5 Ways to Help Handle an Anxiety Attack
Dealing with anxiety can be debilitating, whether it’s a chronic condition that you and your doctor are aware of, or something new that has suddenly come over you. For some, it could be a part of a larger illness, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or a phobia. For others, it may simply be that you’re overwhelmed with something specific (or a lot of things) that are going on in your life, right now.
While we can’t offer long-term help, we can provide you with some ways to handle an anxiety attack as and when they occur. Don’t worry if these don’t work for you – we’re all different and there may be other methods that are better suited to you.
What Do Anxiety and Panic Attacks Feel Like?
These can be different for everyone, and can even change depending on your physical health and fitness. For some, a sure sign of an anxiety attack can be a pounding, racing heartbeat that makes you wonder if you’re having a heart attack. Some people might go through a phase of feeling disassociation – where they feel like they’re watching themselves from outside their body, or feeling disconnected from their surroundings. Other people may simply feel suddenly hot or cold, trembly or nauseous. You may even be feeling all of these things at once, or none of them.
When Should I Go to a Doctor About My Anxiety?
If the attack is acute (has happened as a direct result of something stressful, such as finding out about something negative that’s occurred within your circle of family and friends), then your anxiety may go away as the stress is relieved. That’s not to say you can’t make use of these tips to handle a panic attack, it just means that it isn’t a permanent issue.
However, if you find that the panic and anxiety is becoming chronic, or doesn’t go away when there are no obvious stressors, then it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor. If the anxiety is so bad that you feel you are in a crisis, go to A&E and ask to speak with a mental health professional. You may also consider calling a mental health helpline, to help see you through more severe moments, but do not feel you are at risk of harming yourself or others.
How to Manage Panic Attacks
Self-care is important and, after having a panic attack, it is essential that you treat yourself kindly. There is nothing wrong with you. Having a panic attack is simply a reaction to something that is happening in your life – physically, mentally or emotionally. It is also important to tell someone you trust, or to speak to one of the helplines given in the link above. Sometimes, getting everything out in the open verbally (or through written communication) can help you to process what happened.
If you take medication, continue your treatment as prescribed by your doctor. Get in contact with your GP and let them know if you feel medication is making a difference (positively or negatively). Sometimes, taking part in exercise – no matter how minor – can help you to manage nervous energy that comes as a part of illnesses and stressors.
Ways To Help If You’re Having An Anxiety Or Panic Attack
If you’re having a panic or anxiety attack right now, try using some of these methods. These are the most common forms of managing attacks, that others have found helpful.
Recognise and Accept the Attack
While it can be difficult to accept that you may be struggling, it is important. By recognising that you are having a panic attack, you can remind yourself that this is temporary. This feeling will pass. You will be OK. Sometimes, just being aware of this can help the stress that comes with anxiety to subside a little.
If you are in a place that is busy, close your eyes. This will help to block out some of the over-stimulating goings-on around you. A fast-paced environment can cause your brain to want to keep up, sometimes. You don’t have to, and there’s nothing wrong with shutting the rest of the world out while you centre yourself.
This is one of the most common forms suggested, and for good reason. Controlled breathing will help you in two ways. Firstly, it allows you to focus on something other than the feeling of panic. Secondly, you will find that controlled breathing will help lower the rate at which your heart is pumping. Once your body feels secure in how much oxygen it is receiving, your brain will send the signal that it is OK for your heart to slow down again.
Also known as mindfulness, this method brings you back to the present. Focus on a particular object, for example, and take note of everything you can about it. Other examples include consciously trying to relax one muscle at a time, by tensing and releasing each part of the body. My particular favourite is tapping – this video shows you how to use tapping to your advantage. You might not get the routine down at first. The main thing is that you are focusing on the tapping.
You may not feel like it right now – especially if you’re dealing with heart palpitations. However, exercise can be a great way of dispersing the nervous energy you may be feeling. As you become anxious, you will likely be dealing with a rise in adrenaline. Exercising will help you to use this adrenaline in a healthy way. Thus, the trembling, shakiness and restlessness that is caused by the rush of adrenaline will subside a little quicker.
Even marching on the spot can help. So, if you can combine this with one of the other methods above, your anxiety should subside sooner. Ideally, you should focus on your breathing as you march. You may also choose to focus on an object as you breathe and gently exercise. Eventually, your brain will register that there is no threat, and stop sending the signal to create the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Talk To Someone
It’s understandable that many people will not want to speak to others during a panic attack. Of course, if the person you’re with doesn’t understand what is happening, this can be scary for them too. However, keeping sentences short and simple, while verbalising what is happening, can help both of you. Saying something simple like “I am having a panic attack” can help provide context. It can also tip them off that may need to help you ground yourself, through counting down while you breathe, for example.
If you are more comfortable not being around someone, excuse yourself and follow the tips above. This will help you avoid the additional stress of explaining yourself if you don’t want to. You should not have to explain to anybody how you’re feeling. But don’t be afraid to let others help you. If you are alone, but want someone to help you manage the attack, use one of the helplines linked above.