An anxiety disorder made me a prisoner, but healthy living helped me break free from my physical and mental prison.

By By Tanya Rodriguez, as told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen

It all started with an invitation to my sister's wedding. Weddings can be a source of stress for many people, but I had an extra reason to worry: I hadn't left my house in a year. I'm not sure exactly what triggered my anxiety disorder, but a year prior I'd started having debilitating anxiety attacks, complete with dizziness, hot flashes, and a tightness in my chest that made it feel like I couldn't breathe. As my panic increased, my mobility decreased. I became terrified that if I left, something horrible would happen to me. So I just stayed inside-it was easier than dealing with my fear. And at just 31 years old, I had become a prisoner in my own home.

But as I thought about my sister and how much I loved her, I knew I couldn't miss her wedding. Something was going to have to change. I realized that who I was now-a person who was mentally and physically unhealthy and who was too afraid to enjoy life-was not who I wanted to be. (Related: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Actually Enjoy Time with Friends.)

I made it to the wedding, which was great, but when I saw the pictures from that happy day I realized that my journey back to health was just beginning. That girl in the picture looked just as sick and miserable as I felt. The next day, I made an appointment to see my doctor. There she gave me the hard-to-swallow news: I was obese, pre-diabetic, and well on my way to full diabetes. But what's more is that she also diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder. (Here's Why You Should Stop Saying You Have Anxiety If You Really Don't.)

Getting this news didn't change anything right away. Sure, I had more knowledge, but I was still the anxious, depressed person I was when I walked into his office. How was I going to escape this prison I'd built for myself when I could barely leave my house? All I can say is it started with sheer will. I was determined not to stay the way I was and whatever it took, I was going to do it.

The first step was to change my thinking. I vowed to lose weight. Not for vanity, but for health reasons. I knew that if I felt good inside it would reflect on the outside. As I looked at my diet, I realized that I was using emotional eating to deal with my feelings of low self-confidence, stress, and fear of what others would think of me-that led to me isolating myself even more. So I began to pay more attention to what I was eating and why, asking myself if I was truly hungry and making an effort to enjoy and savor my food. (It's True-Clean Eating Helped This Woman Overcome Her Anxiety.)

The next step was to take another step. Literally, as in move out my front door. I started slow, just taking walks around my neighborhood. Once I was able to walk for 30 minutes at a time, five days a week, I amped it up to a power walk/slow jog. As my fitness grew, so did my confidence. Within six months I was running, doing high-intensity interval training, and lifting weights.

All these healthy changes snowballed into a healthy lifestyle where I was tracking what I ate in a food journal, making smarter meal choices, and trying out all kinds of new workouts that I found on YouTube. (My favorites are Fitness Blender, Tone It Up, Popsugar Fitness, and Millionaire Hoy.) I even became a competitive half-marathoner, a feat I never would have imagined I could do just a year earlier.

As of today, I have lost over 64 pounds and have been out of the diabetic danger zone for three years. I also no longer struggle with anxiety or depression. Where I was once too scared to even leave my house, now I enjoy regularly hanging out with friends and family, dancing, cooking, and writing. But the best part? I can say I honestly I love myself on a mind, body, and soul level. (These Anxiety-Reducing Solutions Can Help With Common Worry Traps, Too.)

Now I work as a personal trainer and have developed my own program, YogiPiology, to help other women overcome their fears and create a life they love. Because fitness didn't just save my life, it gave me a whole new one-and I couldn't be happier.


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