How to Survive an Anxiety Attack
The most common cause of an anxiety attack or panic attack is when stress, anxiety or depression becomes too much and overwhelms a person. We all have a lot of background stress in our lives, even if it is not present at the front of the mind, stress can still be there… and then, suddenly or gradually, something can come along and push you over the edge.
This is why even something small can result in a large anxiety attack. It triggers the residual, background stress that has not been dealt with and brings it all to the surface again. Of course, one big event can also cause an anxiety attack, even if there is no background stress to compound it.
Here are some tips that will help you survive an anxiety attack, even if you are by yourself:
1. Don’t avoid doing things because you are afraid of having an anxiety attack.
Some people let the possibility of an anxiety attack preclude them from the most necessary or most fun life events. If you avoid living your life because you are worried about having panic attacks, not only are you heaping more stress onto your shoulders, you are letting the possibility of anxiety control you.
2. Realize the reality of the situation.
If you are experiencing regular anxiety attacks, you are likely having them when there is nothing real to fear. There is no immediate threat to your life and nothing that is going to harm you right now. Your body may still feel the gripping fear of anxiety, but if you take a second to breathe and to assess the situation, looking at the reality of it, instead of just letting the fear control you, you can start to realize that there is nothing actually to fear or, at the very least, that your situation cannot be helped by panicking.
3. Stay in the situation.
If you have anxiety attacks on a regular basis, you might start to associate specific places with those attacks. For example, you experience an anxiety attack in school, if you run out of school, calming down only when you get to your car, your mind will start to associate school with that feeling of fear. You will be afraid to return to school and when you do, you might experience another attack the next time you are there. If, however, you stay in the situation until you calm down, you can avoid building that fear response that triggers even more panic in the future.
4. Take a breath.
Breathing is the number one intervention for dealing with panic. When you are panicking, you often forget to breathe. Many people start to hyperventilate, which can contribute to the feeling of fear, because it creates many of the same symptoms of fear, including heart palpitations, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. When you start to feel any of the symptoms of panic, breathing is paramount! Start taking long, deep breaths in, holding them for a brief moment, and then pushing them back out. You are going to feel like you cannot breathe, but this is just the anxiety. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing and slowing it down to a calming pace. Think volume and pacing. It is hard to trust the mechanics of breathing when you are in panic, but breathing absolutely works. Learn to trust your breath!
5. Talk to yourself.
Soothing, calming, and supportive self-talk is a great addition to breathing. Keep it simple. Tell yourself that you are going to be okay and that you can handle it. The way you talk to yourself is really important. It needs to sound soft, calm, and supportive. Like a parent comforting a child. It may feel silly, but it works.
6. Keep calm and carry on.
You can often turn off the panic center of your brain by continuing to act as if your body is not experiencing this sudden jolt of fear. If you make the decision to continue to act normal, your fear will start to ebb. This is a great way to train your brain to realize the reality of the situation around you. If you continue to act normally, your body will see that there is no danger and that it is perfectly safe to return to a neutral state.
These steps will help you survive an anxiety attack alone or in the company of others. Anxiety attacks feel scary, but the more often you choose to stay in the moment and override the panic, the more your brain realizes it’s been over-reacting. In time, your mind will calm and stop sending the alarm signals that trigger the fight, flight or freeze response typical of individuals who suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, and/or depression.