Signs Of An Anxiety Attack And 6 Effective Ways To Cope With It
An anxiety attack is the worst. The lights seem too bright your heart feels like it might explode out of your chest. Your body shakes. You may find yourself unable to breathe your chest hurts. You have an intense desire to escape, scream or cry. Your hands might twitch and you feel like you are going to be sick in just a few seconds.
Thats what an anxiety attack feels like. Sounds familiar? Well that used to be my story too.
On a normal day, I would just be hanging out with my friends and suddenly have a wave of panic wash over me. I couldnt breathe and felt like I was dying.
Anxiety attacks can strike unexpectedly.
In fact, it feels like the worst thing in the world, but the truth is its all caused by a massive boost of adrenaline that your brain sends into your bloodstream.
In todays post, Id like to break down the most common anxiety attack symptoms, plus share some personal tips on how to tame this beast.
The End Of Everything: What A Panic Attack Feels Like
Only 16, Caroline, had her first panic attack a year ago. Her mother was dropping her off at her summer job at a local school when, without warning, a full-blown panic attack engulfed her. My heart started racing and my body felt so hot. I started to sweat and shake uncontrollably. My vision became distorted and my body felt limp, like a wet noodle, she says. For 20 minutes, until the panic attacked passed, Caroline refused to get out of the car. Her mother didnt know what to do.
Kirstie Craine Ruiz, 46, has lived with anxiety, panic attacks, and panic disorder for about ten years. For a long time, she had full-blown attacks 2-3 nights a week. I would usually awake to a racing heart or the feeling of my heart expanding in my chestas it might explodeFrom there, I would begin to panic and my heart would go even fasterand my body would shake so hard that it felt like I was having a convulsion. I could barely breathe and was usually pretty sure I was having a heart attack and that I was going to die. Sometimes Id go the ER and theyd hold me overnight because my heart would be going so fast and they couldnt get it to go down.
Write Down Your Thoughts & Triggers
Journaling is always a great practice for reducing anxiety and panic attacks. During the times when you feel fine, write down your thoughts on your panic attacks.
This can give you a different perspective for when you are experiencing an attack. And then, when you do have a panic attack, also write down how youre feeling.
Getting your thoughts out can quickly help calm you down and alleviate some of the symptoms of a panic attack.
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Common Characteristics Of A Panic Attack
What, exactly, is a panic attack? A panic attack refers to a sudden episode of intense fear, panic or anxiety that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no imminent danger. Its disproportionate fear. Effectively, a panic attack fills you with the feeling of imminent doom when theres actually no immediate threat. Think of it as a false alarma misfiring of your fight-or-flight instinct, as it were.
In addition to an intense feeling of anxiety, a panic attack usually triggers a variety of physical symptoms, as well. These may include any or all of the following:
- Shortness of breath/hyperventilation
- Sensations of numbness or tingling in parts of the body
- Fear of dying
The scariest part of having a panic attack may be the physical symptoms themselvesmany people describe feeling like they are having a heart attack when it is instead a panic attack. The primary differences between a heart attack and a panic attack are that a panic attack is usually triggered by a wave of fear and panic attacks are usually brief, usually descelarating afting 10 minutes or so. Regardless, panic attacks can be highly disconcerting and uncomfortable, however brief.
Tell Yourself Youre Just Processing Information
When youre suffering from PTSD, panic attacks are so often you cant tell when youre actually having one. Youre in a constant state of fight or flight for months on end. Youre too scared to fall asleep and terrified while being awake. Eventually, when you do finally fall asleep, you wake up from nightmares that scare you awake. Sometimes they come as often as every ten minutes.
A social worker once told me that nightmares are the brains way of processing information. The best way to combat them is to say processing information every time you wake up from one. This little trick has helped desensitize nightmares over the long-term so you feel less panicked after waking up from one.
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You Can Have A Panic Attack Anywhere At Any Place And At No Specific Time
Approximately 13% of people suffer from panic attacks in their lifetime. With high chances of recurring attacks after the initial attack. Panic attacks can negatively affect the quality of life. With people fearing an attack.
Panic attacks can last anywhere from minutes to hours. They also take a heavy toll on the body. If you have been suffering from panic attacks, you can learn these tips to stop panic attacks.
Take Charge With The Venue
A guy once asked me to go bowling on a first date. Yeah, no thanks! I was nervous enough as it was without having to worry about being terrible at bowling. If a particular setting puts you on edge, you can always laugh the request off and say something like, Maybe on the second date! Then, suggest somewhere youd feel more comfortable going.
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Stay In The Present & Ground Yourself
Practicing grounding techniques help reduce anxiety and calm you down from a panic attack.
When you feel an attack coming on, try this 54321 game:
- Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
- Name 4 things you can feel
- Name 3 things you can hear right now
- Name 2 things you can smell right now
- Name 1 good thing about yourself
Its As If A Vice Is Squeezing Me
Anita Lesko, 61, Pensacola, Fla.
Courtesy Anita Lesko
Anita Lesko has always been a germaphobe, so her anxiety started to build when she first read about the coronavirus in early 2020.
A certified registered nurse anesthetist , Lesko knew she was at higher risk of exposure because of her job administering anesthesia to patients before surgery. When she began hearing about the nationwide lack of personal protective equipment for health-care workers, Lesko really began to worry.
The prospect of going to work, getting exposed and ending up on a ventilator or dead thats what pushed me over the edge, she says.
One morning in March, when she was between patients at the hospital, Lesko developed a deep feeling of impending doom. She began to hyperventilate, her heart started racing and she broke out in a sweat. Pressure began building in her chest.
I got a gripping sensation in my whole chest and throat area, as if a vice was squeezing me, she said. Then I started shaking literally to the core of my body.
Lesko asked to leave early and fled to her car. She collapsed into the drivers seat and burst into tears.
I was just sitting there trying to talk myself out of it, and trying to make myself breathe normally, she recalls.
It took about 30 minutes before she was calm enough to drive. When Lesko got home, she was so exhausted she had to sleep for a few hours before she could do anything.
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Give Yourself A Simple Massage
In order to stop panic attacks, youll need to help yourself relax. Unfortunately, going to the spa regularly can be out of some peoples price range. So youll have to practice pampering yourself. There are a few spots that do the trick.
When having a panic attack, massage the top part of your nose between the eyes. Just move your finger up and down gently to help you relax. You can also massage your wrists or feet. Sometimes rubbing your chest above the heart can help you unwind. Some people rub ice on themselves in a massaging motion to help stop panic attacks. So you can try that too!
Close Your Eyes And Breathe
Whenever you find yourself having a panic attack, take a moment to lie down, close your eyes, and take a deep breath in. Then out. In. Then Out. In. Out. Breathing deep naturally helps slow your heart rate to help you calm your anxiety. Taking the time to focus on your breath helps move your mind into the present inside of the past or future. Find time each day to get that quiet moment to yourself just to breathe. The more you practice mindful breathing, the fewer panic attacks youll have.
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Here Are 7 Tips For Calming A Panic Attack:
1. Focus on Your Breathing
Many anxiety attack symptoms have to do with your heart rate and breathing rate. In fact, you might have issues with breathing, such as hyperventilating. As a result, this can further exacerbate your anxiety attack.
One of the best things you can do for calming your anxiety attack is to focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath in, but dont exhale just yet. Hold it for about 5 seconds, and then slowly let it out.
Repeat this process until you can noticeably feel yourself calming down. This is the first thing you should try when it comes to how to deal with anxiety attacks.
2. Ground Yourself
In the moment, it can feel very scary to have a panic attack. You might even wonder if its anxiety or a heart attack.
But a vital thing you can do is ground yourself. Instead of focusing on how scary the attack is, focus on the things that are tangible to you.
For example, focus on your clothes feel against your skin, how the air smells, or how the texture of the wall looks. It might help to just pick one thing and focus all your attention on it.
This type of mindfulness is a great anxiety attack remedy.
3. Relax Your Muscles
While youre having a panic attack, youre probably tensing up a lot of muscles without even realizing it. Thats actually one of the common signs of an anxiety attack.
4. Be Conscious of the Fact That the Attack Will Pass
5. Do Some Light Exercise
6. Speak to Your Therapist
7. Speak to Your Loved Ones
Take Stock Of Your Situation And Surroundings
For many, weed-based anxiety involves a hefty dose of paranoia about other people. Because marijuana is a drug enjoyed in social settings, getting too stoned can lead to suspicions that your own friends resent you, or that youre somehow ruiningtheir good time.
Research has shown that individual responses to a given drug can absolutely be influenced by the situation in which it occurs, Vandrey says. If somebody takes a drug that produces anxiety in uncomfortable surroundings, they may heighten their anxiety. Cannabis is a perfect example.
If environmental factors are contributing to your fear or stress, removing yourself from that context can help.
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder may have:
- Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
- A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack
- Physical symptoms during a panic attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea
- An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen
- A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
How To Respond To Internal Triggers
To put it simply: don’t do anything about the fact that you’re panicking.
Let yourself panic but don’t let it stop you from doing anything. Act as if you weren’t panicking: Continue on with whatever you would be doing with your time in that moment if the panic feelings weren’t there.
Avoidance maintains anxiety, so anything you do to try to fight or get rid of the panic will make it worse in the long run even if it makes you feel better right now. You want to teach your brain that these internal sensations are not actually dangerous. For your brain to learn that, it must repeatedly register that you can do absolutely nothing in response to the sensations and nothing actually happens. This is the basis for Exposure Therapy, a very effective treatment for panic disorder.
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Write Down The Signs Of An Anxiety Attack
Once you know youre having an anxiety attack, try to jot down a few of the symptoms and thoughts you are experiencing. This can help you put your anxiety attack into perspective.
One of the things that worsens anxiety and can make it develop into a panic attack is looking at those symptoms in a catastrophic way, says Cheryl Carmin, PhD, director of clinical psychology training at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and a professor at Ohio State in Columbus.
Take A Test To See How You Feel
If youre unsure about the way you feel, take our anonymous online test to check whether your levels of stress, anxiety, or depression are within a healthy range, and see if one of our online courses could help.
What Causes Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?
Panic attacks are triggered by the fight-or-flight response, the bodys natural reaction to perceived threat. This response is supposed to help us fight or escape dangerous situations. In prehistoric times, this threat might have been something like a bear or a tiger. Today however, were more often threatened by things like financial stress, public speaking, or even the thought of another panic attack.
When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, it causes changes in the body, like increased heart rate, sweating, and quick, shallow breathing. These reactions would be helpful if you needed to escape a life-threatening situation. Most of the time, however, they just feel terrifying.
Because panic attacks are so frightening, people start to avoid situations where they could have a panic attack, and try to do things that make them feel safer, like always having a mobile phone in case they need help. Although these behaviours reduce anxiety in the short-term, they actually reinforce peoples fear of panic attacks, resulting in panic disorder.
How To Deal With Panic Disorder
What is CBT?
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Get Involved In The Present
People don’t panic in the present. People panic when they imagine something bad happening to them in the future or in the past. This is why your panic attacks are almost always accompanied by some “what if…?” thought. The reason you say “what if…?” is because what you fear is not actually happening!
Get back into the activity you were engaged in prior to the attack, and become involved with the people and objects around you. If you’re in a store, resume shopping, reading labels, comparing prices, asking questions, etc. It will move you closer to your goal of overcoming panic attacks when you bring your focus and energy back to the present environment. By this I mean, work with what is around you.
What Is Hyperventilation
Even though your body needs oxygen to survive, and turns that oxygen into carbon dioxide when it’s been used up within the bloodstream, your body also expects a healthy amount of carbon dioxide in your circulatory system as well. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing either too quickly or incorrectly in such a way that you’re taking in too much oxygen while breathing out too much carbon dioxide.
Interestingly, during this time it may feel as though you’re not getting enough air, and your instinct may be to take deeper breaths. But by responding to that sensation by trying to take in more air, you’re actually making your hyperventilation worse, which is why those that try to get deeper breaths often feel their symptoms getting worse, causing further panic.
When there isn’t enough carbon dioxide in your blood, you experience the symptoms of an anxiety attack, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness and more
Notice how each of these symptoms are the same as when you’re suffering from severe anxiety, which is why it often feels like an “attack” and why the symptoms feel so physical. They build on each other to create an experience that feels like something is terribly wrong.
The most likely cause of hyperventilation is breathing too quickly, which is a common response to anxiety. But it’s not the only cause either. You may also hyperventilate because:
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Keep Lavender On Hand
Lavender is known for being soothing and stress-relieving. It can help your body relax. If you know youre prone to panic attacks, keep some lavender essential oil on hand and put some on your forearms when you experience a panic attack. Breathe in the scent.
Lavender should not be combined with benzodiazepines. This combination can cause intense drowsiness.
Prep Your Outfit In Advance
Choose what youre going to wear at least one day in advance. It should be something that makes you feel confident, and is also comfortable.
Oh, and seriously, now is not the time to experiment with a new hairstyle or makeup look. Trust me. Unintentionally turning up as the bride of Dracula does not a good impression make!
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