T Nation

Starting Back From Anxiety Attacks


Hey all,
I wasn't sure where to put this, so I figured here would be good since I am looking for a bit of advice on training.

Just a quick backstory. In early Nov. I had a real bad panic attack and wound up in the ER. This is common for people with panic attacks as the first time you have one you think it's something worse (heart attack, etc.) so you go to the ER or doctor to get checked out. My blood and urine work came back normal, which was good. I took a few days off work and everything seemed to be fine, until I had another episode. It wasn't as severe but still rocked me. For the next month I had several more attacks, each less severe than the first, but still crippling as your mind tricks you into thinking something is wrong with you physically when there really isn't.

The bad part of that was is that I also became depressed because I thought something was wrong with me (a common side effect of anxiety/panic attacks). I stopped going to the gym for fear I would have another attack (racing heartbeat during exercise is similar to the racing during an attack).

After breaking down emotionally a few weeks ago I sought out the help of a therapist and have been working with him. He's got me on some meds that seem to be helping, as my anxiety levels are lower than before.

I'm finally feeling good enough to the point where I want to get back in the gym. I'm still a bit leery of pushing myself too hard right away, as I want to gradually work my way back into the programs I was doing before I had the attack (CW's programs mostly).

Would focusing on the big 3 lifts for now along with some work on arms, calves and abs be best? Cardio-wise I walk/run with my dog 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes, so I'm OK there.

Also, if anyone else has or has suffered from these attacks, let me know how you were able to return to the gym. It'd be a great help.

Thanks for listening.


My wife suffered from this for a long time,

Things that helped/prevented it:
good amounts of sleep,
controlling blood sugar [Berardi type eating]
lots of fish oil
avoiding red wine,caffeine and most stimulants

Also look for an underlying cause, is there something that scared you a lot in the past that is resurfacing, or is it a culmination of lots of little stuff?


I'm your man right here. Been there beat that. Mine stemmed from a long viscious medical problem. You said you're on meds, would it be Paxil? That's what I have been on for over two years now and what a fucking difference it has made. But getting back to you lifting, focusing on the big three for now is fine. What I would do is go through the motions for the first few time to get used to raising your heart rate again. Take it slow and don't rush into it. You'll know when you're ready to hit it hard again. Plus being on meds will help bunches and before long the attacks will be just an ugly memory. Good luck man.


also been there. i went through a deep depression after a bad accident i was in. the first time i had one, i thought i was gonna die. i was like you, went to the ER to make sure everything was ok. at that time i was taking Lexapro for my depressoin, which i eventually realized was making everything much worse for me. i went to a therapist and decided i didnt need medicine anymore, and i was gonna be in control of my life.

now, anytime i feel one coming on, i just tell myself hey... fuck it, im stronger than that. also, i found that pumpin some iron really helps me get alot of things off my mind :slight_smile: hope all goes well for you, and good luck getting everything goin for ya.


I've been dealing with anxiety attacks and severe depression since I was diagnosed at 12. I am 25 now and my most recent panic attack had me calling 911 on myself because I felt I couldn't breath and I thought my throat was closing up etc..I've been on every med you can think of and the only thing that has ever really helped in all honesty is healthy living. stay away from stimulants, depressants and mood altering chemicals of any kind unless youre in the middle of a terrible attack then of course take a med to stop it but otherwise get back to lifting, sleeping and eating right.

I have always found psych's too quick to deal out cures without taking the time to really get to the root of the problem. I have also found meditating before bed when possible to be extremely effective in learning how to center yourself and get in touch with your breathing.


Thanks for the replies. I'm currently taking Zoloft and also have some Xanax just in case I feel an attack coming on.
I'm also staying away from caffeine and since I'm not a drinker, I don't have to worry about missing beer, wine etc.

But, I would like to be off meds entirely as I too believe that docs are too quick to just get you popping pills instead of digging deep to find out what triggered it.

I've been doing some deep thinking and I know part of it was that I was working myself way too hard (7 days a week, 50-60 hours plus) and on top of that several of my family members have been going through some rough times physically (diabetes and cancer) and mentally (grandmother has Alzheimer's), so that added to the stress...not to mention I had to hear from my sister that my parents decided to sell our house we grew up in. I knew they wouldn't live there forever but I was mad they didn't tell me of their plans.

I think now that I've come out and said that these are things that were bugging me I feel better (I'm always one to bottle things up). I've also started to do meditation, and that has helped me control my breathing and helped me to relax.

I'm going to take it easy the first few times in the gym just to get used to having my heartrate up.

It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one who's gone through this and that you guys were able to overcome this and move on with your lives. I'm optimistic about the future and look forward to returning to the gym.

For those that were on meds and had the attacks...did you notice problems with your appetite? For me I had days where I didn't feel hungry and had to force myself to eat something. I also lost 10 pounds when the attacks were frequent.


Hey. Good to hear people talk about this problem. Women are more prone to panic attacks so I felt like a puss when I had mine. I had my first one a few years ago after a lot of drinking. For me, the prolonged stress of work, working out, emotional stress, taxing of the parasympathetic nervous system (drinking) caused adrenal fatigue. Which basically results in the body's inability to cope with stress. I just basically freaked out. I also have some chronic pain issues. I tried managing for a coule years on my own before seeking help. I thought I could fix it like everything else in my life before.

After consulting a CHEK practitioner I changed my sleeping habits to bed by 1030, up around 7, and drank plenty of water. Both helped and are good starting points. Then to my surprise I found out that what you eat has a huge impact on how you think. Controlling blood sugar alone can have an enormous impact on adrenals and emotions. I was eating 3-4 candy bars (protien bars, twix, etc.). So then I got Metabolic Typed and worked with a nutrition specialist to develop a diet that would maximize my bodies healing potential. Luckily i'm a protein type so I eat a lot of meat and fat.

I also supplement my diet with vitamins, probiotics, etc. which facilitate or support enzymes that detoxify the body. So basically the diet has another benefit of detoxing your body. if you're like me, your body don't know whether to shit or go blind because it is toxic. Maybe not any more toxic than the next person, but it obviously had a stronger impact on me than another. Possibly you too. If you are a carb type, and you lift weights and injest all protein, little fat and carbs, it's like running a gas powered engine on alcohol. Or something like that. Then we cut out the sugar to kill of potential fungus and parasites that steal nutrients form your body and also release toxins that have been linked to mental problems.

All of this process healed my gut a lot and reintroduced healthy bacteria. Hell, I didn't know it needed healing but my physical pain and emotional problems were telling me something. "Hey, asshole, your body needs some help so that you can be right mentally." Sounds crazy, but I can't tell you how much more clearly and rationally I think today.

I was even told, haven't verified this one, that the majority of seratonin is produced in the gut. So the diet actually has an anti-depressant effect if it heals your gut. If you want to know more PM me. I almost went down the medication road, and I understand why a lot of people do, but if the rest of your body get's to function right, then just maybe you will be able to rationally thtnk through some of the fears that cause the panic. I sincerely wish you the best of luck man. This is by far the most challenging problem I've dealt with in my life. Luckily I'm only 28.


dj...I come from a family with a long history of emotional/mental illness...my mom was strung out on valium after a number of depressive episodes and my brother has been clinically depressed for more than half of his life....he can't even function in society. Both have suffered from panic attacks over the years. Guess what? It caught up with ME about 12 years ago. My first experience with them, however, was the result of a cocaine/dope-smoking/hash-baking bender one night where I came home after partying my ass off, laid down in bed and literally thought I was going to die because my heart was racing so bad and my mind was gone. I was literally afraid to lay down and close my eyes because I KNEW I wouldn't be waking up. I walked around the outside of my campus apartment complex for over an hour because I was terrified to go back into my apt. Who the fuck would find me laying dead in there??? I had several others years later (one when I was in a hotel in New Orleans on business and grabbed a cab to the ER, where I was given Xanax) prior to being diagnosed with a chemical imbalance...nothing a few months worth of Zoloft and some intense weekly psychotherapy sessions couldn't lick though.

Here's what helped me (aside from popping a few pills). Once I recognized and came to grips with what was happening to me (i.e. that I was essentially fucked in the head and not the heart) I was able to manage them and beat them. I haven't had one forever but I do recognize that I am genetically predispositioned. The other issue is that while I know I should stay away from "stimulants", I love HOT-ROX, coffee and green tea extract, and I don't plan on not continuing to use them...ever.

Regardless, anyone who has ever experienced them knows that panic attacks will bring even the boys over at Westside to their knees. Try to ease back into your training if for no other reason than simply the structure of driving to the gym, training, and driving back home. If you need anything, PM me. I'll give you my cell phone number. I remember how important it was to just hear someone on the other end of the line during an "episode."


I never took Zoloft, but Paxil has had not effect on my appetite. And xanax makes me hungry. But, before the attacks stopped, I had all kinds of appetite and gastric problems. A couple attacks sent me to the hospital with a partial bowel obstruction. The anxiety was so great that my small intestine half way kinked itself off. VERY painful. Bitch of it all is that is what kicked off the attacks in the first place. I've had four surgeries to correct obstructions and adhesion removal. I suffer from post traumatic stress symdrom. Sounds like a big word for bullshit, but the symptoms are real and I have been successful in keeping myself healthy.


I felt the same way too, after doing some research on the web and finding that the attacks are more common in women, but then I came to terms with the fact that I have them, so how do I deal with them? I think I'm headed in the right direction there.

That's interesting about the diet stuff, I never thought that would be a factor but it sounds like it does play a role. I don't eat badly, but I don't eat as clean as some on here do. I do take a multi and fish oil and use protein supplements. I'm sure my sugar intake was a bit high and that was likely a factor (the day of the big attack I'd had 2 coffees and a soda within 3 hours).

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm only 26 (I'll be 27 next month), so I guess I"m lucky in that regard, too.


i have dealt with depression for most of my life, i am 34 and was first diagnosed at 18. Anxiety became an issue this year as well, i think it developed because i had stopped taking my meds for depression and my mind and body basically broke down, this was followed by close to 3 months of horrible anxiety. I definelty know what you mean about the eating thing i have much less of an appetite when i first start on a medication especially. I take prozac 20mg daily and after what i went thru this last time i think i will just stay on it. Depression is a disease, those who say it is not have never experienced it. You can see pics of me in the thread calling all t-members or something like that. I am at about 260 in those photos, i was at 290 when my major depressive episode hit (AKA nervous breakdown). I think it was a wakeup call as to my general health, lets just say i had some serious issues with performance enhancing substances.


Whoa, even my throat gets like that when I'm shooken. Being in college, I get all sorts of mental shit. About a year ago before finals, I had a panic attack as well. It was night time, and
my heart practically stopped, and I passed out and woke up like three times. Well, I don't think it stopped, but it did something, as it was going ape-shit on me. I started thinking about my heart alot after that, but don't worry, its fine. Never happened again, but that was one of the scariest things that has happened to me, I was pretty sure I was going to go out of commission.


Paxil saved my life.

New member here, though I've been reading the forums for a while. This thread made me finally decide to post.

In 1998, while in the Marine Corps, I was involved in a helicopter crash in the former Yugoslavia. I crushed my hip, destroyed my knee, and broke just about every rib on my right side. In a nutshell, I was fucked up.

Three months after the crash, I was diagnosed with PTSD. (post traumatic stress disorder) I would have 4-5 panic attacks a day that would either lead to me passing out or in the emergency room. Nothing helped.... except beer and liquor. So I self medicated.

I had been a regular weightlifter. I was in the first days of becoming a bodybuilder of a sort, after learning about the very first body-for-life contest. I remember trying to pack in enough protein from food on a navy vessel. Wasn't fucking easy, lemme tell you.

Well, that all went to shit. I was a crippled alcoholic, now. I was honorably discharged with 100% disability. I was (am) pretty damn good with electronics, so I was able to get a decent job.... until I drank it away. Then I drank away the next, and the next.

I never set foot in a gym again. I went from 190 at 10% body fat to 315 and probably 60% body fat. I smoked and drank and abused pain killers.

Then, just last year, I found paxil. I have not had a panic attack since.

I was able to quit drinking. 10 months now. I have not used a pain killer in 10 months either.

On Christmas, I even quit smoking, and decided to return to the gym. I quit all my bad habits....the soda..the crap.

So I guess I'm the biggest newb here. I've been weight training for exactly 17 days, and before that it's been almost a decade.

....and I don't give a shit.

I'm going to get big while I get small. I'm going to lose this fucking gut and regain my guns. This time, they're going to be bigger, though. Much fucking bigger.

Can you come back from panic attacks? Fucking right, you can. Bigger, stronger, smarter, and harder.

(fuck all the other crap...at least try paxil)


Hey Dan-

Thanks for having the stones to post this. I am dealing with the exact same situation. I had my first "panic attack" in mid-November, which resulted in an ambulance ride to the ER. I had just finished a workout, which ended early because I had the flu and felt like I had overdone it. I was on my way home when it felt like I was having a heart attack. A rush of energy surged through me and I just about passed out. I figured it was from having the flu, the general stress of life and using Spike, but I've had several episodes (not as intense) since then and I haven't taken Spike since the first one. After two trips to the ER and several doctor visits, they still haven't figured out exactly what happened, but they have me taking a low dosage of Ativan as needed and it seems to help. They pretty much ruled out a heart condition because I play basketball one night a week for two hours, and snowboard regularly. I never feel the symptoms while doing these activities. My new doctor prescribed some prilosec, as she thinks there my be some acid reflux causing part of the problem as well. Whatever.

I took about a month off from the gym before returning. I just couldn't stay away any longer. I pay a lot more attention to what my body is telling me, particularly if I do sets of 12-15 reps. For whatever reason, that seems to bring on the anxiety. I never feel the tension during sets of 3, 5 or 8. My symptoms seem to be lessening (not as severe) now, but still persist. By the way, I am 37, married, one child, and have been weight training since I was 13.

Hang in there - John


man, i went through the same stuff,i was afraid to go back to the gym because of the racing heart as well especially on leg day, i am on lexapro and xanax when i need it if i have one, but the meds made a huge difference, not only physically but mentally. i use to sit home and even had to be home taught with my panic attacks , i use to always check my plus and also check all my functions to make sure there ok. what really helped was i started putting my trust and faith in God and jesus christ, and now im not worrie about panic attacks or diying, death to me isn't an end but a new begining.

trust me it only can get btter from where you are now, stay strong, if an attack happens pop a xanax, hop in the shower (cold one) and say a little pray and you be as good as new and it will remind you to get your head on stright.


You should be fine to get back in the gym. As long as your doctors have cleared you medically(and Im guessing you have been through plenty of cardiac related tests because of the anxiety attacks), training will truly be your best therapy.

Get off the meds as soon as possible too.
Im not a fool and I know this will be tough, but believe me when I tell you that figuring out what causes your anxiety, and then dealing with it as best you can, is the way to go. With that said, dont feel bad about using the medicine for the time being. Im just suggesting that you aggressively work on your anxiety issues now through behavioral therapy, talking to buddies, exercise, and diet. Lastly, make every effort to actually fix the things that are causing your anxiety and if they cant be fixed(like your relatives being sick), try hard to accept them as unchangable.

Good luck buddy.


Same story- about a year ago melted down from trying to be too much as a Dad, Husband, run the club's PT program, take care of a good 50+ clients weekly, be there for my Mum, turned 40, blah, blah . .

Driving home from a massage it was a syou said asthma meets heart attack meets vertigo . .fun !

Ended upp on clonazepam and all teh benzodiazepines are highly addictive. I'm down to 1.375mg/ day (pill splitting)
The titration down is as scary as the episode as it's night sweats, shallow short breath and rushy feeling time to time BUT to see me through it was:

Magnesium : read this:
(I use NATURAL CALM in my morning shake)

5- htp 100 mg 2-3x/day - help my Gaba levels

Valerian between doses as it competes for the same receptor as the drug- helps keep drug dose low BUT watch for this competition- especially from St. John's Wort

Melatonin at bedtime

High grade Fish Oils like crazy

One ocffee in the morning and min. beer as it amplifies drug effect and makes gettting off harder

10 x 3 a la Waterbury was ideal as it never got my adrenals overfired like high rep squatting

Yoga breathing of recent has been great too

Here's a great suppport site:

We all make it brother :wink:


The important thing is that you're back and taking control of your life. Congratulations on that!


Wow! I can't believe all the stories posted here. Congrats to those that have overcome the attacks and for those of us still working towards that goal, best of luck. Your stories are all inspiring to me and it's nice to know that there are others out there dealing with similar issues (helps to reassure you're not crazy).

I'll probably stay in the low rep range 3-6 as I start back and then if I feel good from there, I'll try to move up to 8-12 just to see how the body responds.

From all this I've definitely learned to listen to my body and know when to push myself and when to ease off, whether that be in the gym at work or at home. I don't feel ashamed anymore and have a great support system around me that understands what I'm going through, so that's a big help.

Being able to open up and say what was bothering me was also key in my recent progression. As I stated earlier I tend to bottle up my emotions/feelings, but now I know that only leads to more stress, so I just come out and say what's on my mind. It's refreshing and has definitely helped as I've been able to confront my fears, problems and that has definitely helped subside my anxiety.


I've had similar problems related to fainting- in public mostly. I have some sort of predisposition to fainting that runs in my family and, other than some isolated incidents as a child, never had any problems until around september '04 at age 20. I was also mentally fatigued, highly stressed, and drinking coffee by the pot.

Returning to lifting was the best change that I have made. If you are concerned about returning to the gym, you might want to go during off hours for a while. I would also reccomend a program that lets you lift as often as possible while allowing for recovery.

Patience, time, and understanding panic attacks and how/why they work will go a long way towards fixing your problem. I am much better than I was.

good luck