I Had Debilitating Anxiety & Panic Attacks. Here's How They Helped Me Grow
A few years ago, I was a successful personal trainer, I was in great shape, and I had just welcomed a newborn son. Over the span of 18 months, everything changed. I was unemployed, I was experiencing chronic heart attack-like symptoms, and I was constantly panicked by the possibility of an impending emergency — to the point that I slept in my car in the parking lot of a hospital emergency room.
The answer isn’t running away from what scares you. It’s listening.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. The diagnosis actually began the most difficult few years of my life. I developed a life-threatening addiction to pills, self-medicated with alcohol, and accidentally overdosed on a combination of prescription medications.
I was desperate for a way out, so I decided to do try taking control of my life on my own. I committed myself to an entire lifestyle overhaul, a Hail Mary to save myself from myself.
I eliminated processed foods and meat, and started juicing. I took up yoga, which led me to meditation. These three pillars (diet, yoga, and meditation) were the secret to overcoming my addiction and managing my anxiety, as well as rewriting my truth and rediscovering my purpose.
Through my struggle, I came to know myself deeply, and developed a true understanding of the purpose and nature of anxiety. My greatest source of fear became my greatest teacher. I learned the answer isn’t running away from what scares you. It’s listening.
1. Anxiety, like pain, is a warning.
I thought I was healthy. I was exercising five times per week, and I looked good on the outside. But, I was a heavy smoker. My diet consisted of processed foods, dairy, caffeine, and refined sugars.
I thought I could exercise away the stress and depression that had started to plague me. But, having a six-pack didn’t slow the decrease in lung function which led to walking pneumonia. The mounting anxiety is what finally made me go to the doctor, essentially saving my life. If you are facing anxiety, don’t ignore it. Listen to it.
2. It reminds us to take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally, too.
We are creatures of habit, so we inevitably fall back into old patterns. Anxiety can be a signal that you’ve backslid into unhealthy behavior. I’m a giver by nature and sometimes go above and beyond the call of duty, even at the expense of my own health.
I will take on other people's stressors, and begin to carry their burdens. This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Now that I am in tune with myself, I notice as my anxiety begins to increase. I’m more sensitive to fluctuations in my state of being, so I can take measures to get back to homeostasis before my health really starts to suffer.
3. It will require daily awareness for the rest of your life.
When I first changed my diet, I felt a difference within the first few days, so I decided to stop taking my anxiety pills cold turkey and ended up in the emergency room.
My diet was helping, but it wouldn’t be enough. I kept searching and discovered yoga, which ultimately led to my relationship with meditation. Anxiety can’t be cured. It never goes away. It’s our responsibility to manage it.
4. It makes every anxiety-free moment a gift.
The constant fear of having a panic attack made me so grateful for every moment I didn't. I knew how easily I could devolve into a state of panic, so I decided to enjoy every second I had without it.
I appreciated the people in my life more, and began to feel motivated and able to express my true vulnerabilities.
5. It gives you the courage to face your fears.
Anxiety will push you beyond your perceived limits — make you experience things you never thought you’d be able to handle. But you do.
I had my first panic attack while exercising. I was a personal trainer and extremely fearful of physical activity. I started searching for an alternative to conventional exercise, eventually finding yoga, which I now hold two certifications in.
Today, I can use my experience in personal training, yoga, and meditation to not only guide my clients in uncovering their greatest potential, but also challenging myself to do the same. My anxiety has redefined my purpose, and it can do the same for anyone.
Quentin Vennie, E-RYT 200 is a writer, speaker, wellness expert, and author of the memoir Strong in the Broken Places. He serves as the Vice President of the Yoga Alliance Foundation, and has been has been featured on some of the world's largest online platforms, including Huffington Post, Thrive Global,Entrepreneur, Fox News, and the Observer. In his role at Yoga Alliance, he is responsible for the development, implementation and tracking of Foundation programs designed to make yoga accessible to marginalized and underserved communities.