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How To Deal With Anxiety Attacks

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Experiencing occasional anxiety throughout the day is a normal part of daily life. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, and it’s hard to imagine anyone that doesn’t experience stress in some way or another on a daily basis. 

Whether it’s the first day of school,  a new job, going on a first date, preparing for a job interview, or giving a speech in front of people, there are so many normal everyday events that can cause people to feel both fearful and nervous. 

While anxiety for most people is generally a temporary and uncomfortable feeling, for some it can be an almost constant and extreme emotion. The people that experience this type of anxiety most likely have an anxiety disorder and have suffered from anxiety attacks as a result.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

An anxiety disorder is a medical condition that causes someone to suffer from excessive fear and stress in relation to their situation. Someone with an anxiety disorder will frequently have an intense, excessive, and constant worry about everyday situations. 

Most often anxiety disorders will result in repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and terror that reach a peak within minutes. These are called anxiety (or panic) attacks. These feelings will often interfere with daily activities and can be very challenging to control. 

Often people with anxiety disorders will naturally begin to try and avoid the circumstances that cause these attacks, even if they are normal daily occurrences. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting an estimated 40 million adults. Although treatable, only around 36.9% of those suffering will seek treatment. 

What Are the Different Types of Anxiety Disorders?

Not every anxiety disorder is the same nor should they be treated as generalized anxiety disorders, depending on the type of anxiety disorders, there will be differing physical symptoms and fears. Here is a list of the more common anxiety disorders and the symptoms of anxiety that come with them:

  • Agoraphobia: Extreme fear of places or situations that could cause panic or feelings of being trapped or embarrassed.
  • Separation anxiety: Intense fear of being away from home or loved ones.
  • Social anxiety disorder and social phobia: Extreme worry about being judged negatively by others in social situations due to self-consciousness.
  • Phobias: A specific fear of a certain object, activity, or situation and a strong desire to avoid them.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Intense, recurring, irrational thoughts leading to ultra-specific and repeated behaviors.
  • Illness anxiety: Formerly known as hypochondria this is intense worry about health and medical issues.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: Intense anxiety resulting from a specific traumatic event in one’s past.

What Are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack? 

Anyone with one of the anxiety disorders listed above has likely experienced an anxiety attack. These attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear that will trigger physical reactions despite no real tangible danger. 

Essentially the body’s fight-or flight response is triggered despite nothing occurring that would justify such response. During an anxiety attack, is it not uncommon to experience one or more of the following symptoms

  • Sense of impending danger or doom
  • Sudden overwhelming fear
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation) 
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or muscle tension
  • Feelings of weakness or being tired suddenly
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Numbness
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Issues with sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal problems

If symptoms get worse they seek medical advice from your healthcare provider or mental health professional.

What Are Ways to Treat an Anxiety Attack? 

Suffering from an anxiety attack can bring about all kinds of sudden and intense symptoms. While there are a few of them that can be very difficult or impossible to deal with, there are a few that can be controlled and soothed. Here are some strategies for dealing with an anxiety attack:

  • Know the signs: Anxiety attacks can occur at any given moment, whether awake or asleep. One of the best ways to help treat an anxiety attack is to recognize when one is occurring. Try to learn what the first symptoms are so that when they begin you will know what is going to follow. This way, you can get a head start on stopping the attack. 
  • Take deep breaths: Hyperventilation is one of the more common symptoms of an anxiety attack. Experiencing intense rapid breathing will increase your heart rate and increase your level of anxiety. By taking long and deep breaths and holding them, you can get your breathing back under control. Take in a deep breath and count to four as you do. Focus on the feeling of the air in your chest, lungs, and stomach, and hold it for a second. Slowly breath out and count to four as you do. Repeat this process until your breathing is back under your control. 
  • Close your eyes: Often, an anxiety attack is caused by an overwhelming amount of triggers and stimuli. While you may not be able to do anything about sound-inducing anxiety attacks, you can close your eyes to reduce the visual stimuli. This can also make it easier to focus on your breathing techniques. 
  • H.A.L.T. method: This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These four feelings can bring out the bad side of anyone but can also be triggers for anxiety attacks. When experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety attack, ask yourself: Are you hungry? Are you angry? Are you feeling lonely? Are you tired? Depending on how you answer, you may have just figured out the easiest way to stop your attack cold in its tracks. 
  • Find a focus object: One thing that may help is to carry around a focus object in your pocket for when an anxiety attack flares up. Maybe a rabbit’s foot on your keychain or worry stone. Whatever the object is, the goal is to keep your mind focused on the object instead of letting toward panicked and intense worries. 
  • Stay grounded: Another technique is to stay grounded in the present by focusing on the objects around you rather than the unreality of your mind. First, notice five distinct objects. Then find four things that you can touch. Now three things that you can hear. Two things you can smell. One thing that you taste. The idea is to help keep your mind from going off on a tangent of fear and panic. 
  • Medication: Benzodiazepines are one of the most common medical treatments for anxiety disorders. These are prescription medications, so an official panic disorder diagnosis and health professionals signature will be required in order to procure them. This medication can be highly addictive, and a natural tolerance will develop over time, so it should only be used sparingly.

What Are Ways To Prevent Anxiety Attacks? 

The prevention of anxiety attacks depends directly on what causes them in the first place. For example, someone suffering from coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) would serve themselves very well by avoiding the circus. However, some panic attacks are not so specific irrational fears or specific phobias and are therefore harder to prevent the stressor from occurring. Here are some general tips in order to increase the odds of preventing an anxiety attack:

  • Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises: Focusing on inner wellness mindfulness. Relaxation techniques can go a long way to helping reduce anxiety in general and help to soothe the symptoms should an attack occur and help your well-being as a whole. 
  • Regular aerobic exercise: Exercise has been proven many times over to help manage stress levels, release tension and help to improve mood while boosting confidence. 
  • Eat healthy meals regularly: Stabilizing blood sugar levels with a set routine of healthy meals can help prevent anxiety attacks and keep their symptoms from being too intense to manage. 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking: Excessive amounts of caffeine will make anyone feel nervous and shaky, so its effects can really impact someone with an anxiety disorder. Nicotine and alcohol may help to calm nerves at first but these chemicals can also end up triggering anxiety attacks and make them worse. Limiting your intake of all three can go a long way towards the prevention of anxiety in general and attacks as well.

The Takeaway 

Dealing with anxiety may be difficult in general. Dealing with hard-hitting panic attacks is a very unpleasant experience and can be a major challenge to get through. There are ways to help prevent these attacks and also treat them when they happen, but it’s also important to try and figure out the root cause of the anxiety.

Living with extreme anxiety can be exhausting to deal with on a daily basis. Even with the best medications and following prevention tactics, many people with anxiety disorders still experience anxiety attacks to some degree and frequency. That is why it’s so important to try to figure out what the root cause of your anxiety is. Therapy with a licensed medical professional can go a long way toward uncovering the reasons behind the anxiety, giving you tools to manage your anxiety attacks, and potentially fix them once and for all.

Sources

  1. Symptoms of Panic & Anxiety Attacks (webmed.com)
  2. How to deal with panic attacks (nhsinform.scot)
  3. Facts & Statistics (adaa.org)
  4. Anxiety disorders – Symptoms and causes (mayoclinic.org) 

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