April 23, 2009

My first panic attack came without provocation when I was on my honeymoon. One minute I was having a great time with my new husband and the next, I was consumed with uncontrollable fear. My heart was pounding and I was breathing hard and fast. Eventually, my husband helped me calm down, and when we returned home, I went to my doctor. He referred me to a psychologist, who concluded that the stress of planning the wedding, moving to a new house and adjusting to married life was the culprit and recommended that I start doing stress-reducing activities, such as exercise.

Unfortunately, I didn't take her advice and handled my stress by isolating myself from members of my family and many of my friends. Over the next three years, the attacks became worse and I spent my days at home, cooking rich, high-fat foods, which I ended up eating by myself. I gained 35 pounds, and the weight gain depressed me. My panic attacks and depression eventually affected my marriage, and my husband and I divorced.

I spent another three years in this vicious cycle of overeating, depression and isolation. By my 30th birthday, I was completely unhappy and unsatisfied with my life. At this time, I met the man who would become my second husband and he saw how miserable I felt. He suggested we join a gym just to see how my psyche would handle that. Having him nearby as I worked out gave me the sense of security I needed, and we started exercising four times a week. Although my workouts weren't very intense - usually just walking on the treadmill - I felt 100 percent better and my anxiety decreased.

Soon, I moved on to aerobics classes, and after six months I had lost 15 pounds. Then I hit a plateau, and no matter how much I exercised, the scale didn't budge. I talked to a nutritionist and learned that I also needed to change my eating habits. I cut out high-fat foods and started eating low-fat, whole-grain foods high in fiber. Almost immediately, I had more energy and lost 10 more pounds.

Six months later, I hit a second plateau and consulted a trainer, who not only suggested I increase the intensity of my cardio workouts, but that I also start weight training to build lean muscle. I started doing a full-body strength program and found that even though I didn't lose pounds on the scale, I lost several inches overall and felt fitter than ever before.

I haven't had a panic attack in years, and I know that's because I exercise regularly. If I feel like I'm going to have an attack, I take my dogs for a walk, do yoga or anything else to relax. I live a productive and fulfilling life, and family and friends are a regular part of my world. I'm finally in control of my mind and body, and life has never been better.