When you’re having an anxiety attack can feel like an emergency. Here are 9 tips to reduce the severity and duration of anxiety attacks.
The mind has a powerful influence on the state of the body. An anxiety attack can land people in the emergency department, creating physical symptoms that feel similar to a heart attack.
While an anxiety attack is not currently a recognized medical diagnosis, it’s a very common way to describe an episode of heightened anxiety and the physical conditions that accompany it.
Once an individual knows how to identify an anxiety attack, it is important to also learn how to deal with an anxiety attack. Coping with anxiety attacks is not easy, but there are strategies that can help individuals gain some control over their symptoms and therefore, their life.
Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack
Signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack are similar to those of a panic attack and can differ between individuals, but typically, someone suffering from an attack may experience the following:
- Pounding and/or racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath/hyperventilation
- Nausea or choking sensation
- Numbness or tingling in the body
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
Someone having an anxiety attack may feel all or some of these symptoms in conjunction with others. When an individual experiences their first anxiety attack, they may go to the hospital because they don’t know what is happening. Individuals should never feel ashamed of or discouraged from seeking medical attention to rule out other causes of their symptoms.
9 Tips for Coping with Anxiety Attacks
There are several methods an individual can employ to stop an anxiety attack before it spirals out of control. Many of them are very easy to incorporate into everyday life. Here are nine tips for coping with an anxiety attack:
1. Remember to breathe
Although it seems simple, deep breathing has good research supporting its use. It’s tough to know how to breathe through an anxiety attack, especially because breathing is often quick and shallow during this situation. Someone experiencing heightened anxiety should focus on their breathing and slow it down (according to experts, focusing on the exhalation is helpful). This signals their nervous system to calm down by literally slowing down their body.
2. Go for a walk
Spending time in nature is excellent for managing stress levels and green spaces can help calm the mind. Even a short walk can be effective. People often report thinking more clearly when walking. Walking during an anxiety attack takes the focus off the anxiety by putting it on the individual’s stride and the changing environment around them. The fear and anxiety center of the brain can only focus on the present task at hand. If you’re focusing on walking, especially in a beautiful natural setting, you can give that part of the brain a break from anxiety.
3. Try a grounding exercise
Mindfulness and meditation are wonderful tools to help calm anxiety. When caught in the throes of an anxiety attack, grounding exercises can help bring an individual back to the present moment. Since most anxiety is related to thoughts and fears about the past and future, staying grounded in the present is an excellent strategy. Many experts have created various grounding exercises using an individual’s senses, for example. Trying some of these exercises in advance can help prepare a person to use them when they need them in an acute situation.
4. Turn to a friend for support
Friendship is a natural anti-anxiety medication, especially if that friend can make the affected individual laugh. Psychologists say that the company of a friend, even just hearing his or her calming voice, can provide anxiety attack support. If you are unsure how to help a friend who is having an anxiety attack, don’t be afraid to ask them.
5. Challenge negative thoughts
Negative thoughts can spark an anxiety attack and they can perpetuate it. It is important to challenge these negative thoughts. Of course, this is easier said than done. Thankfully, there are helpful tools available to assist you. One of these tools is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy attempts to retrain negative thought patterns, and therefore, can be especially useful in helping to prevent or calm anxiety attacks. There are also lists of questions you can ask yourself to help keep negative self-talk from spiraling out of control.
6. Splash cold water on your face
Most people realize that water is important to physical health. What they may not realize is that water helps with anxiety attacks as well. Sometimes, shocking the nervous system is enough to reset your anxiety pattern when you feel stuck. Coldwater can give an endorphin rush and this old hydrotherapy technique has been used for ages with success.
7. Distract yourself
There are many productive and healthy distractions one can use to help cope with an anxiety attack. Anxiety attack distractions serve to pull you into the present moment by otherwise engaging the brain. Distraction techniques are plentiful, and can include:
- Listening to music
- Playing sports or video games
It can be difficult to engage in an activity when you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, which is another reason to enlist a friend to help; he or she can help and encourage you to find a distracting activity.
8. Try EFT tapping for anxiety
EFT tapping involves touching certain points on the face and body in a tapping motion, often while repeating a specific phrase designed to help the anxious individual accept and let go of their anxiety and stressors. Short for emotional freedom technique, EFT tapping is useful for anxiety because the negative emotions are already there during an attack, waiting to be addressed. Bad memories that trigger anxiety attacks are associated with a physical stress response, which can be halted and reversed by tapping. Tapping for anxiety has also been used for panic arising from post-traumatic stress disorder. There are many resources for EFT tapping available online to help you learn this powerful technique.
9. Remember all anxiety attacks will end
“This, too, shall pass” is an excellent motto for anxiety attacks. Nothing is permanent, including a current anxious state. Having the awareness to understand what is happening in the body and simply letting it be until it subsides can be very empowering in its own way. By employing all of these techniques and working with a trained professional, individuals can minimize the severity, duration, and effect that anxiety attacks have on their daily life.
Additional Anxiety Management Techniques
Knowing how to manage anxiety is a difficult task for many people. Many factors can influence an individual’s anxiety levels. These factors can even include what a person eats and which supplements they take. Smoking, excessive alcohol use, and other substance use disorders can exist alongside anxiety; someone may develop an addiction as a result of trying to self-medicate for anxiety.
If your anxiety attacks are controlling your life and you have become reliant on substances to cope, The Recovery Village can help. We offer comprehensive treatment plans that can address substance addiction, any co-occurring mental health conditions. Call us today to discuss your recovery options.
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Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M. “How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing.” Front Hum Neurosci. September 7, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2019.
Loewe, Emma. “The Simple Exercise That Could Help Calm Anxiety, According to Science”. MbgHealth. Accessed June 11, 2019.
Tood, Carolyn. “5 Helpful Things to Say to a Friend Whose Anxiety is Skyrocketing (and 3 to Avoid)”. Self. June 29, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2019.
International Bipolar Foundation. “18 Ways To Distract From Anxiety.” Accessed June 11, 2019.
Hand, Julie. “How to Use Tapping (EFT) for Anxiety and Stress.” Bulletproof Blog. Accessed June 11, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.