All of us have certain anxieties in our lives. The reasons for feeling anxious varies. But anxiety attacks spring from stress. The stress of uncertainties is one of the biggest factors. This sense of uncertainty brings feelings of worry. This is especially so during the Covid-19 pandemic where the number of people suffering anxieties has risen. We share 13 ways to manage anxiety attacks we hope will be helpful for you.
1. Recognise an anxiety attack
An anxiety attack can happen to anyone at any time. The symptoms include a surge of fear overcoming you accompanied by rapid heart rate. You can hear your heart pounding loudly and so fast you fear you are going to have a heart attack. You are hyperventilating and feel as if your whole body is frozen. Your palms may also feel sweaty.
The whole experience seems to head towards a disaster. The fear of a heart attack and the processes going on in your body makes it feel as if you may not get out of the anxiety attack. But after a while, it eventually goes away. The place where you experienced the anxiety may imprint into your memory more fears. For example, if the attack happened during a trip to the supermarket, you may become wary of going to the supermarket alone.
2. Breathe slowly to manage anxiety attacks
When you feel an oncoming anxiety attack and you recognize it, manage your breathing. Hyperventilation exacerbates the anxiety attack. So, the trick to managing anxiety attacks is to breathe slowly. You can first breathe in, then hold your breath a little and then release the breath through your mouth.
You can breathe in slowly with the count of four, then hold your breath for two seconds before opening your mouth to release the breath.
3. Carry a handy paper bag
Breathing into a paper bag is a quick and simple way to slow down your breath. When you start hyperventilating, the symptoms of anxiety attacks will start rolling in. If you regularly experience panic, it will be easy for you to recognize an upcoming attack. As an anxiety sufferer, it is really handy to carry a paper bag with you to alleviate the symptoms.
If you feel embarrassed to breathe into a paper bag in the public, there is a personal tip I would like to share. Having suffered anxiety attacks repeatedly, I learned to take out a piece of tissue paper to pretend to sneeze in the public. Although the truth is, I was breathing into the tissue paper. This actually helped me breathe slowly. Breathing in the carbon dioxide expelled by your nostrils helps to prevent hyperventilation, which is the intake of too much oxygen.
4. Focus on an object
Anxiety attacks manifest supported by two things. First, the mind is distracted and tends towards the fear of having a panic attack. A sufferer may imagine or feel in his or her body the oncoming rapid heartbeats. This releases stress hormones and makes the body freeze and hyperventilate, causing a strong feeling of fear to emerge.
Instead of focusing inwards, find an object outside to focus your attention on. This takes away your attention from the feelings and thoughts of fear. Managing anxiety attacks by distraction works, if you can keep your focus. I have had a personal experience experiencing an oncoming panic attack in a place two hours away from a hospital.
The fact that I was unable to breathe lightly or deeply and the thought that medical help is so far away exacerbated the fear. I quickly lit a candle and stared at the flame for about 45 minutes till the feeling of anxiety subsided.
5. Think relaxing thoughts
What we think, we tend to feel, and vice-versa. Although the relationship between our thoughts and feelings can be difficult to discern, recognizing how they work together helps to manage anxiety attacks. This step requires the sufferer to have practiced self-help exercises such as mindfulness meditation.
Instead of being drawn into fear of having a heart attack, understand that anxiety attacks are transient. Of all the panic attacks you have experienced, you have not yet succumbed to death. This allows you to relax and shift your thoughts to something pleasant. Such as bringing up an image of yourself relaxing at a beautiful beach.
6. Repeat a mantra
This step is similar to steps 4 and 5 in managing panic attacks as they are tools to distract your mind from thinking about the anxiety and fearing it. If you have a religion, you can choose to think of an image of your religious teacher or God and utter the name mentally.
Place your attention on the name of the person that soothes your mind and repeat the word mentally. Or you can simply use a non-religious mantra such as “I am relaxed and feeling fine.” The trick is not to force the mantra onto your mind by wishing it would drive the anxiety away.
Rather, repeat the mantra without wanting to suppress the anxiety. Just do it for the sake of doing it and see if it helps you manage your anxiety attacks.
7. See the sensations not the narrative
Our minds are always spinning narratives and stories. It makes endless commentaries about things it has seen, heard, or believe to be true. In our intellectual society, we worship thoughts. But the truth is, thoughts are not always your allies. They can harm you, just like thoughts of anxiety.
Instead of believing your narrative of how the rapid heartbeat and feelings of fear will end your life, look at the sensations of fear running through your body instead. This will help you understand fear is transient and only runs through your body for a short time. Your mind tends to believe it is permanent or long-lasting. However, this is a practice that is more suitable for one who has trained in mindfulness.
8. Go for a walk
Light and low-impact exercise routines help to attenuate episodes of anxiety attacks. A sufferer of panic attacks tends to stay home and becomes withdrawn from others and physical activities for fear of anxieties. Having a stroll helps to move and relax the body. If you feel anxiety arising in your mind and body, take your mind off it by taking a short and relaxing walk.
9. Smell lavender
Lavender is known for inducing relaxation and helps to relieve feelings of anxiety. Get a bottle of pure essential lavender oil from a trusted source. Inhale the oil gently by placing the opened bottle under your nose. Or you can dap the oil onto a handkerchief and breathe into it. If you dislike the smell of lavender, you can try other scents such as chamomile, peppermint, or lemon.
10. Take medication
If you prefer quick relief, going to your doctor’s for a prescription to alleviate anxiety attacks might help. They may prescribe a use as you need medication to help you with panic symptoms. They also work quite fast.
Some medications contain a benzodiazepine or a beta-blocker. Propranolol is a beta-blocker that slows a racing heartbeat and decreases blood pressure. Benzodiazepines that doctors commonly prescribe for panic attacks include Valium and Xanax. But you may develop an addiction to these medications. These drugs when taken with alcohol or opioids may be life-threatening.
11. Know what triggers you
Some people may experience anxiety attacks due to a crowded space, enclosed space, or fear of losing something. Knowing your triggers can help reduce episodes of panic attacks. But they are not long-term solutions.
12. Practice meditation
Meditation teaches the mind to gather itself. Gathering the mind means to have the mind learn to focus. The mind contains a force of its own. With our many activities, this attention or force is often scattered everywhere. By teaching the mind to gather itself, we are learning to bring the force of the mind together.
The practice trains your mind by placing your attention on one object such as the breath. However, many people misunderstand the practice as suppressing your thoughts. Instead of suppressing distractions from the breath, relax and watch distracting thoughts pass by.
Not suppressing and not striving to get to any result is the best way to practice meditation to manage anxiety attacks. Meditation also helps you with steps 4 and 6 should you experience panic.
13. Learn mindfulness
Mindfulness is training to understand how the mind works in relation to the body. With mindfulness, the practitioner trains the mind to see the relationship between thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness also helps the practitioner see how thoughts label body sensations into feelings.
By understanding the relationship, mindfulness can change the focus on the mind during an oncoming panic attack. This helps one to see the bodily sensations of anxieties instead of the feelings and narratives of fear. It is a very powerful practice in managing anxiety attacks and living a life with reduced stress.