Jessica was a busy mother in her forties. She was of average build and loved her neighborhood and church relationships. Yet she was at the end of her rope. Jessica had been experiencing panic attacks for the past three years. The first time it occurred she was out running errands and while shopping for groceries found herself breathing heavily, her thinking was clouded and she began having thoughts that she might die. During this time, she quickly left her cart and exited the store worried and perplexed.
Anxiety and Panic
About one out of every five people that have a panic or anxiety attack end up going to the hospital feeling like they are dying or are having a heart attack. I spoke recently with a good friend of mine that works as an ER doctor in St. George and he confirmed that most patients that enter the ER with chest pains are having them as a result of anxiety. It is at these moments, that individuals are then informed by doctors and nurses after being evaluated that they are not dying but did in fact have a panic/anxiety attack. Often they are given a common tranquilizer like Xanax to help them manage their anxiety. Upon first use, Xanax is very effective at helping abate and curb the symptoms of anxiety. Medication can be extremely helpful but does come at a cost. Over time, many can become dependent on it, especially Xanax, to help them manage their emotional process and hold off panic-like symptoms. I am a proponent of medication but not as a fix if other methods provide efficacy at helping turn the ties of worry and panic. Anytime you bring in chemicals into your body, especially psychotropic ones like antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds, you also bring on other side-effects as well. Are there courses one can follow that have been proven by outcome research to curb or stop altogether the processes of anxiety and depression? Yes, several many of which don’t involve medical treatments but do involve you getting active. Your moving into activity and more solid health.
The Body & Exercise
Physical exercise and body movement has a tremendous impact on the brain’s balance and functioning. Today we live in a society networked together with sedentary stimulation — sitting on our behinds with iPhones, Facebook, and email. The nature of how we communicate has led us to be more and more sedentary, sitting more, moving less, yet all the while working more and doing more with a false premise that technology can help us have more time. I find people don’t have more time, they simply just take on more. Our bodies are wired for activity. The nervous system that coordinates a myriad of processes is impacted by body movements and activity. Our bodies get out of sync, even if they are not obese or out of shape. The brain-body balance is crucial to having stable and healthy mental processes. It is these processes, when healthy, that influence our relationships with each other and eventually lead to harmony and happiness in them.
Brain Chemicals & Lots of Them
Does one have to be a marathoner or yoga expert to experience the benefits of regular exercise? Absolutely not. Research has clearly indicated that as little as 20 minutes a day of activity you can produce a significant balance in the brain-body sync. How does exercise have such powerful impact on the emotional brain? Small chemicals are released in our brains and bodies that reward it when we exercise. This is a natural biological survival mechanism. Humankind is hardwired to survive and the body-brain connection will ensure we do that, thus the chemicals and drives resulting from activity are self-reinforcing. Endorphins are tiny molecules that are produced by the brain that resemble opium in their chemical structure. The brain contains many receptors for endorphins that create a feeling of calmness, well-being, and satisfaction. This process is cyclical as well in that it reinforces itself. The more this process occurs the more sensitive the brain becomes to the process. You have heard people talk about missing their morning run or workout. They are indirectly referencing their brain and the calmness they experience from the process. One’s exercise does lay groundwork for a context and space that allows people to think clearly, process emotions, and feel better.
If you are looking for a more stable life and stronger resiliency to emotional stressors that come into your life, consider your exercise. Simply taking 20 minutes per day, three times a week can have dramatic impact on your functioning and ability to emotionally regulate your responses to life’s circumstances. Choose something that is fun for you. If spinning at the gym on a stationary bike is your gig, do that. If you’d rather do a morning walk around your neighborhood, then get to it. It is hard to begin new habits, yet with some calendaring and inner commitment you can begin your own routine that will make such a difference.
I regularly and strongly encourage my clients to engage in regular exercise not simply to ‘be in shape’ but to help them during the therapeutic process with me. When your body is more healthy and better balanced you think better and make healthier relationship decisions.
Copyright: No part of this article in section or full may be reproduced without permission from the author Justin Stum, MS LMFT. The one and only exception is for educational purposes and only if the contact information below for the author is fully cited here in article. Justin Stum, MS LMFT, 640 E 700 S, Suite 103, St. George Utah 84770, 435.574.9193 https://www.justinstum.com