Mental Health

Dealing with Anxiety Attacks

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“You feel as if the world is rushing at you. Noises become very pronounced and it makes your head swim. Sometimes you find it difficult to focus, sometimes you feel disoriented. Your heart rate soars and you become very aware of your breathing.

And you sometimes have pins and needles in your hands or a sudden tension across your shoulders. Other times you feel an intense bolt of fear, which makes you want to move away but roots you to the spot…like when you’re dreaming and want to scream but no sound comes out. The attacks pass quickly but arrive with no warning. You know they go away eventually, so it takes a little of the edge off…”

According to research almost everyone will experience an anxiety (panic)attack at least once in their life time. People who behave more anxiously than normal often experience many anxiety attacks. Approximately 3 percent of the general population develop panic attack disorder (PAD) – this is when panic attacks become problematic and interfere with a normal lifestyle. Children exposed to sexual abuse have a high risk of developing the anxiety disorder referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They experience anxiety symptoms on a magnified level, if they go untreated. Emotionally, adult survivors experience anxiety in the form of self-injury, depression or suicidal thoughts. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress further notes that the anxiety experienced from childhood sexual trauma impacts social and interpersonal functioning through various manifestations.

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are the same thing.

They are often characterized as experiencing:

  • A feeling of overwhelming fear
  • Feeling of going crazy or losing control
  • Feeling you are in grave danger
  • Feeling you might pass out
  • A surge of doom and gloom
  • An urgency to escape
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Turning pale
  • Feeling detached from reality
  • Weak in the knees
  • Burning skin
  • Pins and needles
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Numbness and tingling sensations

The anxiety attack symptoms can be accompanied by:

  • Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing, it feels like something is stuck in your throat
  • Confusion
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
  • Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotional upset
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
  • Nausea
  • Panicky feeling
  • Pounding, racing heart
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Sudden urge to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
  • Vomiting
  • Feel like crying

One can experience one, many, or all of the symptoms listed above. Just because you aren’t experiencing many or all of the above symptoms doesn’t mean you aren’t having an anxiety attack. This list is not exhaustive. Each person can have a unique anxiety attack experience. Click here for more symptoms.

There are many causes of anxiety, as well as many physical, psychological, and emotional signs and symptoms. Even though anxiety attacks can be powerful physical, psychological, and emotional experiences, they occur for specific reasons. Understanding these reasons can put you in control of the attacks. Learning to control anxiety attacks can set you free.

10 Ways to Stop Anxiety Attacks:

  1. Understanding the anatomy of an anxiety attack. Knowledge is power. Having a complete understanding of the physiological, psychological, and emotional components that contribute to anxiety attacks, is the surest way to end a struggle with them. When you understand what anxiety attacks are; what causes them; how the body responds – the many physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that can occur and why; the many stages of the stress response; and how stress affects the body; they will no longer be mysteries that have the potential to scare you. According to experts, becoming unafraid of anxiety attacks is the surest way to stop them.
  2. Stop scaring yourself. Anxiety attacks are mostly caused by fear. So being afraid of being held down by anxiety attacks is one of the most common reasons why anxiety attacks sustain…and why people develop Panic Attack Disorder. When you eliminate fear, you eliminate the most common cause of anxiety attacks. Yes, you can learn to stop scaring yourself. Taking charge of your thinking puts you in control of your body’s emergency system. As you get proficient at taking control, you can completely shut down anxiety attacks and prevent them from starting.
  3. Calm yourself down. The more you do this, the faster the anxiety attack will end and the sooner you’ll feel better. Calming yourself down shuts off the mechanism that causes anxiety attacks. It ends the stress response. Then it’s just a matter of time until the body uses up or expels the remaining stress hormones. Grounding is one of the ways you can achieve this.
  4. Relaxed diaphragmatic breathing. Slow breathing from your diaphragm is another natural way to end, control, and prevent anxiety attacks. As you relax diaphragmatic breathe, your body will calm down, which again will end an anxiety attack.
  5. Relax your body. Relaxing the body also offsets the muscle tension caused by the stress response. Relaxing the body shuts off the stress response since the body can’t go in both (arousal/relaxed) directions at the same time. The more relaxed you make your body, the faster the body uses up and expels stress hormones, which will bring an end to the feelings associated with an active stress response.
  6. Distract yourself. There are lots of ways to distract yourself, such as counting, calling a friend, organizing materials on or in desk, playing a game, reading a book, and so on. Anything that distracts your mind away from anxious thoughts will indirectly end stress responses and anxiety attacks.
  7. Recognize all anxiety attacks end. Riding out the anxiety attack knowing it will end can help you remain calm, which also shuts off the stress response and attack. No matter how powerful the anxiety attack is, it will end. It’s only a matter of time. No one experiences unending anxiety attacks even though sometimes it can feel that way.
  8. Recognize your body is doing what it’s supposed to in response to thinking you are in danger (survival mechanism and the stress response). A high degree stress response isn’t a bad thing, but the body’s temporary emergency survival mechanism in action. Many people do different things to experience the rush of the stress response (skydiving, bungee jumping, other dangerous and thrilling activities). It can be shut off anytime by using the above-mentioned strategies.
  9. Even though an anxiety attack may feel like it is out of control, it isn’t. An anxiety attack is a common response to believing you are in danger, but not the actual cause of being in danger. While it may take courage and practice initially, all of us can control anxiety and anxiety attacks. Knowing how to control anxiety attacks, and becoming practiced at it, eliminates it.
  10. Keep your body’s stress in check. You will have more control over your body’s reactions when stress is minimized (persistently elevated stress can cause the body to act erratically and more involuntarily than normal, which can affect the level of control you have over your physical, psychological, and emotional capacities). Keeping your body’s stress in the healthy range will prevent involuntary anxiety attacks.



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