Anxiety Attacks: Key Points in Calming Down

In the face of anxiety attacks, it's possible to identify some psychophysiological signs and consider certain clues that may be useful.
Anxiety Attacks: Key Points in Calming Down

Last update: 27 April, 2021

When a person has anxiety attacks, in addition to the feeling of imminent threat and intense fear, certain physiological signals become present. Could it be possible to manage them in any way? Fortunately, yes.

There are some keys that can help to regain, little by little, your calm in an anxiety attack. Let’s see them below. But first, let’s review some aspects about such attacks.

What are anxiety attacks?

First of all, let’s clarify what happens in a situation of this type, these being its main elements:

  • An anxiety attack is related to a high level of distress and discomfort.
  • The person thinks that something negative and threatening is about to happen to them and experiences an intense and irrational fear.
  • The nervous system releases an excess of adrenaline (neurotransmitter), as reported in a recent publication by Dr. Borwin Bandelow’s work team.

The keys to facing an anxiety attack

A woman doing deep breathing exercises with her eyes closed.
Taking a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply helps to recognize anxiety.

1. Learn how to recognize the symptoms

When a person suffers an anxiety attack, they feel trapped in a set of physical and emotional symptoms. Recognizing them is the first move to deal with this state effectively.

Specifically, there are some psychophysiological signs such as the following:

  • Tachycardia
  • Negative thoughts
  • Drowning sensation (similar to cardiac arrest)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating

2. Control breathing

It’s important to detect the symptoms as well as learn how to breathe correctly. In an anxiety attack, as the person manages to detect its symptoms (trembling, nausea, etc.), they can concentrate on their breathing to lower their anxiety level. Inhaling and exhaling again and again, slowly.

Controlling breathing and focusing attention on it facilitates the management of an anxiety attack. Mainly because it allows contact with bodily sensations and gradually allows the person to channel them into gentler responses.

If you have an anxiety attack, try to take a breath for several seconds (count to 30 in your head), hold it (10 seconds, for example) and exhale. You can repeat this cycle as many times as necessary, trying to pay attention to the in and out and also how the muscles relax, one by one.

3. Try to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations

Anxiety attacks are often linked to repetative negative thoughts.

As a study by Dr. Colette R. Hirsch and her team points out, identifying them and trying to replace them with positive phrases can be helpful in reducing an anxiety attack.

A woman thinking positive thoughts.

For example, during the weekend, instead of winding up the thought: “I’ll have a lot of work next week”, you can try to turn it around with a positive phrase such as “Even if I have a lot of work next week, I’ll be able to do it” or “If I already know that I will have a lot of work next week, what can I do now to ease the burden?”

If there’s something that can be done, then get on with it and, if not, then distance yourself from the anxiety and try to enjoy the time off.

Deep breathing exercises can also help in this process.

At the same time, soothing phrases should be incorporated. Some messages will suit each person better than others but, in the end, the objective is that they transmit calm in the face of the adverse circumstance that’s being experienced.

  • For example, repetitively telling yourself everything is okay and there aren’t any reasons to be nervous.
  • It’s also good thinking to know you’ll calm down and it will happen in a matter of seconds.
  • Remember that you’re really in charge of the situation.

4. Look for a safe place

During the anxiety attack, another key that can contribute to relief is finding a quiet space to hang out while you calm down. In this way, you protect yourself from exposure to the eyes of others and have the opportunity to tend more slowly to one’s own feelings.

Far from running away from the situation, trying to spend this experience somewhere discreet can be helpful in coping with it.

5. Avoid rituals

Given the absence of scientific evidence to support the application of rituals in anxiety states, it’s worth considering that these crises can be reduced if you learn to recognize them and give yourself enough time to deal with them.

Thus, if every time you have an anxiety attack, you’ll resort to some habit, such as anxiety eating, in order to “get through it”. As a result, you’ll be associating two stimuli (anxiety and food) that in principle, have nothing to do with each other.

It’s important to note that, with this technique, you’re establishing a circle of superstitions that may not be feasible in other contexts. That’s to say, when it’s impossible to resort to them on some occasion, the discomfort will be even greater.

Is there any other type of help for an anxiety attack?

Psychologist providing support to a patient in therapy.

In addition to the suggestions mentioned above -which can serve as a general guideline-, one of the best ways to learn how to manage anxiety attacks is through cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Don’t forget that if the episodes are recurrent and the discomfort persists, you’ll need to seek professional help. Therefore, don’t ignore the problem and go for a consultation.

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