According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States – approximately 40 million people aged 18 or older suffer from one. Anxiety attacks are an unfortunate yet common aspect of anxiety disorders – people often experience chest pain, chills or heat sensations, trembling, sweating, heart palpitations, fear of “going crazy”, nausea, fear of dying, and more. In 2016, Medical Today accurately defined anxiety as nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry.
When we feel extremely anxious or nervous about something, our body activates its stress response, which causes the body to secrete stress hormones into the body where they travel to targeted areas that bring about physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to perform “fight or flight”. Our stress response triggers energy to help us deal with a threat – and the degree of our stress response is directly related to the degree of our perceived threat. This is incredibly important for us to remember because this explains why we may “suddenly” experience anxiety attacks.
Anxiety can make us feel debilitated and helpless, and can significantly impact all aspects of life. If we experience an anxiety attack, it may feel like the world is falling apart. However, anxiety attacks alone are not deadly and there are several steps that we can take if we are experiencing an anxiety attack to help relieve the symptoms:
- Understand why you have anxiety attacks. Learning more about them can help you work through them.
- Stop scaring yourself. We often become afraid of having anxiety attacks, which perpetuate them. Understand that you are not in danger and that it’s caused by your worrying.
- Stay calm – go to a relaxing place where you perceive no threats. Splash some cool water on your face and take some deep breaths.
- Relax your body and distract yourself. Call a trusted friend, watch a funny movie if you can, read a gentle book, etc.
- Recognize that your anxiety attack will end. It will not last forever and it’s reacting this way to protect you.
- Acknowledge that you will not die from your anxiety attack. Although it may feel like it, you are perfectly safe. Nothing is wrong and you will be okay.
- Breathe. Count your breaths, inhale and exhale deeply, and try to stay grounded the best that you can.
- Stay attuned to the stress you are experiencing. Learn to recognize when your breathing changes, or when you feel yourself start to worry too much. Discredit those fearful thoughts by explaining the reality of the situation to yourself. “Debunk” the myths of your mind by breaking down components of those thoughts logically.
Thankfully, there are many tools provided both online and in-person to help people work through anxiety. If you would like more information, please speak to a healthcare professional today. Help is available and recovery is possible.
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