It is quite natural to experience anxiety when you experience stress in your life. While occasional feelings of anxiety are to be expected, for many people, the symptoms of anxiety, or the anticipation of an anxiety attack, interfere with the way they live their lives.
Know that you are not alone. Anxiety does not discriminate by ethnicity, age, or gender and affects nearly 20 percent of our population. Although “anxiety attack” is not an official medical term, it is often used to describe the feelings and sensations experienced during an episode of intense anxiety. The term “anxiety attack” is often used when the scale of intensity falls somewhere between heightened anxiety and a panic attack.
Once you have experienced one anxiety attack, you may be increasingly worried about similar circumstances triggering another attack. Understanding the mechanisms involved in anxiety, and a few methods of reducing the impact of your symptoms may help keep your anxiety attack from escalating.
Recognizing the Signs of Anxiety
An anxiety attack can vary in duration. You may experience feelings of anxiety that last only a few minutes, or your anxiety can be heightened for hours, days or weeks at a time. Some people can experience multiple anxiety attacks a day, while others only experience symptoms every few months. Some of the symptoms of an anxiety Include:
- Restlessness or feeling wound or an edge
- Difficulty controlling your worries
- Overwhelming feelings of fear or dread
- Heart palpitations or chest pressure
- Sweating or trembling
- Feeling too hot or too cold
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Muscle tension and fatigue
- Insomnia or other sleep issues
Understanding the Physical Cause of Your Symptoms
Every memory thought, and emotion you experience affects your body. The moment your brain perceives any form of threat or danger, it triggers the release of stress hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol, and norepinephrine, automatically. Due to this automated response, your brain instinctively tightens your muscles and increases your heart rate to prepare your body to face danger or run from it. There are five distinct phases to a stress response:
- Alarm Phase – when danger or anxiety-provoking thoughts trigger the release of stress hormones
- Hormone Peak Phase– When stress hormones released at the alarm enter the bloodstream
- Duration Phase- the length of time stress hormones remain active in the bloodstream and body
- Recovery Phase- after the danger has passed your body stops producing stress hormones, those not used are expelled
- End Phase – the recovery process is complete, and the body returns to the calm state that existed pre-alarm
The longer the duration of your anxiety the longer it takes for your body to recover. If your anxiety levels remain heightened for more than a few minutes, it may take twenty minutes or more before you feel the crisis has passed.
Diminishing the Impact of an Anxiety Attack
When you feel the initial symptoms of anxiety, your body is essentially preparing for battle by releasing powerful hormones. Knowing that your anxiety intensified by a hormone release may help to calm your fears and minimize the intensity of your symptoms. To keep your anxiety from escalating, consider these suggestions:
- Recognize the Anxiety You Feel
Paying attention to the initial symptoms of anxiety could help you minimize their impact. If the first sign you notice is muscle tension, focus on relaxing your muscles. If you notice an increase in your breathing or heart rate, focus on slowing them down. When you feel yourself getting too warm, drink a glass of cold water. Focusing on alleviating your anxiety symptoms, rather than the trigger, may help keep your anxiety levels in check.
- Take Control of Your Breathing
When your body is under the influence of stress hormones, your brain instinctively changes the way you breathe. When you learn to take control of your breathing, you can learn to flip the switch on your symptoms. While you focus on your breathing, it is important to breathe calmly while inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Breathing through your mouth, allowing cool air to hit the back of your throat, will not diffuse the fight or flight response fueling your symptoms.
- Challenge Negative Thought Patterns
While it can be difficult to control negative thoughts that appear during an anxiety attack, it is not impossible. Challenging your thoughts is a skill that can be learned. To challenge your negative thoughts, begin by writing them down on paper. Next to each negative thought, write a more realistic version of the same thought. Avoid using overgeneralizations or absolute terms.
- Exercise to Minimize the Effects of Anxiety
Remember that the purpose of anxiety is to prepare your body for a burst of activity. When you start feeling anxious, try exercising your symptoms away. Exercise depletes the cortisol levels in your body and releases neurotransmitters that promote relaxation. Plus, engaging in physical activity can distract you from the situation that is causing your anxiety long enough to help renew your perspective. Try jogging, taking a walk, or try a few relaxing yoga poses.
- Distract Yourself from Anxious Feelings
Your body will return to its pre-anxious state once you can indicate that the crisis is over. You may be able to move the process along by distracting yourself from the cause and the symptoms of your distress. Just a few valuable distraction methods include reading, puzzles or games, imagining a favorite location, and phoning a friend.
Seek the Advise of a Qualified Professional
Anxiety attacks can interfere with your health and wellbeing. Although anxiety is highly treatable, too few people living with anxiety seek treatment. If you are having difficulty minimizing the frequency or severity of your anxiety attacks, consider the benefits of anxiety counseling. In Clark County, Washington, contact Real Life Counseling. A therapist or counselor will help you learn practical techniques to manage your anxiety attacks to minimize the effects of anxiety on your health and wellbeing.