What to Do During an Anxiety Attack
Not knowing what to do during an anxiety attack can be terrifying, and anxiety attacks usually happen suddenly and without warning. You feel helpless, you can’t catch your breath and the world around you feels completely disconnected.
Triggers, such as intense anxiety or moments of high stress, bring on most anxiety attacks but sometimes anxiety attacks can seem like they happen with no cause at all.
What Are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack?
Symptoms can vary from person to person but some of the more common symptoms of an anxiety attack are:
- An accelerated, pounding heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating and/or hot and cold sweats
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Inability to concentrate
- Feeling like you need to escape
- An intense feeling of fear
I experienced an anxiety attack last week, I hadn’t had one in quite a while but this one came out of nowhere and completely caught me off guard, like most anxiety attacks do.
It was as horrible and unbearable as I remembered, my heart rate was rapid and felt like it was pounding against my chest. It got so intense that I could feel a pulsing sensation on my back and my chest began to ache painfully with my irregular breaths.
I was having a discussion at the time, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a stressful discussion but I would say that I had some minor anxieties about the topics that were being discussed. I did have a severe headache at the time and looking back I feel that that may have attributed to the attack.
Physical sensations such as pain and irritability can sometimes add to and also elevate our anxiety. I have had my fair share of anxiety attacks over the years and have also spent many hours reading through books and articles in search of any techniques that may help me get through them.
What to Do During an Anxiety Attack and How to Overcome It
Everyone has different ways of overcoming their anxiety attacks, from breathing exercises to calming techniques to telling someone. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to manage an anxiety attack.
For myself, I incorporate calming breathing techniques, ground myself, use diversions, relax my muscles, having a mantra and so on.
One of the most important things to do during an anxiety attack is to try and regulate our breathing. When we are experiencing anxiety our breathing rate increases, causing such symptoms as chest pain and dizziness, which only makes our anxiety worse.
What we want to do is slow this down.
- Breathe through your diaphragm, instead of your upper chest. When you breathe into your diaphragm you will notice your belly expanding and contracting with each breath. This will tell you that you are bringing air into your lower lungs as well as your upper lungs.
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
- Slow down your breaths; take longer to exhale than to inhale.
- Continue these breaths until your breathing regulates and returns to your normal breathing pattern.
A while ago whilst on social media, I came across a GIF that had gone viral. It is a simple animation showing a small triangle expanding into growing shapes and results in a large octagon.
The GIF is meant to show the viewer that by syncing your breaths with the animation it will calm your breathing, and it’s brilliant.
I’ve provided a link in the ‘Sources’ below but a simple search of ‘breathing anxiety GIF’ into a search engine will come back with many results for this very GIF. I suggest finding a result that lets you save the GIF to your phone for future use.
Show these breathing techniques to your friends and family, so that they can help you to regulate your breathing during an attack.
2. Ground Yourself
Try to bring yourself back to the present. Ground yourself by touching or feeling things around you.
One trick I always remember in an anxiety attack is as follows:
- Look around you.
- Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
- Saying these things out loud and deliberately focusing on them will hopefully help in grounding you to the present.
3. Cognitive Diversions
Focusing on something that is calming, positive or pleasant during an attack can be a great help in distracting our minds from the feelings of panic and anxiety in our attacks.
- Reciting the lyrics to a favorite song.
- Counting backward in three’s.
- Remembering a pleasant memory and focusing on details from that scene like what you can feel, see or smell.
- Saying the alphabet backward.
4. Muscle Relaxation
During an anxiety attack our bodies become tense and rigid, Muscle relaxation helps us to loosen up and release that tension.
- Start from the feet upwards and concentrate on tensing each muscle group for about five seconds.
- Inhale as you tense and exhale as you relax.
- Relax for around ten seconds and then move on to the next muscle group.
- Try to only tense the muscle you are targeting in each group.
- Focus on the difference in your muscles on both tension and relaxation.
If you try to run away, your brain may start to associate that place with feelings of danger or panic every time you revisit. Try to stay put and take steps to combat your symptoms, this will help your brain recognize that your current environment is not a place of fear.
Remember that no one has ever died from an anxiety attack and even though it can feel like your anxiety attack is consuming you, it will pass and it will end. You can and will get through this.
6. Tell someone
If we are with someone during an anxiety attack, as much as they may mean well and want to help, others don’t always know what to do. When you are not experiencing an attack, take the time to inform those close to you of the steps they can take to help when you are.
- Stay with us but don’t overwhelm us.
- Ask us what you can do to make our environment more comfortable.
- Stay calm.
- Remind us to regulate our breathing.
- Be patient.
- Ask us to practice muscle relaxation.
- Remind us that we are okay and that it will pass.
7. Have a Mantra
I have a few mantras that I repeat to myself during an attack, I find they can be very helpful in regaining my focus.
Here are just a few:
- “This is only temporary, it will pass.”
- “You will be okay, hold on.”
- “You are not going to die.”
- “It will be over soon.”