How do you stop an anxiety attack?

by | Mar 29, 2021

In this section we will try to completely answer the main question that most anxious individuals ask themselves: how can I stop an anxiety attack?

Anxiety attacks are known for creating a series of symptoms that can fluster those who suffer from them. These can vary depending on the severity of the case but in general, symptoms are very uncomfortable for those who experience them. In this sense, it is very important to learn how to cope with attacks so that our anxiety does not spin out of control. This is why there are techniques and strategies that can be applied at the moment of an anxiety attack so that it is more manageable. These are easy to apply as long as the person is comfortable and able to do so.

Next up, we will talk about these techniques and strategies that can help patients with these types of attack, so that they can feel better and are able to keep their level of anxiety from getting to a point that it is impossible to control. First, we will describe those that can help quickly alleviate symptoms, then we will talk about strategies that can help us deal with long-term repercussions.

Practice breathing techniques

Breathing calmly and in a controlled way is one of the most efficient techniques to achieve symptom relief during an anxiety attack. Breathing techniques are easy to practice and you can do so anywhere and anytime. 

When someone suffers from panic attacks, they may be afraid to focus on their breathing, do physical exercise or any other activity, while they are experiencing symptoms. Both our mind and our body are moving very fast during a panic attack and it feels impossible to focus on anything. It may seem contradictory to practice this technique when we feel so out of control, however, as hard and contradicting as it may seem, it really is not. We can get rid of the most uncomfortable symptoms like tingling, sweating, rapid breathing, and tachycardia by breathing slowly and deeply. The mind starts to slow down, and the feeling of calmness will arrive in no time. 

It may feel too difficult to breathe normally in the beginning, but after taking two breaths our physical reality starts to shift and that can be reassuring in order to continue practicing this technique. With time it will be easier to breathe in this way, not just when you experience a crisis of anxiety but before you have a panic attack, because you are able to anticipate what your symptoms will be like and stop them from escalating.

Some breathing techniques that we recommend are: deep breathing, box breathing, and breath of fire. They all require you to breathe in a controlled manner to give the body and mind the chance to stabilize and continue to function normally. Remember that the idea is to stabilize our autonomous nervous system, in order to be able to calm down from being in a fight or flight state imposed by the perception of danger. Controlled breathing is one of the most successful and natural ways to do this without any side-effects. 

Moderate physical activity

The benefits of physical activity are invaluable because they contribute to our physical and mental well-being. When we exercise, we have more energy, be in a better mood, have more cardiovascular endurance, feel more relaxed, and more optimal cognition, which is exactly what someone who suffers from stress and anxiety needs to feel relief. Even though you might feel apprehensive about physical activity while you are experiencing an anxiety attack, we can say with certainty that it will help you cope with them.

We want to clarify that we do not mean particularly strenuous exercise, but rather easy or moderate routine that allow an anxious person to divert their attention from their anxiety to something healthier.

Many people with anxiety avoid physical but this is a mistake. If an individual starts to do mild exercise and gradually increases the frequency and intensity they can truly benefit from this strategy. The more control you have over the physical activity, the better.

Another advantage of this exercise is the feeling of accomplishment we experience as we progressively master the exercise, which increases our self-esteem and allows us to reach our goals. From a psychological point of view, this is very beneficial for patients with anxiety and depression, but also for anyone.

We recommend the following routines: beginners’ yoga, low intensity martial arts, walking, race walking, light jogging, and low intensity aerobics. 

We can learn these routines in a structured manner as well as planning sessions for moments when we do not feel great or have a feeling that we are going experience an anxiety attack. If you have a spontaneous attack and do not have a lot of time to think, you can go on a walk or do easy movements, or flexibility exercises. These along with some controlled breathing can help you move the focus away from the crisis you are experiencing. 

“Distracting the mind”

Individual testimonies for people that have suffered from panic or anxiety attacks tell us that distracting the mind is a very efficient technique. Busying yourself with activities that you like and find pleasure in is highly recommended. For example, if you being to experience symptoms, find a piece of paper and a pencil and start writing. Other options are crafting, drawing, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, or playing with a pet, just to mention a few. The idea is to practice activities that are not passive so that the mind can focus on things other than anxiety and fear that come as part of a panic attack. Instead, carry out activities that require active participation and force the mind to occupy itself with the execution of these activities. 

If the individual is in a public place the best thing to do is leave wherever they are and do other activities. There are places that have too many stimuli and can make you feel flustered, while there are others that can be too cramped and trigger anxiety about being unable to escape. In other cases, it would be a good idea to go somewhere that promotes safety and tranquility.

When anxiety is out of your control there can be a “snowball” effect that can trigger multiple traffic thoughts until you reach the point of panic, and symptoms worsen. Distracting your mind does not cause evasion of the root problem, which has to be treated, but instead deescalating as to not worsen symptoms triggered by stressful thoughts. 

Lastly, strategies that help to calm symptoms immediately aim to slow down the influx of thoughts, so the mind slows down, and you are able to be in control and calm down. Allowing your mind to run free will only bring the same result: intense panic and anxiety attacks. 

Next, we will talk about some strategies that you can apply in moments when you are not suffering a panic attacks, so that you can work on improving long-term and are able to get rid of the problem definitively, to maintain normal levels of anxiety.

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Learn what anxiety is 

Gathering information about physical and mental health is good for us. Once you know what it is that you are suffering from, that it has a name, and that many others suffer from it, you can experience great relief. 

We live in the time of information. Now more than ever, we can rely on media for data, studies, statistics, and invaluable experiences regarding anxiety and other health problems. There are also communities that work as a support net for people who suffer from these types of ailments. Allowing your imagination to run wild while feeling anxious is not a good idea but having information about what you are experiencing helps you have more certainty and therefore, brings relief to your mental stress.

Anxiety attacks are becoming more common all around the world. Numbers have considerably increased due to multiple factors that for now, we will not go into. It is important that those who experience anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or another type of anxiety disorder, know that they are not alone, that they are not losing their minds, and that nothing is wrong with them. Moreover, they should know that the number of patients that are able to successfully overcome this health condition is very high and projections are very encouraging. Likewise, there is a great number of people who have suffered o will suffer an episode of panic or anxiety in their lives. 

Knowledge is power and it opens the doors to finding solutions to our problems. This is why we have placed it in the first place and as the first strategy to find long-term and lasting relief.

Practicing relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are similar to breathing techniques in the sense that individuals with anxiety might think it will be impossible to use them to relax. It might seem true, but if you persevere and are able to perform the techniques correctly, even with someone else’s guidance, you will experience relief soon enough. Learning takes time and being able to achieve deep relaxation could take days, weeks, or months of practicing, depending on the person. However, relaxation techniques are very efficient in helping us feel better. Let’s remember that activating the parasympathetic nervous system is the goal so that our bodies can exit the fight or flight state, and this can be achieved with daily relaxation.

Some of the positive side effects of relaxation are: lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, increase in mental acuity, relief of muscle tension and muscle pain, increased restfulness, and less insomnia. The best-known relaxation techniques are: diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscular relaxation, massages, relaxation or positive visualization.

Meditation and mindfulness

Every day there is more research done about the physical and mental benefits of meditation, such as productivity, and the results are encouraging. This millennial technique is about focusing in the moment at present and freeing your mind from pressing thoughts, and it is very rewarding for those who practice it daily.

There are many ways to meditate and each person must practice the one that feels best for them. It is not important how we do it but rather to be able to enjoy its rewards. The goal of meditation is to become more serene and have an open mind free of negative thoughts in order to be at peace.

The main thing when meditation techniques (just like relaxation techniques) is to practice consistently so that we can feel more at ease when practicing. Meditation can be done on our own or with guidance, with or without music, repeating mantras or in silence, with your eyes opened or closed, etc. there are many ways to practice and each person can adopt their own.

Mindfulness carries the same goal. This technique invites us to solely focus on the now. How many times have you found yourself to be carrying out a task and your mind is elsewhere? This is the perfect recipe for anxious thoughts.

It is about focusing on the activity at hand and try to be present in that moment. Afterall, most of the times nothing bad happens in that moment. Our mind makes catastrophic predictions about a things in the future that have not and will most likely not come to pass. Being present in what we are doing allows anxious individuals to free their minds of pessimism and to go from a catastrophic mind to a serene and calm place.

Seek professional help

The number one recommendation when we feel that your anxiety is out of control is to seek psychologic or psychiatric help. Many studies have proven that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications work very well for treating anxiety as well as depression. This is why it is the most recommended treatment and the option that has the most scientific backing at the moment.

Many people want to avoid taking medication which is understandable. The good news is that CBT alone can help treat elevated anxiety, however, symptoms may take longer to disappear. Basically, treatment with medications aims to alleviate symptoms so that the patient can focus on their recovery with CBT. Patient that does not desire to take medication have other options such as the techniques and strategies mentioned at the beginning of this article. 

To learn more about anxiety and how to find relief, as well as a series of techniques for meditation, breathing, and physical exercise, what CBT is, how to use it to manage stress and anxiety and other important topics, we invite you to join Mindphony.

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