How To Manage An Anxiety Attack

  • This article was also published in the online version of the Severna Park Voice.

Your heart is pounding. Maybe you’re shaking or sweating. You might feel like you’re floating away from yourself, or that you’re dying. It’s really scary! Anxiety or panic attacks can come out of nowhere and leave you shaken, exhausted and worried about having another one. Fortunately, you can take steps to manage the experience.

What Does An Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

Anxiety attacks can have a variety of symptoms. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America some of the symptoms include:

  • Racing or pounding heart, palpitations

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath or sensations of smothering or choking

  • Dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint or unsteady

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Chills or feeling hot

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Feeling like things aren’t real

  • Feeling detached from yourself

Because some of these symptoms mimic other physical illnesses, you might think you’re having a heart attack or a breathing problem, or that you’re dying. When you go to the hospital or your primary care doctor and find out you don’t have a physical illness, you might wonder if you’re crazy.

Panic Attacks Causes And Impacts

Panic or anxiety attacks are often caused by feelings of helplessness and intense feelings of fear or danger. Sometimes it feels like they come on out of nowhere, making it hard to pinpoint what triggers them, and that’s really scary.

If worrying that a panic attack might occur keeps you from going out or being in public, you might have what’s called panic disorder — panic attacks accompanied by an intense fear of having another one. This sometimes leads to agoraphobia — a fear of feeling trapped, helpless or embarrassed.

What To Do If You Have Anxiety Attacks

Many of the symptoms of an anxiety attack are the same as the symptoms of a heart attack. Only a doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with anxiety or panic attacks, here are three strategies to help you cope:

  1. Get to a place that’s quiet and feels safe. If you’re with a friend or partner, ask them to help you find a quiet place to sit down. If you’re alone try to find somewhere close where you can sit down or lean against something.

  2. Take a few slow measured breaths. Count to 4 as you breathe in, hold your breath for a count of 7 and breathe out for a count of 8. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the “fight-or-flight” response.

  3. Soften your gaze and use your peripheral vision. This technique also stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, creating a calming effect. Focus on a point ahead of you, then soften your gaze. Pay attention to the things that are at the edges of your vision, trying to take in as much as you can in the periphery.

  4. If you’ve had a panic attack before remind yourself that even though it might feel like it, you’re not dying. You can say to yourself, “I know this feeling. It’s a panic attack. Although right now it feels like it will never end, I know the panic will pass.”

If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety, counseling can help. A therapist will work with you to help you better understand what triggers your anxiety attacks; she’ll also give you non-judgmental support and a safe place to share your thoughts and feelings. 

I believe that you have the courage and ability to progress through this journey of self-awareness and healing, and to find and move towards the person you long to be. That’s why I hope you will call or email me for a free consultation today!

I offer individual and group and online therapy for residents of Maryland.