Running From Stress and Anxiety: My Story


stress (Photo credit: bottled_void)

I’ll never forget the first time I had a panic attack. I was in graduate school in Athens, OH and had spent a long, caffeine-fueled day working in the lab. At the end of day I met my wife at a local coffee shop, and I could sense that something was off with my body. I had no idea what was going on at the time, but I could feel pins and needles all over my skin, my heart was racing, my vision was blurred, and I felt an overwhelming desire to escape from the situation.

I told my wife that something was up, and we went outside to get some air. I was terrified, and thought maybe something was wrong with my heart. After a few minutes I began to calm down, but I was afraid. That fear remains with me to this day.

Over the following weeks I felt a persistent anxiety that I couldn’t seem to shake. I was miserable, and I wanted to know what the heck was wrong with me. I finally mustered up the courage to go to the college clinic and get checked out. Turns out my health was good, and there was nothing at all wrong with my heart. That was a relief, but it didn’t explain why I was feeling the way I was. The doc suggested that I might be suffering from anxiety, and that what had happened to me was a panic attack. He prescribed me some drugs to take – Xanax and Paxil. Xanax was for emergencies, Paxil for daily use.

Dealing with an anxiety disorder can be debilitating. Even with the drugs I was under almost constant stress, and fear of having another panic attack seemed to be what was driving it all. Panic attacks are terrifying, there’s no other was to describe them. I developed a sensitivity to overstimulation – going to the grocery store was a nightmare, the combination of lighting and packaging was overwhelming to a brain on high-alert. The other source of acute stress was being put into a situation from which I couldn’t easily escape. Meetings, lectures, and the like were nightmares. Fearing lectures was not a good thing for someone who wanted to be a teacher!

As time went on I did manage to get a bit of a hold on the anxiety. I did a ton of reading on the topic, and got to understand the physiological basis for a panic attack. I developed coping strategies for when I could feel one coming on. But, they did still happen from time to time. I can remember one time in particular when I desperately wanted to escape from a panel discussion that I was on. I think at some point I was doing well enough that I weaned off the Paxil – I hated being on the drug and the side effects were not fun.

All through this experience I was ashamed. I’d never dealt with mental illness before, and the only person who knew what I was going through was my wife. She was incredibly supportive, and I’m not sure that I would have made it through the acute stages without her. I didn’t even tell my parents about it at the time.

The odd thing was that despite what I was going through internally, I was excelling at my studies and my dissertation was coming along very well. I graduated from my Ph.D. program with a 4.0 GPA, and was “grad student of the year” for my department on one occasion. I had published most of my dissertation before I even defended it – it makes it tough for a committee to be critical when your chapters have been through peer review! My laboratory teaching was getting high marks as well. I was on a trajectory to accomplish big things in the academic world, but I’m not really sure that I was happy.

During my last year of grad school I started applying for jobs and postdoc grants. I wound up with a three-year teaching offer at a small college in NH, and my grant application to the NSF was funded, which meant I had a paved path to a high-level university job if I wanted to go in that direction. We had recently found out that my wife was pregnant, and New Hampshire was close to both of our families. I think I kind of perplexed a lot of my mentors by deciding to take the non-tenure track teaching position over the prestigious postdoc. This was the first time I chose happiness over ambition, and in retrospect it was by far the correct decision.

Moving to NH was great, and I wound up in an awesome department with great people. I was living in a place that felt like home. But, as is typically the case, the first year was incredibly stressful. In my first semester I was tasked with teaching two courses I had never taught before, and my son was due during finals week. We had piled on about every major life stress possible into a period of about 6 months. I was doing great at work, but crumbling again on the inside. I went back to the doc, talked about my previous experience on SSRI drugs, and he prescribed Zoloft instead of Paxil, and Klonopin instead of Xanax. I also went to see a therapist for a bit, but found that she didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know.

If you’ve never been on an SSRI anti-depressant it’s hard to describe what it’s like. Getting on and off of them is the hardest part. When I start taking a drug like Prozac/Paxil/Zoloft I get incredibly tired. It’s all I can do to drag myself off of the couch. Parts of your body start functioning a bit off (stomach, nether-regions). Getting off is a lot harder – if I forget to take a pill my eyes get messed up, like I’m seeing trails of objects in my line of vision if I turn my head too fast. You get these weird zap-like sensations. Not fun.

Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin behave differently, side effects are milder, but I’ve taken them only sparingly as the last thing I want is to get hooked on a tranquilizer (I think it’s been at least 6-7 years since I last took one of those).

As time went on the anxiety once again improved and I found that there were really only a few specific situations that triggered acute bouts. One was the beginning of the school year – I’m terrible at transitions, and the first few lectures when I didn’t yet know my big class were always a source of stress (I usually taught a large lecture of about 100 students in the Fall). I never had a full-blown panic attack in a lecture, but there have been a few close calls where I managed to head one off before it got too bad. Large classes were always more of a stress than small classes, but after a few weeks the stress pretty much dissipated (I’ve found that many teachers experience stress like this at the beginning of the school year, I think mine was just a bit exaggerated).

The other stress-inducing situation was a large, formal lecture. Every year I had to give a lecture to the entire sophomore class at my college on Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory. It’s a topic I love, but standing on-stage in a huge auditorium in front of 300+ students who mostly did not want to be there was acutely stressful. I’d worry for weeks in advance about it. Presentations at academic conferences were also awful, so I began opting for poster presentations whenever possible.

Once again, my job performance did not reflect what was going on inside my head. Students at the college elected me as teacher of the year twice, I earned promotion and tenure without issue, and I rose to being the Chair of my department in 2011. Fortunately my issues never interfered with my ability to get things done, they just made it more challenging from time to time.

My anxiety, though still present at times (like when I started to write this post!), has diminished a lot over the past 5-6 years. I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

1. I found a drug that was a good match. I take a daily, low dose of Lexapro (10mg right now). Side effects have been minimal, and I barely know I’m on it. I’ve been doing so well lately that I keep considering coming off entirely, just need to muster up the courage to make the final jump.

2. I started running. Almost daily exercise is a huge stress-release for me, and really helps to keep the anxiety at bay. It’s probably a bigger factor than the drugs, but hard to measure. I just need to prevent running from becoming a stress in and of itself!

3. I understand what’s going on inside my body. There’s nothing really physically wrong with me (it’s not my heart!), it’s just that my sympathetic nervous system likes to sometimes go into overdrive a bit. Somehow understanding that makes me feel better :)

4. I’ve developed coping strategies to deal with periods of acute stress. The first lecture of the school year was always tough. But, I found that if I got to the classroom early, chatted with the students as they came in, and practiced deep breathing I could mitigate the worst of the stress.

5. I’ve identified the trigger, and I can mostly avoid it. Large, formal lectures to audiences I don’t know are what trigger my issues. It’s pretty much standard performance anxiety. I’m like the Barbara Streisand of academics!

Most people who have seen me speak probably have no idea that I suffer from these issues. Most of my former students probably have no idea, though I have discovered from years of watching them give class presentations that fear of speaking in front of an audience is by no means uncommon. I’ve even read a statistic somewhere that more people fear public speaking than fear death. You’d think that after giving probably a few thousand lectures that this would get better, and it has, but the fear always seems to come back at select times.

The benefit of having identified the trigger is that it allows me to avoid situations that I know will induce acute stress (i.e., large, formal lectures). I’ve found that my medium of choice is the written word. Although I’m a pretty quiet guy around people I don’t know well, I also thrive on one-on-one interaction and working with small groups. I loved working with students in the lab and teaching my small, upper-level courses. I love working with groups like I did up at the Crafstbury Running Camps this summer. I love working with clients at my new job (more on this soon). But, I could never run for president since the thought of having to give campaign stump speeches to large audiences day-in and day-out scares me to death.

Given all of this, you might think that my anxiety was why I decided to quit my job as a college professor. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it wasn’t part of the decision process, but it was far from the main motivating factor. Teaching was actually the part of the job I liked most, and helping students find their way into a career was a source of great joy. The reason I quit that job was to once again pursue happiness over ambition. I had climbed nearly to the top of the academic ladder (made it to dept. Chair and one promotion away from Full Professor), and the higher I got the less I liked what I saw, and the more stressful life became. This was good, old-fashioned job stress, not anxiety, and at times it also could become acute. I would have been much happier as an adjunct or lab instructor where teaching was my only duty and it involved a kind of anxiety I could deal with. The endless committee work and academic politics are what really wore me down – they drew me away from the part of the job that I loved, and made me miserable.

I came to realize that living with persistent stress is not healthy, and that I had alternative career options that would significantly reduce the amount of stress in my life. My happiness stems from helping other people make positive changes in their lives. I loved imparting knowledge to students who go on to do great things, and I love helping people who are trying to get healthy and active. The latter is what I do now, though I won’t count out going back to teaching at some point. I’m trying to make decisions these days based on what will make me happy, and it’s going well so far.

I’ll finish by admitting that I had no plan to write this post today. The post was triggered by an email exchange with a good friend who had asked if I’d be willing to give a lecture at a conference. It would have been a good experience professionally, and at first I said yes. However, after realizing that it would take place immediately after a family vacation in Florida, I began to rethink the choice. This was a stress inducer, and it could quite possibly put me in a state of acute stress while on vacation. Not good, not going to make me or my family happy. So I backed out and felt guilty in doing so. I offered to attend and write about the conference instead :)

I’m actually surprised that I’ve made it this far as I find it very hard to talk about things like this. It’s hard to admit to weakness in a public way, but I’ve held this in for far too long. Once I started typing the words just started to flow. Writing has become a release for me, and if someone can benefit from what I have written here then it was well worth it. Anxiety sucks, but it can be managed and overcome.

Choose happiness.

If you are suffering from anxiety-related issues and need advice, I’m happy to help in any way I can. Feel free to contact me.

Update: Adding the following video that was shared by my friend Brian Martin in the comments. Pretty much speaks for itself. Also wanted to thank everyone for the outpouring of support, both private and public. It means a lot!

Running Warehouse: Great prices on closeout shoes! View men's and women's selections. 25% or more off clearance running shoes - click here to view current selection.
Trivllage: Save 18% on run, swim, and cycle gear. Use Code: RBTri18.

Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.


  1. Brian Martin says:

    From one anxious person to another all I can say is very well said! Beyond Blue in Australia is running a great campaign on anxiety at the moment – might be nice to drop their video into your post. link to They have a lot of other great resources for people here also link to

  2. I hate speaking in front of large groups…it never gave me panic attacks…but boy I would get nervous, still do, and my speaking and fidgeting need work but becoming an elementary school teacher 4th grade and below are the least of my worries in terms of speaking…being absolutely correct on the the other hand…

  3. Peter,

    It takes great courage to write such a post.

    This is no weakness.
    Its part of life of almost 1 out of 4 people around you.

    As you rightfully said, things are never really what they seem on the surface. People are never what you see on the outside.

    Most of us are fighting our personal demons in the shade, the brave ones, expose them & their struggle to day light, inspire others to not give-up, not accept things as they are & seek remedy for our soul & perhaps also help others.

    Good old Zen quote that “The mountain top does not care about your path to it”, and its great that you found your path to concur your internal mountain & have shared it with others.

    Keep it up.

  4. Pete,

    Thanks for the courage to post and share your situation.

    Like you I am a married father who’s trying to balance home life, re-defining career, and the rest of life while recognizing my anxiety, depression and other medical issues.

    I also find running to be a tremendous coping tool for its physical benefits, time for reflection, a concrete example of enjoying the process and not just the destination, and a point of connection to a larger community.

    I’m also glad to see that you’ve sought professional help to augment your individual work. I view it as similar to choosing my running shoes. I could probably try to just keep ordering shoes by myself and find something better, but it’s even better to see the local running store to have a gait analysis and get the right shoe that matches my structure and goals. Plus they can help me adjust my choices as my running evolves.

    It does suck that finding the right medication is still a matter of trial and error. After running through a host of medications, my doctors and I have settled on a “cocktail” of Lamictal and prozac with klonopin for acute attacks.

    It’s comforting to see a runner and professional whom I respect dealing with similar issues using similar tools.

    Again, thanks for the courage and honesty to share your medical situation. It’s an example and inspiration for me, and I hope others can find similar hope from your message. Best of luck with your life, new career and your running.


    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Francis – I’ve been through most of the SSRI’s before finding one that worked. Klonopin was very effective when I was on it during my first bad recurrence after starting my new job, but I was always worried about developing a dependence. Sad think is is you develop a dependence on SSRI’s too in the sense that it’s really hard to get off them due to the withdrawal effects. On the plus side they don’t make me mentally foggy at all.

      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to
      -Twitter: link to
      -Facebook Page: link to
      -Discussion Forum:

  5. I also used to have panic attacks and it was horrible.

    Every time I came in a situation where I felt I could not afford to lose control the spiral started.
    I ended up in situations like barely managing to control my breathing and staying alert while driving on the highway through a tunnel where there was no emergency lane.

    However, it completely went away after I started running a lot, and by a lot I mean 60+mi per week, not only when training for the marathon. I think the very low resting HR and calm breathing resulting from being very very fit definitely helped a lot, but frankly I have no idea about the science and/or psychology behind it. I’m extremely lucky for not having even a hint of a panic attack in 5 years or so.

    Good luck, and I hope someday you will also have gotten rid of it!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Fred – that’s eerily familiar to me. When I was at my worst I had a few episodes where I could barely keep control while driving. Terrifying. We get our minds tuned into these situations where losing control would be disastrous and those become our greatest fears. It’s been a long time for me as well, and I’d like to think becoming a runner was part of the solution. I still get anxious, but panic attacks have not recurred for a long time.

      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -Performance Health Spine and Sport Therapy<http: about-us=”” dr-peter-larson=””””>
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to
      -Twitter: link to
      -Facebook Page: link to
      -Discussion Forum:</http:>

  6. This is such a big issue. There’s so much stuff in life that one should genuinely be concerned about. It’s hard to know what is a “normal” and acceptable level of anxiety, and when it becomes a hinderance. Sounds like you’ve done a good job of being honest with yourself and figuring out how to manage it. That’s a much better approach than ordering some Zoloft off the internet from India. I tried that a few years ago.

  7. I’ve been suffering with pins and needles all over on and off for a week now. I’d already talked myself in to both diabetes and MS – I think my anxiety is definitely health-related. I don’t know what brought it on, but certainly once I get any kind of symptom I make it ten times worse with my imagination and ‘research’ on Google.

    This may or may not be a coincidence, but this latest bout has tied in with a lay-off from my running. I definitely need to try and get back out there ASAP. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your symptoms.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Stress plus cessation of exercise can do crazy things to the body. Hope you sort things out, and be careful with Dr. Google!
      Sent from my iPad

  8. Damien @ ToeSalad says:

    I used to get panic attacks too, when I was a lot younger. There was a period of my life where there was this perfect storm of stressors: graduating from university, getting married, my father being diagnosed with cancer… it all added up to anxiety and panic attacks.

    These days I don’t get them much at all, although I have discovered that there are actually some food additive triggers. I haven’t put my finger on the exact additives, but on occasion after a meal out somewhere I will get a panic attack in the middle of the night. When eating healthy home-cooked meals with natural ingredients, I never get them.

    Have you done any research into dietary triggers?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Caffeine is one for me. I can have some, but if I have too much it really messes me up. I usually drink half-calf coffee in the morning, and limit myself to one cup or regular the rest of the day. I tried eliminating stuff a few times and never really found much difference. I though my diet soda addiction might be part of it, but cutting it out didn’t have much effect. I also have to be careful with alcohol, too much and I feel really anxious the next day.

      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to
      -Twitter: link to
      -Facebook Page: link to
      -Discussion Forum:

  9. Wow!

  10. patrick voo says:

    two thumbs for transparency and courage, peter!

  11. Thanks for sharing this! As a graduate student about to finish my PhD, your experiences really resonate with me. I am currently beginning my job search and have been struggling with the fact that I really love teaching, but that everyone around me thinks intense research is the only way to go. Thanks again.

  12. Heather Wiatrowski says:

    Thanks for that, Pete! I’m also a professor, and I once made the mistake of running an ultra the weekend after the first week of classes.

    Combining the stress of the first week of class with taper madness is something I will never, ever do again.

  13. Noelle Bakken says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all of this. Your narrative about anxiety sounds so, so similar to what my husband went through shortly after we were married. I remember frantic trips to the emergency room and not knowing what was happening, or how I could make it better. We tried everything from chiropractic visits, holistic healers and weird natural supplement regimens, and finally his psychiatrist helped him find the optimal combination of prescription drugs that are wonderful at helping him manage his anxiety now, three years later.

    It’s so unfortunate how many of us perceive mental illness as such a profound weakness – even people who struggle from anxiety disorders – even though it’s no different from any other illness. I will (very ashamedly) admit that I was, at first, incredibly skeptical and did not understand what my husband was going through, because I myself had never experienced anxiety. After keeping the lines of communication open, he helped me understand what he was experiencing – and I think your post will surely help others have a better understanding of anxiety disorders, too.

    • Pete Larson says:

      It really is hard to relate to it unless you live it. There are times when the overwhelming anxiety feels crushing and you just want to curl into a ball and disappear. My wife has been so incredibly supportive, and I really don’t think I would have made it through without her there to listen to me during the bad times. This post is something I should have written a long time ago, opening up about it with people has been more therapeutic than just about anything else. And the truth is that once you realize how common it is, it takes a bit less of a hold over you. You stop feeling that you are alone in the suffering. I had so many students with anxiety issues, and it was so hard to not open up about my own battles, when it really would have been the right thing to do.

      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to
      -Twitter: link to
      -Facebook Page: link to
      -Discussion Forum:

  14. I’ve only just found your blog/site and have to say how impressed I am. As someone who works in mental health in the UK, I also want to say how impressed I am with this post. You wrote about being ashamed. So many people feel this when it comes to mental health issues. Thank you for working against the stigma of mental health problems!

  15. Thanks for sharing, Pete. Your courage is both admirable and inspirational.

  16. Nell Gyenes says:

    Deeply touching post – great respect your authenticity in sharing such personal struggles. We all benefit from shared life experiences, understanding and compassion.

    While I never dealt with panic attacks, I put myself through the wringer with job-related stress for most of my career. I can completely relate to your comment ‘…the higher I got the less I liked what I saw’. Finally one day, I came down with a nasty case of shingles in my late 30′s. Today I can laugh about the fact that I actually told the doctor who diagnosed me ‘I didn’t have the time or bandwidth to deal with shingles, so let’s fix this immediately’ (sad, and true)…but the prolonged and painful illness ultimately proved a powerful wake up call – one I obviously needed.

    From those tough days and nights spent recovering, I resolved to give myself (and my family) hope for a better future – one with health and opportunity for a life of living, not stressing. Eventually quit the job, started walking, then running, and have built a healthful life that I could have never imagined possible before.

    Just as you’ve shared, choosing happiness and wellness (both physically and mentally) becomes the foundation to all success in life. Challenges and suffering don’t ever go away, but smarter choices in response to them makes everything much more manageable.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey and experience with us.

  17. Celia Marie Varga says:

    What an awesome post. Thank you so much for sharing. I too, sometimes have bouts of out of control sympathetic nervous system symptoms – I’m still not sure what the trigger is – but I’ve been managing. I’ve always chose happiness.
    Happiness to you, always!

  18. Robert Osfield says:

    Courageous and honest post.

    I’m curious have you looked at diet as another aspect to improving your ability to prevent anxiety? You may well have elements of diet that make attacks more likely, as well parts of nutritional mix that is lacking that might protect you.

    Also does lack of sleep play a role?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’ll also add that Chamomile tea really seems to calm me down, I used to brink a thermos to work every morning and it helped a lot. Drank Kava tea in grad school till I learned that too much can be bad for the liver. Kava worked really well, probably because it felt like drinking a beer :)
      About sleep, I would say yes, being over tired is a contributor. I like sleep!
      Sent from my iPad

    • Pete Larson says:

      Yes, too much caffeine, especially late in the afternoon is troublesome for me. Need to be careful about that. Also need to not overdo alcohol or I really suffer the following day mentally. Haven’t noticed food triggers, but I do have a lot of sensitivities that affect my GI system so I wouldn’t be surprised. I have trouble with raw garlic, onion, beans, any foods that have inulin fiber added.
      Sent from my iPad

      • Robert Osfield says:

        I don’t recall the details and can’t check as we’ve leant out our book, but I’m sure the “Perfect Health Diet” has elements that are relevant to brain health.

        The PHD book has a wealth of information about various scientific studies into diet/health and I believe extracts from this a pretty coherent approach to diet. If you haven’t read it already I’d recommend, it certainly got me thinking about diet and health in very different way.

        • Pete Larson says:

          I have PHD, started it but stopped for some reason. Will have to get it out.
          Sent from my iPad

          • Robert Osfield says:

            PHD is a big, dense book that isn’t easy to just read over a day or two, so I not surprised that you couldn’t make it all the way through at first try. My wife read it several times to pick up all the different points made, taking notes along the way.

            There is certainly evidence that diet can have a big effect on various aspects of brain health, in some cases curing conditions. I don’t know what the case is for anxiety but strongly suspect that are number of things you can do to help.

            My guess is that reduce Omega 6 sources will be useful, reducing sugars and wheat. Balancing Omega 6 and 3 is important, but neither should form a staple of your diet. Eating more healthy fats – mono unsaturated, MCT’s and saturated fats. Making sure you have sufficient minerals intake might also be key to keeping things balanced.

            These days I don’t follow a strict PHD diet but have adopted a number aspects of it. I eat far less sugar and wheat products, less carbs in general, practice intermittent fasting (skip breakfast) and eat lots more fat, eat meat more often, more eggs too. I’m pretty sure my recent performances when doing ultras despite lack of training is largely down to my change in diet.

            I believe my physical and mental state now all remain far more constant through the days and weeks.

  19. It took courage to write this post and thanks for sharing. I have experienced panic attacks and can relate.

  20. Pete….I have dealth with anxiety and panic attacks for over 20 years. I can relate to everything you stated, and know the fear of having the next attack.

    Great piece of writing, and another reminder why people like you and I enjoy running so much.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Rob, the fear of another attack is the worst part, even though I know they are totally benign and aren’t going to hurt in any physical way. Fortunately it has been a long time since I have had one, but there have been times where the fear was debilitating. Stay strong!
      Sent from my iPad

  21. Smacksmackums says:

    A great post. Thank you for sharing. I certainly know what it’s like to deal with anxiety and find it comforting to read about people who deal with the same issues as me.

  22. Surfing Vol says:

    I finally found the courage to see the doctor about my anxiety nearly two years ago. I felt overwhelming anxiety about seeing the doctor!
    There are many of us silent sufferers. I also know what the side effects of the medication are (especially the fatigued-feeling resulting from some of the medications).
    Keep up the good work and remember that there are many of us rooting for you and some of us running through the dark woods of anxiety with you.

  23. Cheers, Pete, and thanks for sharing with your (large) audience.

  24. Kevin Schell says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Pete! You are supported!

  25. Lindsay Knake says:

    I, too, have had a panic attack before – I actually want to the ER thinking something was seriously wrong. It made me ashamed to learn there was nothing physically wrong and the trip cost my insurance more than $2,000 (for two hours and some tests). Fortunately, acute anxiety is not something I deal with. For the normal stress, running is No. 1. Yoga and breathing help me quite a bit, too.

    Congrats on choosing the right path and being able to manage your anxiety. It does take courage to admit, but I’m sure so many people understand exactly what you’ve gone through.

  26. Kurt Russell says:

    I grew up with anxiety but never discussed it with anyone. A few years ago, shortly after becoming a father, I ended up in the hospital thinking I was having a heart attack, but instead was dehydrated (never a good idea to do a spinning class after having the flu for a few days). To make it worse, my white coat syndrome contributed to the doctor thinking I had very high blood pressure. This put my manageable anxiety over the edge. The anxiety prevented me from working out, and the blood pressure medications made my blood pressure too low. I then suffered an all out attack like you described. I was examined for cardiomyopathy but everything came back good (the anxiety was sky high waiting for those results to get back!). My “cure” ended up being daily meditation. Two years later, I unfortunately no longer meditate because that free time is spent running, I only drink caffeine if I’m going to be active (definitely not at work sitting behind a computer), and I rarely drink alcohol. Some beers are worst than others for me, but like you, my anxiety will be high the following day. Thanks for this post!

  27. joy on the run says:

    Amazing post! Thank you for sharing your experience so openly. It is astonishing that we can function at such high levels despite our own internal suffering. I’m with you, choose happiness : )

  28. Steve Tremblay says:

    - Daily meditation also helps. But it takes time before you feel the results.

    - Proranolol gives a good result for reducing acute stress reaction symptoms. Lots of comedians or lecturers use this drug 30 minutes before facing the audience.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’ve considered trying a beta blocker for performance issues, never did for some reason. I think my problem s that the anticipation is actually worse than the event itself.
      Sent from my iPad

  29. Christian Judge says:

    Kia kaha (be strong – as a positive affirmation) as they say in New Zealand. This is the best post you have written. We are bound together as a community of runners, but your sharing this with us and the responses and support you have gained shows we are a community of people. People with our own problems, frailties and issues, but more than that, of love, acceptance and mutual support. Aroha.

  30. Vicki Capone says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Much appreciated :)

  31. Peter,
    It takes alot of courage to make a choice to choose happiness over your ambitions.My question to you is are you still denying some part of yourself in avoiding those triggers instead of working through them. Why can’t we have both happiness and ambition. I also suffer from anxiety and began writing about my experience in a blog to also help others. Visit my site and comment


    • It wasn’t a question of ambition for me, I’d pretty much reached the top of where I could go with my other career. I was ready for a new challenge, and saw no real reason not to pursue something I loved. There’s no question that I avoid certain triggers, mainly large formal lectures, but I’m cool with that :)

  32. Now I understand what your saying. How do you identify your triggrrs?


  33. Hi Pete, this was a great article.

    I am struggling with what I believe to be anxiety. It is really consuming me. I moved to a new town months ago to attend school and after the fourth month of being here the attacks set in. I get the churning feeling in my gut, the chills, dry mouth, racing heart and racing thoughts,trembling and the feeling of un-realness. It’s overwhelming.

    It’s gotten to the point where I have stopped attending lectures and I can barely sleep. I stay home all day and I am on edge all day. I constantly think about not having another attack.

    I have one semester left to finish but I am considering taking that semester off and moving back to my hometown to sort this all out. I’ll return in the fall. I am angry at myself because I did not anticipate anything like this happening to me.

    I feel like no one understands me. People are telling me to keep going but they don’t understand these intense feelings. I had one of my major attacks here in this very apartment and so everywhere I turn it’s a reminder of those attacks.

    Do you have any advice at all?

  34. I just wrote a post today on Anxiety and Stress … then I did a google search curious to if I’m the only one who suffers from it. I’m SUPER glad I found your site.

    Thank you. thank you for the post!

  35. You’re one of kind dude :) It’s really amazing that you have handled it on your own. I’ve known a lot who has never been as brave as you in handling anxiety attacks. I have never been there (thank goodness)but I know it’s hard. I will surely share your story. Thanks for writing this up man!

  36. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing! It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to recognize triggers and know how to manage them! Did you ever find it difficult to pinpoint the causes? I had my first panic attacks when I was twelve (and haven’t had any that extreme since, THANK GOODNESS), and still experience anxiety and stress. Sometimes it seems like everything is contributing to my stress though so it can be hard to pinpoint what needs to change!

    • I got to the point where I had a pretty good idea of my major stressors. Presentations to large audiences that I did not know, major schedule transitions (school year to summer, summer to school year), constant deadlines (lectures to prep every day, administrative work) all contributed. I still work a lot, but I’m in control of my schedule and things are pretty constant through the year rather than the ups and downs associated with teaching.

  37. Ajay Kalra says:

    Dear Pete,

    Much respect to you for sharing this in so much detail. I just read your post today about how you’ve come off anxiety meds, and I’m very happy for you!

    I had my first panic attack in a corporate boardroom. My face flushed up, my brain froze to a complete stop, I wanted to break into tears and just run away. Not that people were yelling at me then, but I think the stress build-up just got the better of me. But I managed to maintain my composure and finish the meeting.

    What worse, the same afternoon I had to talk publicly to a large group of people in my organization. Under usual circumstances, I love public speaking, but with the horrid experience in the morning I wasn’t so sure. When the time came, I just got up on the stage, blocked all negative thoughts,focused on the moment, and delivered my spiel like a boss.

    But I felt slightly embarrassed of what happened in the morning and the downcast mood stayed with me for several days. Now I’m very aware that the attack might come back one day without any warning.

    Looking at all the comments, I’ve realized I’m not the only one.Thank you so much for sharing what you did.

    Best wishes,

    • Thanks Ajay! Yep, panic attacks would often knock me out of whack for a few days, totally sapped me of energy. Not fun at all. You are not alone, be confident in that!

  38. I really appreciate you sharing your story so openly. I’ve struggled similarly with anxiety/depression which manifested itself in an eating disorder. I too was a teacher (high school) and the start of the school year was a huge trigger for me. I took a break from teaching for three years and when I returned the stress/anxiety was even worse (I was also pregnant) and can remember this crushing feeling of being unable to handle what was about to happen: my first class in three years. I transitioned out of the teaching roll and was much happier and now I’m a stay at home mom and blogger and completely happy and mostly stress-free. I’m also five years “sober” from my eating disorder. I think that, as simple as it sounds, “choose happiness” is really the only way to get the most out of life. Sometimes it is risky and takes sacrifice and may not be the best choice on paper…but ultimately it is!Thanks again for sharing.

    • Thanks Sarah! The beginning of the school year was a killer for me, I’d stress for weeks in advance and it would ruin most of August for me. Life is so much better now!

  39. This was just what I needed to read! It was very easy to relate to your struggles. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I’m so glad I came across this today. Thanks so much for sharing! Hope all continues to be well.

  40. formerlyanxious says:

    I’ve gone through serious bouts of anxiety in my lifetime, and the last time was the last time. I finally figured out that what happens is the brain gets “stuck” and it believes, unconsciously on the self’s part, that it is in danger all the time. Even though everything is fine. The last time, it was so bad that I couldn’t leave the house. One day I started to write a screenplay. After the first few hours of being completely immersed in creativity, I realized I wasn’t anxious. I wondered if creativity would help, so I dove into writing and other creative pursuits that truly interested me. After a few weeks, the anxiety was completely gone and has never returned in 5 years. I believe what happened was that I reset my brain. Using other portions of it, the creative and imaginative centers, constantly, eventually reprogrammed the unconscious, and the inappropriate flight-fight switched off. I never had to take drugs or see a doctor. I just fully immersed myself in creativity that truly interested me. Running is a creative act. As is writing, gardening, knitting, singing, etc. Creativity=peace.

    • There’s a lot of truth in what you write – anxiety is created by our own minds by creating a feeling of danger where none really exists. The sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and gets stuck in a sense just like you say. Occupying my time with things I enjoy has done wonders for me as well!

Speak Your Mind