Table of Contents
- Understand Your Anxiety Attack(s)
- Avoiding Scaring Yourself
- Identifying an Anxiety Attack
- Calming Yourself
- Deep Breathing
- Closing Your Eyes
- Practicing Mindfulness
- Finding a Focus Object
- Using Muscle Relaxation Methods
- Imagining Your “Happy Place”
- Doing Light Exercises
- Repeating a Mantra
- Doing Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Using Lavender
- Distracting Yourself
- Avoiding Stress
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Following a Healthy Diet
- Trying Alternative Treatments
- Eliminating Any Underlying Causes
- Taking Benzodiazepines
Anxiety attacks are intense rushes of panic and fear that appear suddenly and can have both emotional, as well as, physical symptoms, apart from being quite overwhelming. The symptoms of anxiety attacks may vary. While some may experience profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, trembling, pounding of the heart, fear, restlessness, irritation, inability to focus on work, insomnia, others may experience severe chest pain, dizziness and feel like they are having a heart attack, or as if they’re going mad and losing control completely.
Living with anxiety constantly can be a challenge and may turn into generalized anxiety disorder, which is present at all times and makes you worried about everything at all times. All of us suffer from anxiety at various points of our lives, but if it starts affecting your productivity, sleep, ability to build and maintain relationships and generally your life, then you could be suffering from anxiety disorder. According to research, if anxiety is not treated, it can result in serious consequences such as depression, suicide or even early death. Anxiety attacks can be quite scary and can occur quickly. Here are some strategies that can help you overcome anxiety attacks if you are having one or feeling an attack coming on.
Understanding the various aspects of anxiety attacks i.e. what are anxiety attacks? What causes anxiety attacks? How does your body respond to anxiety attacks? The stages of stress response and how stress can affect your body. When you understand the psychological, emotional and physiological changes which occur due to anxiety, then anxiety attacks are not a mystery any longer and are easier to face. The surest way to stop anxiety attacks is to understand anxiety, its causes and to be unafraid of it.
As we discussed earlier, being afraid is one of the main reasons for anxiety attacks and this is the most common reason why anxiety attacks continue for prolonged periods of time causing people to develop panic attack disorder. By refusing to get scared, you are removing the main reason why anxiety attacks occur in the first place. You can control the emergency system of your body by taking charge of your thought process. And, with practice, you will become skillful at controlling your thoughts and shut down the anxiety attacks completely and stop them from starting.
When you recognize that you are having an anxiety attack and not a heart attack, you can reassure yourself that this is a temporary phase and will pass. Remove the fear that there is some imminent doom or that you’re going to die from your mind. Both these are symptoms of anxiety attacks. By doing this, you can focus on other techniques that can help to reduce your symptoms.
By calming yourself, you can effectively shut off the mechanism which causes anxiety attacks. By calming down, the stress response in the body ends and the rest of the stress hormones are either used up by your body or eliminated. The faster you are able to calm down, the quicker the panic attack will subside making you feel better. Usually, the effects of a minor stress response lasts for less than 10 minutes, while a high-degree stress response can last longer, for 20-30 minutes or more.
You should maintain a calm and relaxed state of mind until your body is able to recover from the active stress response, which means that until the active stress response ends and your body recovers from it, your body will experience the psychological, emotional and physiological effects of the anxiety attack.
A very common symptom of anxiety attacks is hyperventilating which can increase fear. Deep breathing can help to reduce the symptoms of panic during an anxiety attack. By controlling your breathing, you can reduce hyperventilating, which can make the symptoms, as well as, the anxiety attack itself worse.
Take deep breaths through your mouth and breathe in and out. Let the air fill your chest and belly slowly and then exhale slowly and feel the air leaving your body. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for a second and breathe out for 4 counts.
Sometimes, anxiety attacks are caused by triggers which can overwhelm you. If you are in an environment that is extremely fast paced and has plenty of stimuli, this can cause your anxiety attack to worsen. By closing your eyes when you’re experiencing an anxiety attack, you can reduce the external stimuli and blocking out the excess stimuli can help to focus on your breathing.
Anxiety attacks can cause feelings of separation from reality and a feeling of detachment. Practicing mindfulness can help to ground you in the reality around you and this can help to fight the panic attack which is actually occurring or if an attack is approaching.
Practicing mindfulness is quite easy. All you need to do is focus your thoughts on the physical sensations and feelings that are familiar to you such as feeling your jeans’ texture, digging your feet into the ground, etc. These sensations help to ground you in reality firmly by offering you something objective that you can focus on.
During an anxiety attack, it may be helpful for you to focus all your attention on a single object. Pick some object that is in clear sight and note all the things about the object. For instance, describe all the details of the object to yourself such as the shape, size, color, patterns, etc. Focusing all your energy on the object could help your anxiety symptoms to subside.
Just like deep breathing techniques, muscle relaxation can also help to stop the symptoms of your anxiety attack by helping you control the response of your body. Relax each muscle in your body at a time, start from your toes and move slowly all the way up through your entire body. Usually, muscle relaxation techniques are most effective when you have practiced them previously.
What according to you is the calmest and relaxing place in the world? A beach with white sands and swaying palm trees? A serene log cabin in the mountains. Try and imagine yourself in this place and focus on as many details as possible. Imagine yourself taking in the scent of the pine trees or soaking up the sun and sinking your feet in the warm sand. Imagine a place that is calm, relaxing and serene and avoid thinking of busy and crowded places or cities.
When your blood is pumping properly, it floods your body with endorphins, which in turn, helps in improving your mood. If you’re stressed and anxious, choose a light exercise which is gentle on your body such as swimming, walking, etc. However, if the anxiety attack is making you hyperventilate or struggle to breathe, first do everything you can to catch your breath and calm down.
When you are experiencing an anxiety attack, repeating a mantra to yourself can help to relax and reassure you. It just could be something that means something to you personally. Keep repeating this in your head in a loop until you feel that your anxiety attack is subsiding.
Slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers a natural tranquilizing effect, which helps to offset the effects of stress response. Your body calms down and relaxes as you breathe through the diaphragm and stops an anxiety attack and also prevent future attacks from occurring.
Lavender has great stress-relieving and soothing properties and can help your body to relax. Keeping some lavender essential oil handy can help if you’re prone to anxiety attacks and if you’re experiencing one, then put some on your forearm and breathe in the fragrance. Drinking chamomile or lavender tea can help you relax. However, you must take care not to combine lavender with benzodiazepines as the combination of both can cause heavy drowsiness.
Most anxiety attacks are triggered due to stress and anxious thoughts. You can prevent anxious thinking by distracting your attention and this, in turn, helps to prevent anxiety attacks. There are many ways by which you can distract yourself like speaking to a friend, counting, reading, playing a game, etc.
A good way to distract yourself is by using strong sensory experiences such as cold water, strong tastes, etc. Strong sensory experiences can distract your mind from the active stress response and helps to stop an anxiety attack.
Try and keep your stress in check. This can help to prevent anxiety attacks to a very large extent. When stress is reduced, you will also have more control over the reactions of your body. Persistent stress can cause your body to act involuntarily and erratically, which in turn can affect your control over your psychological, emotional and physical capacities.
Anxiety attacks usually originate from thoughts which escalate into deep-seated worries. CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) is an excellent treatment to control the symptoms of anxiety attacks and is quite effective in doing so. CBT can help if you experience repeated anxiety attacks by challenging fearful thoughts and asking questions such as, “What do you fear is going to happen?” and “Do you have any evidence to support your fears?” An expert with training in CBT can arm you with the techniques required to control a full-blown anxiety attack successfully.
Low blood sugar can cause symptoms of an anxiety attack and eating meals on time can help to keep your blood sugar levels normal. You can follow a healthy diet by eating every 4 hours and not staying hungry for long periods of time, setting right any dietary deficiencies you may have and avoiding alcohol and caffeine, as these can trigger anxiety attacks or cause them to worsen.
The use of alternative interventions is becoming quite popular for treating medical, as well as, anxiety-related disorders. Aromatherapy, herbs and acupuncture can be helpful in controlling anxiety attacks effectively. According to a study, it was revealed that acupuncture acts on the brain and helps to reduce pain, stress and anxiety and also helps in relaxation.
It may be a good idea to visit your doctor and have any potential medical issues checked out. Several conditions such as asthma, anemia and certain heart conditions can cause anxiety attacks. If you are a smoker and you experience anxiety attacks, then you should quit smoking as this is the main contributor to anxiety. While you may feel that your anxiety is calmed when you smoke; however, it is just the opposite. Nicotine is a stimulant which makes long-term anxiety even worse.
Taking benzodiazepines, especially when you feel that you have an anxiety attack coming, can help to treat these attacks. Since benzodiazepines are essentially prescription medications you will be required to be diagnosed with a panic disorder to get these medications. However, these medications are highly addictive and must be used sparingly only if you have an extreme need for them.
Anxiety attacks can be incapacitating and living with anxiety can be distressing. Control over anxiety attacks is a long-term process and cannot occur overnight. However, by incorporating these tips and techniques in your daily life, you can definitely learn to manage your anxiety symptoms and in time, you will gain the confidence to control an anxiety attack before it hits you.