Anxiety attacks suck–there’s no question about that. You start to sweat, your heart beats uncontrollably, and it’s hard to breathe. And not only does it suck, but it can morph into a full-blown, terrifying panic attack fairly quickly.
While there is no magic cure for anxiety disorders, various medications and therapies are certainly helpful. In the midst of an anxiety attack, though, the lack of control over the situation, over your body, alongside the simple uncertainty surrounding the event may cause the attack to become so much worse. Along with the physical aspects, it can also become extremely difficult to focus and form rational thoughts.
If you suffer from anxiety disorders, you understand that learning to manage–and survive an anxiety or panic attack is essential.
Below are some tips to help anyone–whether you live with anxiety disorder or not–to manage anxiety in the moment when panic begins to set in. First, though, let’s talk just a little about recognizing what “normal” everyday anxiety looks like, and what anxiety disorder may look like.
And please remember, I am not a medical professional–I just play one on TV. (Just joking–making sure you’re paying attention.) But seriously, if you feel your anxiety is interfering with your everyday life, or simply becoming overwhelming please consider speaking with your doctor, your counselor, or anyone else in the medical profession. They’ll guide you to more specific help from there.
Grab your free worksheets from the Freebies Library by clicking the image below. They will help you identify your irrational thoughts during an anxiety attack, and learn to refocus on reality.
SOME ANXIETY IS NORMAL…
Anxiety is characterized as an extreme reaction to fearful situations. If someone follows you into a dark alley, for example, those anxious feelings, racing heartbeat, and sweaty palms may give way to heightened senses and a rush of adrenalin that can save your life. (We hope!) This is the fight or flight syndrome.
In the case of frequent anxiety attacks–as is common with those living with anxiety disorders–the fearful feelings are often associated more with a potential situation, rather than an actual event. For example, getting caught in traffic may trigger an anxiety attack about what may happen as a result, such as arriving to work late. Those thoughts can then begin to snowball into more fearful circumstances that may result from arriving late to work such as losing your job, being unable to feed your children, etc. And once this snowball effect begins–it’s difficult to reign it back in. In fact, many of the thoughts at this point aren’t necessarily rational thoughts. They are, instead, irrational thoughts that can easily become unbearably overwhelming.
Everyone experiences panic or anxiety at some point–it’s normal. Take the fight or flight example above–In that type of situation, your anxiety serves the purpose of potentially saving your life. Of course, we all know that every situation resulting in anxiety is not life-threatening. More often, it is simply a stressful situation and the anxiety is our body’s way of dealing with it. Unchecked anxiety of this type, though, can also lead to increased anxiety levels or perhaps other illnesses such as depression, high blood pressure, etc.
The difference between what constitutes “normal” anxiety and living with an anxiety disorder… is that the anxiety doesn’t dissipate nearly as easily. The panic attacks associated with anxiety disorders are far worse, and are chronic–they’re a recurring event. No, let me rephrase that–they’re overwhelming, scary as hell, and a miserable recurring event.
STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING ANXIETY…
Regardless of the intensity of your anxiety, there are strategies to make it a bit more bearable. For someone with chronic anxiety, or has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the tips below will help, but forethought and planning becomes essential in dealing with chronic anxiety.
So let’s get started…
1. Professional Advice This is always the best first step. Self-diagnosis of any type of physical or mental condition is not only unwise, but dangerous. If you feel as if your anxiety is interfering with everyday tasks, a medical professional can help you better understand your anxiety, perhaps prescribe medication if necessary, or recommend other treatment strategies.
2. Sleep During the sleep cycle, your body attempts to repair itself. When you’re able to get a full night of restorative sleep, which includes reaching the REM stage, not only do you feel more rested, but it affects all aspects of your health in a positive way. Most of us need roughly eight hours sleep a night, although some need more and some need less.
3. Exercise We already know this, but one huge benefit of exercise is the more efficient use of oxygen within the brain. This increases focus and clarifies your thinking, which may result in more rational thought at the times you need it most. It may also help you determine more likely solutions to avoid a stressful situation. And, of course, let’s not forget the endorphins released, which can help us feel a bit more positive and content.
4. Meditate Meditation is so much more than chanting mantras. Yoga, for example, is an exercise that involves quieting the mind and controlling your breathing. Simple mediation techniques such as taking five minutes in the middle of the day to clear your mind can work wonders in the fight against anxiety.
5. Limit Alcohol Initially, a drink may feel relaxing, but it’s important to note that alcohol is a proven depressant and alters brain activity–and not in a good way! Remember when I mentioned the likelihood that thoughts can snowball into more and more irrational thoughts. Alcohol has a tendency to worsen and contribute to that irrationality as your thinking become less and less clear with each drink.
7. Relax Easier said than done, right? Stress and anxiety can rob you of your energy. Determine what activities you enjoy doing that you also find relaxing. This can be anything– gardening, reading, listening to music, painting–you get the idea. The key with this is that you come up with a plan before an anxiety attack. Write it down and put it somewhere you’ll likely see it when you’re struggling and use it as a reminder to yourself of the activity you want to switch your focus to during an anxiety attack. Act on that plan when you begin feeling overwhelmed.
Manage You will become more familiar with your body’s specific responses when you become stressed. As you begin to notice your pulse start to quicken, or excessive sweating, or perhaps visible shaking… try a proven strategy such as counting backwards from ten, or breathing deeply. As your body begins to respond to your stress removal techniques, your thoughts will also clarify. Once this begins to occur, begin to analyze the situation and ask yourself–“What are the events that have actually happened? Is this a rational thought?” Again, this is a process, and it takes some trial and error to find the technique that works best for you.
Remember, some anxiety is normal. But when anxiety begins to interfere with everyday tasks, and becomes more frequent, you may be at risk for more serious conditions. If your stress and resulting anxiety is increasingly causing you problem in other areas of your life, please consider seeking professional help. There is no need to suffer in silence, and there is absolutely no shame in asking for help–ever.
This is, of course, not an all-inclusive list of strategies to reduce anxiety. I will be posting more in-depth articles about specific techniques to reduce anxiety, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, leave a comment below and let me know of some techniques that work best for you! And don’t forget to grab your worksheets to help you learn which thoughts are irrational and give ’em the boot!