There’s a 15 minute window of time after most of my workouts where my hand isn’t itching to touch my lip, where my muscles aren’t tensing in odd places, and where I don’t feel the need to squeak. It’s heavenly. Honestly, it’s one of the ways I keep myself from going mad when things are stressful, and I feel like a jar of Mexican jumping beans. (Random tidbit of information – If you want to see a cool BBC short video about Mexican Jumping Beans, here’s one.)
I can always tell when need to work out because my tics skyrocket. Honestly, three days without at least a 20 minute exercise is about all I can take, and that’s pushing it. As I’ve gotten older and my tics have gotten worse, I’m having to workout more than I did when I was an active teenager, which really isn’t bad.
I had to ask myself, however, if other people with Tourettes are like me, if exercise helps them with their tics. I’ve been asked several times as well if this is true by other individuals who have experienced the same thing. What is it about exercise that sends our tics on a short vacation?
Tics and Stress
According to WebMD’s article, “Tic Disorders and Twitches,” both stress and sleep deprivation seem to play roles in raising stress levels. (If you turn on any medical show, you’ll also know that sleep deprivation raises stress levels, too.) This is unfortunate, as many people with Tourettes, including myself, sometimes experience difficulty going to sleep because of the tics. It’s kind of like when you were a kid, and your brother kept kicking you every time you were on the cusp of falling asleep. Instead, it’s your body, jolting you over and over again. (Unfortunately, it does no good to slap yourself for this type of behavior, as it might have on your brother.)
Medline Plus’s article, “Facial Tics,” also says, “stress appears to make tics more severe.” KidsHealth.org says, “At certain times, like when a person is under stress, the tics may become more severe, more frequent, or longer. Or the type of tic may change altogether.”
In his book, Front of the Class, Brad Cohen describes what it felt like to job search with Tourettes. He couldn’t get a job teaching because of his Tourettes, which was obviously stressful. During this time, his tics got so bad he was injuring himself.
My mom can always tell when I’m stressed. All she has to do is take one look at me, and I’ll hear,
“Brittany, what’s stressing you out?” And she’s not asking if I’m stressed. She’s just familiar with how my body reacts to stress, even stress I may not consciously be aware of. I can tell even now that my stress levels this week have been really high. I’m currently crouched in my computer chair on my toes as I write, rather than just sitting down. It’s the only way I can get this written and stay seated on one spot for any length of time. Still, I feel like I’m ticcing up a storm.
And considering how many people with Tourettes and Tic Disorders have comorbid anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this reaction to stress doens’t make life any easier. So what gives?
Is It Common for Exercise to Lessen Tics?
Livestrong’s article, “Does Exercise Affect the Severity & Frequency of Tics in a Person With
Tourette’s Syndrome?”, by Laura Niedziocha gives 3 ways that exercise can help people with Tourettes:
- “Regular exercise can be an effective way of alleviating stress. Exercise
stimulates the production of endorphins in your brain that help elevate mood and
increase feelings of optimism, according to Harvard Health Publications.” (You can read more about endorphin production through exercise in my article here.)
- “During exercise, you can let your mind wander in a meditative state, which is
also an effective way of reducing stress.”
- “…exercise can increase your self-confidence, which may be a way to
Jim Eisenreich was a professional baseball player for the Florida Marlins. Teased mercilessly by peers and adults alike for his Tourettes, he later started the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette Syndrome. On his sight, children are encouraged to stay active in whatever way is fun.
Better Brains, Naturally, has a column, Ask Dr. Robbins. A mother asks Dr. Robbins how she can help her son who has severe tics. Dr. Robbins advises numerous tips, specifically mentioning regular exercise. He recommends creativing a “positive addiction” to exercise, (as opposed to replacing the negative addictions the woman’s son had gotten into), and using that exercise to improve brain neurotransmitters.
TeensHealth says, “Sports, exercise, or hobbies are great ways for teens to focus mental and physical energy.” And I agree!
One of the best instances of this is found in the memoir, “World’s Strongest Librarian,” by Josh Hanagarne. With a much more severe case of Tourettes than mine, Josh Hanagarne describes his love-hate relationship with working out over the years, but ultimately, how exercise helped him manage his tics over the years.
What It Feels Like
This is my unscientific take on what it feels like to exercise my tics off. It feels like I’ve got Mexican bursts of energy floating through my veins.
A bit of advice, however, for someone who might not be used to working out regularly. I’ve seen a couple mentions in online discussions of people who experience heightened tics at the beginning of their workout. I’ve experienced something similar, where the first 10 minutes of my workout are just as full of tics as if I were standing still, even worse sometimes. Just know that if this happens, you’re not the only one.
My theory is that exercise can be intimidating, particuarly if your body is sensitive to changes. like a higher heart rate, sweating, and strenuous activity in general. These are some of the symptoms I’ve seen people complain about online. Don’t let this stop you. Once I hit my 15 minute mark, I can begin to feel a change inside me. I’m not fighting my body quite so much, and with each five minute mark, I begin to feel more and more in charge. Everyone is different, but you owe it to your body to see what it’s really capable of.
As with anything, moderation is key. If you’re beginning a workout regimen for the first time, it’s always good to ask your doctor what kind of exercise might be best for you, particularly if you have prior injuries or have anxiety about the workout. If you’re not sure where to start, consider finding a workout buddy who can help you, or even paying for a few sessions with a trainer.
Exericse can be intimidating, but take it from this girl and her tics. It’s worth it. Not only do I experience a short period of time after the exercise during which I feel great relief, my tics are generally somewhat lower for the rest of the day than they would have been otherwise. It’s good for my body, mind, and soul. I have time to stop and focus on one activity. I can talk to God while I work out, or I can use the time to read on my NOOK.
And I’m taking the time to tell my Tourettes who’s in charge.
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