Do you know that one in five Americans experience anxiety disorders? Understanding how to stop an anxiety attack could be a life-changing skill. However, remember, this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
What Is an Anxiety Attack?
An anxiety attack, often mistaken for a panic attack, is an episode characterized by sudden, intense feelings of fear, worry, or nervousness. Unlike panic attacks, anxiety attacks are often triggered by a recognized stressor and generally subside once the triggering situation is resolved. However, the symptoms can be equally debilitating and may include:
- Increased Heart Rate: A racing heart is often one of the first signs of an anxiety attack.
- Shortness of Breath: You might find it difficult to take deep breaths, which can further increase feelings of panic.
- Sweating: Excessive sweating, even in a cool environment, is common.
- Shaking or Trembling: Your hands or legs may shake uncontrollably.
- Gastrointestinal Issues: Symptoms like nausea or stomach cramps can occur.
- Feeling of Impending Doom: An exaggerated sense of urgency or fear for no apparent reason.
- Cognitive Disruptions: Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, and impaired decision-making.
- Emotional Symptoms: Irritability, restlessness, and overwhelming feelings of dread are also common.
It’s crucial to differentiate anxiety attacks from panic attacks, as they may require different approaches to management. Panic attacks are often more severe, can occur without a known trigger, and may require medical intervention.
Causes of Anxiety Attacks
Understanding what triggers an anxiety attack can be the first step toward effective management. Here are some common factors:
- Triggering Events: Specific events or situations often set off an anxiety attack. This could be anything from a job interview or public speaking engagement to social interactions or traumatic events.
- Underlying Health Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, hormonal imbalances, or respiratory issues, can mimic or exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
- Psychological Factors: Chronic stress, emotional trauma, or unresolved issues like grief can create a fertile ground for anxiety attacks.
- Phobias: Specific fears, like agoraphobia or claustrophobia, can directly induce an anxiety attack when you’re exposed to the fear-inducing situation.
- Substance Abuse: The use of certain substances like alcohol, caffeine, or recreational drugs can provoke anxiety attacks in some people.
- Environmental Factors: Crowded places, high noise levels, or even specific smells can trigger anxiety for some individuals.
- Relationship Issues: Tensions in personal relationships, whether familial, romantic, or platonic, can be a source of frequent anxiety attacks.
- Work Pressure: Deadlines, job insecurity, or workplace conflicts can be potent triggers.
Understanding the underlying causes of your anxiety attacks can provide insights into long-term management strategies, including the potential for professional help such as psychotherapy or medication.
How to Stop an Anxiety Attack Fast
When you feel an anxiety attack coming on, time is of the essence. Knowing how to act quickly can significantly reduce the severity and duration of the attack. Here are some detailed, fast-acting methods:
1. Immediate Actions
The first few moments of an anxiety attack are crucial. As soon as you recognize the onset of symptoms, find a quiet and comfortable space if possible. Let someone you trust know what’s happening, if they’re available. Having a pre-established “emergency plan” can also make it easier to take immediate action.
2. Deep Breathing
One of the most effective methods for regulating your nervous system is deep breathing. For the 4-7-8 technique, breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale completely through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle four times. This method helps increase oxygen in the bloodstream, slows down your heartbeat, and can often provide almost immediate relief.
3. Grounding Techniques
Grounding exercises can help you divert your focus from the anxiety attack to the present moment. The 5-4-3-2-1 method involves identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. This activity engages your senses, offering a distraction from the symptoms you’re experiencing.
4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique involves tensing and relaxing various muscle groups to reduce physical symptoms of anxiety. Start from your toes, moving upwards to your legs, abdomen, chest, arms, and finally your face. Tense each muscle group for 5 seconds and then release. The act of consciously relaxing your muscles can send signals to your brain to relax your mind as well.
Create a mental “safe space” that you can go to when an anxiety attack occurs. Imagine every detail of this place — the colors, sounds, and smells. Really immerse yourself in this mental landscape. Focusing on this peaceful scene can provide a mental break from your current stressors, offering temporary relief.
6. Positive Affirmations and Self-Talk
The way you talk to yourself during an anxiety attack can either exacerbate or alleviate the symptoms. Instead of focusing on how terrified you feel, repeat calming and empowering affirmations like “I am in control” or “This too shall pass.”
Have these phrases memorized or written down in a place that’s easily accessible so you can refer to them when an attack occurs. The simple act of positive self-talk can shift your mental state and offer immediate relief.
7. Quick Movement
Physical activity can release pent-up energy and reduce the stress hormone cortisol, helping to halt an anxiety attack. If you’re in a location where you can move freely, consider doing a set of jumping jacks, taking a brisk walk, or even shaking out your arms and legs vigorously. The idea is to distract your mind and use up excess energy that may be fueling your anxiety.
8. Use of Cold Water
The shock of cold water can provide a sudden reset for your nervous system. If possible, splash cold water on your face or even immerse your face in a bowl of cold water for a few seconds. Alternatively, holding onto a cold object like a frozen water bottle or ice pack can achieve similar grounding effects. This method engages the “dive reflex,” which can lower your heart rate and calm the nervous system.
9. Cognitive Reappraisal
This involves quickly challenging and changing the thought patterns fueling your anxiety. Ask yourself questions like, “Is this situation as bad as I think?” or “What’s the worst that could happen, and can I handle it?” Sometimes our fears are irrational or exaggerated, and dissecting them can lessen their emotional grip on us. This method may require some practice but can be incredibly effective once mastered.
10. Call for Help
Sometimes, you may need external assistance to get through an anxiety attack. Reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or even a helpline like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline. If you’ve discussed your condition with someone beforehand, they may already have a sense of how to assist you. If you’re calling a helpline, the counselors are trained to provide immediate, effective coping strategies.
When to Seek Help
Anxiety attacks, while distressing, often subside once the triggering situation is over. However, if you find that these attacks are becoming a regular occurrence or that the intensity is increasing, it may be time to consult a healthcare professional. Here are some signs that indicate you should seek professional help:
- Frequency: If you are experiencing anxiety attacks regularly or even multiple times in a week, this could be a sign of a more significant issue that needs professional intervention.
- Intensity: When the symptoms become so severe that they significantly impair your ability to function in daily life, professional guidance is crucial.
- Duration: Anxiety attacks that last for extended periods, or seem to linger in a less intense form for days, are also a red flag.
- Ineffectiveness of Coping Mechanisms: If the coping techniques that used to work are no longer effective, or if the anxiety seems to be worsening despite applying various methods, it’s essential to consult a medical professional.
- Interference in Daily Life: When anxiety starts affecting your work, relationships, or general well-being, it’s a clear indicator that you need professional help.
Doctors may recommend a combination of treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication, or even lifestyle changes, to help manage and mitigate your anxiety attacks.
Tips for Bystanders
Being a bystander during someone else’s anxiety attack can be a daunting experience. Knowing how to act can make a significant difference in helping the person recover more quickly. Here are some guidelines:
- Stay Calm: Your own emotional state can greatly influence the person experiencing the anxiety attack. Maintain a calm demeanor and assure them that you are there to help.
- Ask How to Assist: Some people know what helps them during an anxiety attack; asking them directly can be the most efficient way to provide aid.
- Offer Space: Sometimes, a person having an anxiety attack may need some physical space. Ensure you’re not crowding them while also being close enough to offer support.
- Follow Their Lead: If they have a preferred coping technique, help facilitate it. Whether it’s fetching them water for deep-breathing exercises or aiding with grounding techniques, your active participation can be crucial.
- Seek Medical Help if Needed: If the anxiety attack doesn’t seem to subside or appears life-threatening (for instance, if the person is struggling to breathe), don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance.
- Offer Continuous Support: Once the immediate crisis is over, your role as a supporter isn’t necessarily done. Offer to accompany them to seek professional help or be there for them in the days following the attack to ensure they are coping effectively.
- Educate Yourself: Familiarize yourself with what an anxiety attack is and how it differs from other conditions like panic attacks or medical emergencies. The more you know, the more effective your assistance will be.
Frequently Asked Questions about Anxiety Attack
1. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack Before It Happens?
Preventing an anxiety attack can often be achieved through proactive stress management. Techniques like regular exercise, mindfulness meditation, and healthy sleep habits can all contribute to a reduced likelihood of an anxiety attack.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques can also be beneficial in recognizing and mitigating early signs. Keep quick-relief methods, such as breathing exercises or grounding techniques, at hand for immediate application as soon as you sense an attack might be coming on.
2. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack at Night?
Nighttime anxiety attacks can be particularly distressing due to the solitude and lack of distractions. Deep-breathing techniques can be highly effective in these situations. Also, consider keeping a ‘panic kit’ near your bed containing water, written affirmations or grounding exercises, and any prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
It might also help to get out of bed, move to a different environment, and engage in calming activities like reading or listening to soothing music until you feel the anxiety subside.
3. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack in Public?
Public scenarios can make it challenging to execute some coping mechanisms, but discrete techniques like deep breathing, grounding, or even brief physical activity (like walking to a restroom) can help. If possible, find a quiet corner or a less crowded area where you can focus on your coping methods. Use your phone or another device to distract yourself or engage in positive self-talk through a text or notes app if speaking out loud isn’t an option.
4. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack at Work?
At work, find a quiet space like a restroom or an empty conference room where you can be alone for a few minutes. Utilize deep breathing or grounding techniques to regain composure. If your workplace has a wellness room or a quiet space, consider utilizing it.
Inform a trusted colleague if you’re comfortable doing so; they can help cover for you briefly or offer support. Some people find it beneficial to step outside the office building for fresh air as a quick reset.
5. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack at School?
The first step is to remove yourself from the stressful environment, if possible. Go to the restroom, a secluded corner, or even step outside for a moment if you can. Utilize quick coping mechanisms like deep breathing or grounding techniques. If the anxiety persists or occurs frequently, consider talking to a school counselor or nurse about long-term coping strategies and accommodations.
6. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack While Pregnant?
If you experience an anxiety attack while pregnant, consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice. General methods like deep breathing, grounding techniques, and positive affirmations are often safe for pregnant women.
However, avoid any coping mechanisms that involve intense physical exertion or medications not approved by your doctor. Always consult healthcare providers for any long-term management strategies.
While anxiety attacks are frightening, they are manageable. Remember to consult healthcare professionals for a personalized treatment plan, and consider these tips as immediate coping mechanisms.