“I beat anxiety with yoga.”

One woman’s triumph over depression, a breast-cancer scare and infidelity

Source: Web exclusive: March 2008

In the middle of a March afternoon, Geneviève Charette suddenly found herself struggling to breathe. The Montreal-based consultant was due to start a new contract the next day. Gasping for air, she waited for her husband to come home to watch their two young sons before heading to the walk-in clinic. The diagnosis? A panic attack.

That was ten years ago, and it marked the beginning of a rollercoaster of panic attacks and depression that even antidepressants and talk therapy couldn’t stop. Circumstances weren’t helping: in 2004, a business venture with two friends began to crumble, and the strains in her marriage turned into giant cracks. “I was crying all the time. I felt so lonely, and I couldn’t talk about it,” says the 41-year-old. “I hid it from everyone.”

The breaking point

In addition to the turmoil in her personal and business life, a cancer screening in 2005 revealed cysts in her breast. A terrifying five weeks passed before they were determined benign. “That was an awakening,” says Charette. “Luckily, I was OK—but I needed to take control of the things that were making me unhappy.”

The challenge

To find a healthy way to take control of her constant worry and anxiety.

The plan

Twice-weekly yoga sessions in a friend’s living room studio. (Charette didn’t want to start with a large, intimidating class.) A few months ago, she also joined Weight Watchers to shed the 35 pounds she’s put on during her separation.

The biggest obstacle

At Christmas 2006, Charette discovered her husband was having an affair. “I was having panic attacks about how to support myself and my boys.”

The results

Within a month of starting yoga with friends, she stopped having panic attacks, and she recently dropped 11 pounds off her frame. With a newfound sense of control over her life, Charette re-entered the work world, taking on a part-time role as executive director of the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada in Montreal. “It’s so rewarding, and most important, it’s helped me realize I am not alone.”

The tips

  • Be bad at something. Charette didn’t love yoga at first. “Because I had knee and shoulder problems, I couldn’t do certain yoga movements and I felt inadequate.” She pushed past her need to excel and focused on getting better, one session at a time.
  • Talk it out. “I’m fortunate to a have an amazing group of girlfriends who support me. I had hid my depression from them for years. Now I have a standing breakfast date with them every Friday morning. It really helps, knowing that when I walk into the restaurant, there’s someone waiting there to spill my guts to.”
  • Make space for yourself. “My yoga mat is my little piece of heaven. Just to take an hour and half for myself and relax and shut out the outside world is what helps me keep it together in the day.”

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