Anxiety attacks, sometimes referred to as panic attacks, are common for many Calgarians. Although anxiety attacks are part of our biological “fight, flight, or freeze” response, they can be uncomfortable both mentally and physically.
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
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 in the midst of an anxiety attack, there are things that you can do to help move forward to manage the situation and carry on with your day. You can also walk someone else through the below techniques if you notice someone you care about is suffering from anxiety.
1. Recognize that you are having 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. 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 before it becomes a full-blown anxiety attack.
2. Press pause.
A lot of anxiety is caused by worry about future possibilities or fear about being judged. 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.”
By pushing pause on your thoughts and pulling yourself into senses (What do you see? What do you hear? What can you smell?), you may be able to effectively calm your nerves and remind your body that you are safe.
3. Feel the sensations.
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, without judgment. Focus on how each sensation feels, without trying to establish what is going on. Each sensation can be recognized as independent of the other sensations.
You may even find that focusing on non-anxiety sensations is helpful. Focus on 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?
4. Be in your safe place.
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.
Envision a peaceful and safe place, describing all of 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.
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 you can feel in control.