According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the U.S., with 40 million adults affected. This represents 18.1% of the population.
With nearly 1 in 5 people experiencing anxiety-related disorders, you know you’re not alone. There’s no shame in your feelings or diagnosis: your family and friends are an invaluable resource. And a mental health professional can help offer anxiety counseling, which helps manage your symptoms and develop coping mechanisms.
But sometimes, mental health issues can feel like they’re out of our control. Especially anxiety attacks, which can sometimes strike out of nowhere—at times when you are alone and without access to your mental health professional. In those situations, it’s vital to be able to get through the moment of panic in one piece so that you can get help immediately.
What’s an anxiety attack?
If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re probably familiar with an anxiety attack.
Though anxiety attacks aren’t as serious as panic attacks, which are so debilitating they often result in ER visits, they are still extremely upsetting. They often arise because of a stressful situation in your life, but can occasionally arise out of nowhere. Often, you will experience the following symptoms:
- Fear and apprehension
- Sweating and trembling
- Heart palpitations
- Choking sensation
- Numbness or tingling
Anxiety attacks can seem debilitating in the moment. Here are some ways to cope:
1. Get to a safe place
Sometimes, an anxiety attack can hobble you to the point where you no longer feel functional. If your heart is racing and you feel nauseous, numb, or fearful, it’s important to get yourself to a safe space where you can recover.
If you work outside the home, make sure you have a plan in place if an anxiety attack should occur. Know that it’s acceptable to excuse yourself from a meeting if you’re having a genuine anxiety attack. Not only is it illegal to discriminate against you because of your anxiety disorder, but you might be surprised to know that your colleagues and supervisors actually want to help you. Especially in the workplace, anxiety attacks can feel embarrassing. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but in most cases, it’s a good idea to gracefully exit the situation when an anxiety attack hits.
If you’re operating machinery or driving a car, this is when it’s absolutely vital to stop what you’re doing and get to safety. If you’re driving, pull over. Don’t try to “tough it out” if doing so puts you and others at risk.
2. Focus on your breath
Once you’re in a safe and secure location, try to get past your racing thoughts and feelings of panic by not focusing on them at first. Focus, instead, on your breathing. In, out, in, out. Make sure you’re taking deep and expansive breaths that actually fill your belly and chest with the inhale and completely empty it with the exhale.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the “relaxation response” can help you mediate the symptoms of anxiety. Focusing on your breath can help lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, and decrease your muscle tension.
3. Reach out
You don’t have to do this alone. As your anxiety attack is settling down and you feel your breathing returning to normal and your fears settling, consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member. Talking to your loved ones can help reassert a feeling of ease; in fact, studies have shown that positive social interaction with loved ones boosts oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.
Just remember that although your friends mean all the best for you, their advice doesn’t replace the guidance of a trained mental health professional. If your anxiety attacks are hobbling your social or professional life, reach out and get professional help.
4. Fight anxiety attacks with positive interventions
Did you know that getting enough of certain key nutrients can help mediate anxiety? That physical exercise has been shown to decrease symptoms?
Although the middle of an anxiety attack is definitely not the appropriate time to do this, it’s important to reanalyze your general health in the presence of anxiety attacks. Once the dust has settled on an anxiety attack, take inventory of your health and see if you can tweak things in your life. Your therapist can help you research positive interventions to help stop anxiety attacks in their tracks.
5. Recognize your triggers
With time, you may begin to associate anxiety attacks with certain stimuli. Especially if your attacks have to do with bad memories or associations, you may experience episodes particularly when you drive past certain areas or interact with certain people. If you have an anxiety attack, it’s important to write it down. What precipitated the problem? What, if anything, led up to the issue?
It’s important to record this information and present it to your anxiety counselor. They’ll help you get to the root of the problem and teach you ways to anticipate your next anxiety attack.
Sometimes it feels like mental health is a battle against an unseen force. Just remember you’re not alone. You deserve compassion and understanding during the most difficult times, and you deserve to extend that compassion towards yourself as well.
When it comes to fighting anxiety attacks, your mental health professional can help you recognize your triggers and come up with positive coping mechanisms. Contact us today to get in touch with compassionate counselors to help you manage your anxiety attacks.