TLDR: End an anxiety attack by learning to recognize one, overcoming it with mindfulness, knowing your specific symptoms, and envisioning a safe place.
These are some of the questions we get about anxiety attacks all the time:
Have you ever had an anxiety attack?
Will my anxiety attack go away?
Can anxiety attacks be cured?
All these point to the fact that these anxiety disorders – sometimes called panic attacks – are common to many Calgarians. They can range from minor discomfort to an almost paralyzing feeling of fear and disorientation, and thanks to the fact that everyone experiences them differently, they are often misunderstood.
These feelings stem from our biological, innate “fight, flight, or freeze” response, and that is shaped not only by our evolution but our environment and personality as well. What they do have in common is that they are mentally and physically draining – and we are commonly asked how to make anxiety attacks go away.
What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?
During an anxiety attack, you may feel like you are losing control. Some people have a general sense of doom or feel as if they are in grave danger. Some people feel detached from reality, like they’re watching the moment play out on television. Anxiety attacks usually last 5-30 minutes and, while they’re wreaking havoc on your emotions, obligations, and routines, they may also be causing a number of physical symptoms, including:
- Chest pain
- Hot or cold flashes
- Numbness or tingling
- Shortness of breath
- Turning pale
- Inability to sleep, talk, or concentrate
Each person experiences anxiety differently and anxiety attacks are not always easy to recognize. Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders don’t even know that they’re experiencing anxiety until they see a counsellor to help them manage their stress.
If you find yourself struggling with this – anxiety attacks for no reason you can identify, wondering how long an anxiety attack will last, and so on – there are things that you can do to help manage the situation and move forward. You can also walk someone else through the below techniques if you notice someone you care about is suffering from anxiety.
1. How to Recognize an Anxiety Attack
This can be a lot easier said than done. The signs and symptoms of anxiety are so varied and can be rather vague, making it difficult to know what an anxiety attack really is. However, common threads and triggers will arise, and once you do start to recognize your anxiety attacks, you’ll know when you are having one. Working with a counsellor can help you dig deeper to identify anxiety and its triggers before it becomes a full-blown anxiety attack.
2. Overcoming Anxiety with Mindfulness
A lot of anxiety is caused by worry about future possibilities or fear about being judged – possibilities that are unlikely to happen, but cause feelings of stress and inadequacy anyway. Being mindful is defined as “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them.”
So, if you’re feeling the onset of anxiety, try this: push ‘pause’ on your thoughts and pull yourself into your immediate senses. Take a few deep breaths and consider – what do you see around you? What can you hear? What smells are on the air? Re-centering yourself to your current situation and surroundings can effectively calm your nerves and remind your body that you are safe, and that our fears are not always realistic or set in stone.
3. How Anxiety Attacks Feel: Knowing Your Symptoms
The physical symptoms of anxiety can increase your feelings of fear. For instance, many people experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness when an anxiety attack begins. They may become fearful that they are having a heart attack, increasing the “fight, flight, or freeze” response their body is having.
Some people find it helpful to recognize the physical sensations they are experiencing from an objective viewpoint. You can try this by focusing on how each sensation feels, without trying to establish what is going on. Each sensation can be recognized as independent of the other sensations.
Others find that focusing on non-anxiety sensations is helpful. For example, think about your toes (or any part of you that feels fine)—how do they feel? Is there anything you can do to make them feel any better? How do they feel different from the parts of your body that are not feeling comfortable? By drawing your attention to the parts of you that are not experiencing any symptoms, you are more likely to mitigate the parts that are.
4. Envisioning A Safe Place for Anxiety
If your anxiety stems from trauma, or focusing on internal sensations is triggering for you, it might be better to work with a safe space.
Take a moment and envision a peaceful and safe place, describing all the sensory experiences you would have. Observe the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. If your place is a warm, sandy beach, feel the warm breeze on your skin, hear the waves crashing and a gull cry above you, feel the sand between your toes, and smell the crisp sea air. Your nervous system will respond and react as if you are in that environment.
Working with a safe space can be especially helpful if you feel like you are being observed or judged by others, or if you feel that something bad is going to happen. Shifting your focus away from the external threats that you are experiencing to an internal place of peace can help you to begin thinking more clearly about your experience.
Learning to Manage Anxiety Attacks
These methods can be wonderful for helping you to manage your anxiety when it become intrusive, but they in no way address the cause of your anxiety or prevent panic attacks from occurring. It is important to have tools for managing anxiety on the go, but it is even more important to get to the root of that anxiety.
If you’re experiencing anxiety on a regular basis, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Working with a professional can help you not only establish tools that are right for you, but also to move through what is causing your anxiety in the first place. Anxiety doesn’t have to run your life, and with the right support and tools from our anxiety counsellors in Calgary, you can feel in control. Simply reach out to find out how we can help you!