. It decreased my day-to-day anxiety significantly. I still needed to figure out how to tackle anxiety at the moment when going for a run wasn’t an option. This part took me a little longer.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I started practicing meditation a little over two years ago. This was the final part that I was missing. Meditation I think can help anyone overcome anxiety once you start to understand how to use it.

When I first started meditating, I didn’t notice the benefits. It was boring and I wasn’t even sure it was working. I like some meditation techniques better than others.

I stuck with it though because I just needed something to change in my life. I am horrible at sitting still, relaxing, and taking care of myself. I thought if I could learn to run, I could learn to meditate.

I tried several different apps for meditation. Balance was the first one I used. They had easy lessons to follow to teach you different methods of meditation. I also used Medito, another meditation app. Medito is completely free, and I absolutely love what they offer. I recommend Medito to anyone to get started.

Medito specifically has an Emergency SOS session for panic. This was helpful for me to learn how to calm myself down.

Once I learned how to use meditation to calm myself with an app, I was soon able to do it without having access to the app.

One of the problems for me is when I’m anxious I talk, nonstop which makes me more anxious. It makes my anxiety visible and I’ve been pulled aside on more than one occasion about my anxiety making me appear less professional.

I remember the first time I used meditation to calm me down without an app. I went home and was in awe that it actually worked.

I remember sitting at my computer with my eyes open, but mentally they were closed. I paid attention to my breathing, and I repeated the words “calm” and “peace” in my head with each breath. It was silly, but within 5 minutes I was calm. I didn’t start my anxious chatter and I was able to go back to my day.

It was that simple.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I am pretty open about my anxiety with people. My only frustration is people that who don’t have anxiety don’t really get it. They think it’s as simple as recognizing you’re anxious and telling yourself to relax. It’s really not that simple. Sometimes you can be completely aware that you’re anxious, but you can’t seem to regulate it.

It has helped to let people know that I have significant sensory overload when I’m anxious. Several of my coworkers and my boss are aware that being overstimulated worsens my anxiety. Having others know this has helped. When there is a lot of stimulus in the environment, they don’t think I’m rude for getting up.

I cannot always remove myself from the situation, but this is where learning about meditation has helped. I can take a breath. Breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Use visualization to ground myself and find some type of calming mantra to repeat in my head. This is what I use now to stop anxiety head-on.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

Keep trying. It may take several tactics to lower your anxiety. For me, it’s running and daily meditation to help reduce my overall anxiety. Then I use mantras and breathing exercises when I recognize a trigger for panic. I also have talked to others and let them know what things lower my threshold such as noisy and crowded environments.

I wish someone had practiced using mantras and breathwork with me. The only meditation experience I had before learning to meditate on my own was listening to ocean sounds and being told to relax. That didn’t work for me. Focusing on the in and out of my breath was a big key for me to move the anxious energy and release it.

This takes practice.

I would also encourage others to add in some type of regular exercise, whether it be running, walking, or a dance class. Something you enjoy doing is really the key.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

I used two different apps to get started with meditation. Balance offered the first year free when I used them. I’m not sure if they are still offering that, but I think their app is very good.

I also like and still regularly use the Medito app. It is not as personalized as Balance, but it’s free and also has a good library.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I maintain a health and fitness blog called Run Teresa Run.

Although the title includes running, it was never intended to mean just running. Run Teresa Run is an expression I started using to encourage myself, more like Go Teresa Go. I will rewrite it often whenever I take on a new challenge – Swim Teresa Swim. Sit Teresa Sit. Be Still Teresa Be Still.

I share about myself, running, meditation, health, my family, and life.

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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