Anyone who exercises regularly can attest to the fact that some workouts go better than others. Runners will often talk about having a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ run. Sometimes it just feels more difficult than others to move, for example I learned recently that it’s a lot harder for me to work out when I’m coming down with a cold.
It also doesn’t help that I’ve got anxiety largely related to my health. Sometimes when my snow white skin goes instantly red during exertion (as is normal for me) and I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I can start to worry that the drastic color of my face indicates a serious problem, which causes my heart to speed more, which causes me to breathe too quickly, which makes me light-headed. It’s a bad situation snowballing into a worse one. I can even manage to get stressed out when I notice how slow my resting heart rate is. It’s around 60-65 beats per minute, which would please any cardiologist, yet I’ll sit there feeling my pulse and thinking, “it’s so slow… is it going to just stop?!”
Last week I had such a difficult Zumba class that I did something I’ve never done before: I briefly stopped and fled from the workout room. I knew intellectually that I was having an anxiety attack. I’ve been doing hour long high-low intensity workouts since last August and my cardiovascular fitness has improved dramatically, so I knew it made no sense to suspect I was suddenly having a heart attack – but my emotions refused to listen to reason.
On Thursday nights my class starts at 5:45PM and on a good day it takes me an hour to drive home from work, so in order to get there on time I have to flee the office at around 4:15, dash into the house, change clothes, and dash right out again. If I get stuck in ANY traffic, I’m late. Last Thursday I was stuck in traffic jam after traffic jam, came in late and missed the entire warm-up song, jumping into a crowded class during either the second or third routine when the intensity level was already rising. I was flustered from being in traffic and late to begin with, plus I had no warm-up time. On top of that it was warm and humid in the room, and I immediately started feeling overheated.
As is my custom I tried to push myself physically instead of listening to my body’s warning signals; jumping when possible, trying to reach further, and generally not pacing myself well. In a half hour I was shaky, my heart felt like it was speeding, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was red as a beet. Terrified that I was about to collapse onto the floor, I fled for the bathroom to splash cold water on my face and hide out in a stall until I felt semi normal again.
And in a few minutes I did. The anxiety attack passed and I was okay, so I returned to class and finished. Afterward the combination of anxiety and exertion left me weak and exhausted, so I nearly ran home and skipped my weekly Yoga. The thing with anxiety though, is if you flee from a situation where an attack occurred it can get harder and harder to go back again. I didn’t want to set up a precedent where I associated the gym with being afraid, so I made myself stay.
I’m glad I did. Walking back into class this week was still hard, because if something like that happens once I assume it will happen every time, but I got over the hurdle and have had two perfectly normal classes so far this week.
In short: anxiety really sucks.