Anxiety attacks are a phenomenon that occurs mentally and physically, and in recent years they have shown an increase globally. In fact, in women, the phenomenon is two to three times more common compared to men.
Definition of anxiety attacks
An anxiety attack is a sudden period of intense anxiety, psychological agitation, fear, upset stomach and malaise associated with a variety of physical and mental symptoms. The episodes appear suddenly, with or without a specific cause. They should not be confused with panic attacks, which always appear under certain conditions (e.g., claustrophobia).
Anxiety attacks affect each person differently. People who have experienced an anxiety attack in the past can sometimes endure the crisis without showing any external symptoms, while people who are experiencing a crisis for the first time may believe that they are having a heart attack or nervous breakdown.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack
The most common symptoms are intense fear, anxiety, panic, a sense of loss of control and impending death. However, there are some other symptoms one can experience:
- increased sweating
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- numbness or tingling in the hands
- shivering or flushing
- feeling weak
Medication is often prescribed to treat the symptoms of these crises, and the contribution of psychotherapy to understanding and addressing the underlying causes is very important.
How to prevent an anxiety attack
Fortunately, there are many practical ways to prevent an anxiety attack before it is fully manifested. The following basic methods have been proven to prevent such seizures:
1. Proper breathing
The first and foremost thing to remember for someone suffering from anxiety attacks or intense anxiety is proper breathing. When we are under strong pressure, we either tend to over-inhale or our breathing becomes very shallow. The more our breathing is disturbed, the more anxiety or panic we experience, and thus begins a vicious cycle where we feel we are losing control.
If only the chest and shoulders are lifted on inhalation, then you are breathing in a way that makes anxiety worse. So, make sure your stomach and abdomen expand when you inhale. Maybe when you are stressed this seems unnatural to you or you have a feeling that it is worsening your condition. But if you continue to breathe this way, after a few minutes your nervous system will begin to calm down.
It is equally important that your exhalations last longer than your inhalations. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. It may seem difficult to manage in times of stress, but it is better to persevere. Some doctors also recommend making a “sss” sound as you exhale, as it naturally slows down breathing.
2. Manage your thoughts
Have you ever had to make a phone call and be put on hold for a while? This is the atmosphere you have to cultivate in your mind, to put your thoughts on hold.Meditation and stress management techniques work in the same way. If your anxiety comes from constant recycling of thoughts or anxiety, the most important thing is to stop. Stop the internal dialogue immediately.
Of course, thoughts will invade from time to time and you may feel out of control. Again, the key is consistency and perseverance. Keep letting the thoughts pass by every time one comes back. Pretend that you are running a call center and your mind is the naughty customer who refuses to go on hold. Do what all the companies with big call centers do: say “Please wait”.
3. Relax your body
Tension in the body is associated with stress and anxiety. Wherever you are, try to find the most comfortable and relaxing position and posture available, whether you can lie down or sit in a chair. Do what helps you feel more comfortable. Of course, it is good to avoid anything intense or painful, which will increase your heart rate, such as running or climbing stairs. Shake your shoulders in a circular motion to relax them. Try to feel your body and allow each part to relax separately, starting from the head and going to the soles. If you wear anything restraining, such as a belt, necklace or tie, remove it. Some gentle stretching also helps.
4. Examine your environment
For some people, the main cause of anxiety attacks is environmental factors. Unfortunately, we cannot always control our environment. Some common fear factors such as overcrowding, heights, and public speaking are sometimes unavoidable. People who suffer from anxiety often have sensitive nervous systems, which means that they are strongly influenced by theirenvironment. So, if at some point you feel pressured by the environment, it is good to look for a place with fewer people, less noise, less stimuli, less excitement.
Create for yourself an environment where relaxation is possible. This is different for each of us, so you need to consider what makes you feel safe and comfortable. If the candles relax you, light candles. If a hot shower relaxes you, do it right away. If you are stuck at work, maybe a 15 minute-break and a change of scenery is the best solution.
5. Ask for support
While some people prefer isolation when they feel stressed, some feel better in the presence of other people. Since recycling thoughts internally can worsen an anxiety attack, you can ask a trusted friend or relative to talk to you. This will get you out of your head – the worst part of focusing on a crisis.
When someone is talking to you, try to keep your focus on what they are saying – at first it may be difficult, but keep going – and participate in the conversation as much as you can. Whenever your mind is focused on something external, you are busy and the anxiety can start to subside. But if you keep focusing on the anxiety and others try to calm you down, then everyone’s attention is on it – and it is not helpful, because the feeling that something is wrong builds up. Instead, try to create an atmosphere of normalcy and ask your friends or family to do the same and just keep you busy in those moments.
Result: You have it!
Eventually, you can manage everything. Your body panicked because your emotion and thought sent the message that something was wrong. Once you convince your body that nothing is really wrong, it will return to normal. The same goes for your mind. Anxiety attacks are a battle of wills – with yourself. If you do not give in to fear and religiously follow the above five steps, you can win the battle every time.