The lights seem too bright; your heart feels like it might explode out of your chest. Your body shakes. You may find yourself unable to breathe; your chest hurts. You have an intense desire to escape, scream or cry. Your hands might twitch and you feel like you are going to be sick in just a few seconds.
That’s what anxiety attack feels like. Sounds familiar? Well that used to be my story too.
On a normal day, I would just be hanging out with my friends and suddenly have a wave of panic wash over me. I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was dying.
Anxiety attacks (or panic attacks) can strike unexpectedly.
In fact, it feels like the worst thing in the world, but the truth is – it’s all caused by a massive boost of adrenaline that your brain sends into your bloodstream.
In today’s post, I’d like to break down the most common anxiety attack symptoms, plus share some personal tips on how to tame this beast.
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Sometimes they come without a clear warning. Sometimes rather obvious things serve as triggers like giving a public talk or taking a job interview, trigger them. Sometimes an anxiety attack comes simply out of the blue – you just start feeling something is very wrong.
Anxiety Attack: The Most Common Symptoms
- Insane, overwhelming strike of panic
- Pulsating or nagging chest pain
- Shaking and trembling
- Troubled breathing and/or choking sensation
- Nausea and/or stomach cramps
- Dizziness, feeling faint or light headed.
- Accelerated heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Numbness, particularly in your feet and hands.
- Feeling detached and unreal. Basically, you feel like you are going crazy.
- Fearing you’re dying.
An anxiety attack can roll in with most of the above or just a few symptoms, coming one after another or all at once.
The symptoms can last from a few seconds to a terrible half an hour, though the average number is 10 minutes – says, Doctor Merav Gur.
To learn to cope with an anxiety attack effectively, first you need to understand what exactly happens with your body and mind.
In a nutshell – an anxiety attack is an exaggeration of the arousal of your sympathetic nervous system.
Here’s a more detailed explanation for this:
Your brain focuses on some alleged thread, for instance, a very scary thought that was floating somewhere at your subconscious. Your thalamus – the part of the brain responsible for regulating consciousness, sleep and alertness – transfers that information to your amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions, decision-making and memory – which marks it as “danger” and sends a signal to your sympathetic nervous system, activating the fight-or-flight response.
At the same time, your brain decides to shoot an extra dose of adrenaline inside your blood system, thus triggering the initial panic attack symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating and blood pressure rise.
All of the above are the normal sympathetic responses, in the case that you were facing some real danger. But as in reality there’s no danger present, you start panicking as you fail to ascribe these symptoms to something particular and start believing things like – you are having a heart attack/severe allergic reaction or actually dying.
This huge mix of fear and panic make other symptoms to kick in and voila – a full-scale anxiety attack in action.
How to Cope with an Anxiety Attack
Let’s start with the immediate, quick hacks to help you freeze your anxiety attack once it kicks into your life. No matter how scared or helpless you feel at that moment, try to do the following things:
- Do a Simple Stretch
When you have an attack, your breath is too short and shallow, meaning it worsens further symptoms. Once you feel the panic – stand up and start doing some simple stretching. If you manage to squeeze in a yawn, that will help you tame the attack even faster. Stretching and yawning instantly helps you relieve muscle tension and interrupt the vicious cycle that is just about to roll in full strength.
- Focus on your breathing.
No need to master the art of meditation for this. Simply inhale for three counts and exhale for five. Repeat the exercise for as long as you need to.
- Drink a glass of ice-cold water.
To regulate your body’s temperature and reduce the escalating cycle of panic, slowly drink a glass of icy water. Take small sips and focus on every gulp you make. While drinking, imagine how your body and mind is cooling down.
- Focus on using peripheral vision
To activate your parasympathetic nervous system, use this simple meditation technique: focus your gaze on an imaginary point in front of you; relax your focus and use your peripheral vision, as if you are trying to take in everything around you with soft focus. It signals to your brain to relax. The more you practice this technique – the faster it will help you to relax in any situation.
- Start moving
Remember, your brain thinks you are facing danger and just gave you a massive shot of adrenaline. You now have to get rid of it. The best option is to walk it off. Go on a stroll to a park if possible, or simply get up and move around.
- Face the Facts
Now as you feel slightly calmer, you need to identify and face the roots of the anxiety attack. The truth is – there’s always a trigger for it. Even if it’s not obvious, it’s always there. Panic attacks can happen as a response to a stressful or traumatic issue that happened months ago. Try digging into your mind and thinking of the exact cue that might have caused it. Remember, an anxiety attack is just a host of physical reactions. No matter how real it feels, the danger is usually non-existent.
Have you ever experienced an anxiety attack? What are your tips for coping with an attack? Let us know in the comments.