If you’re struggling with anxiety, take heart; you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the US. Almost 20% of adults suffer from them.
Anxiety can range in severity from ongoing feelings of unease and trouble concentrating to uncontrollable intrusive thoughts and physical symptoms like sweating and an elevated heart rate. At its worst, anxiety can cause debilitating panic attacks.
Overcoming an anxiety attack can feel practically impossible when you’re in the thick of one. But there are things you can do to either stop a panic attack in its tracks or reduce its severity.
Stay with us to find out how to stop a panic attack and manage the physical symptoms.
7 Steps for Overcoming an Anxiety Attack
If you suffer from panic attacks, you’re probably all too well aware of how suddenly they can hit.
One moment you’re feeling okay, the next you’re overcome by a surge of fear that keeps on intensifying.
Together with the physical symptoms of panic attacks (such as chest pain and shortness of breath), it can feel like you’re about to die.
It can also seem almost impossible to calm your body or combat the symptoms. Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to create a game plan for the next time a panic attack starts.
One of the first strategies to try is breathing.
Fast, shallow breathing is a potential trigger for panic attacks. It can cause the central nervous system to upregulate and increase feelings of anxiety and tension. Once a panic attack starts, you might experience shortness of breath, and you may start breathing rapidly as your body tries to take up more oxygen.
There are various calming breathing techniques you can try, but one of the most common is the 4-7-8 method:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds
- Hold your breath for seven seconds
- Breathe out for eight seconds
This will help slow your breathing down. It can also give you something to focus on and distract your mind from the surge of fear and the physical symptoms.
2. Stand or Sit Up Straight
During a panic attack, you may find that your upper body involuntarily hunches over and you start bringing your shoulders forward. This is the body’s way of trying to protect itself by shielding the lungs and heart. Unfortunately, hunching over can exacerbate the physical symptoms of a panic attack.
If you can, try to straighten up, push your shoulders back, and open up your chest. You can also sit or stand with your feet apart. This will help you take deeper breaths.
3. Stop the Stimulus
Overstimulation is another potential panic attack trigger. If you get anxious in noisy, chaotic environments, and you feel a panic attack coming on, do whatever you can to stop the stimuli.
If you can’t remove yourself from the environment, you can try closing your eyes or blocking your ears with your hands.
4. Find a Focus Object
Some people also find it helpful to pick a focus object and fix all of their attention on it. A focus object can be any object in your environment that won’t move out of sight.
Try to focus all of your attention on this object. Notice its size, any colors, what it’s made out of, etc.
5. Systematically Relax Your Muscles
Another technique you can try is to consciously relax all of your muscles, one area at a time. Trying to relax your whole body during a panic attack is a tall order. Focusing on one area at a time gives you something to occupy your mind with and is easier than just telling yourself to relax.
Starting with your feet, work your way up, deliberately relaxing your lower legs, upper legs, pelvic area, stomach muscles, etc., until you get to the top of your head.
6. Go to a Happy Place
Some people also have success by going to a happy place in their mind. This could be a soothing memory, a specific place that makes you feel good, a person, or a certain environment.
Picture yourself immersed in that place or memory and try to fix all of your attention on it.
7. Create a Mantra
Repeating a mantra is another method you can try to ground yourself during a panic attack. You can use any mantra you like, as long as it has a soothing meaning for you.
Some people find comfort in the phrase “This too shall pass.” You can also repeat to yourself, “I am safe” or “Everything is going to be okay.”
Reducing the Frequency of Panic Attacks
The above strategies can help you minimize the severity of panic attacks and even head them off in some cases.
There are also various things you can do to help prevent panic attacks from occurring and reduce their frequency.
Seek Out Therapy
Panic attacks can be caused by multiple contributing factors, including genetics, your environment, and stress. However, if you suffer from anxiety, this is most likely the main cause.
Therapy isn’t an overnight fix, but it can play a pivotal role in managing anxiety. If you are also dealing with addiction, this is even more reason to seek out therapy. Battling an addiction while trying to manage a mental health disorder like anxiety can be very challenging.
Therapy can help you address underlying causes and gain a greater understanding of yourself.
Look Into Supplements or Medication
Besides addressing the mental/emotional side of anxiety, you should also target any physical factors.
Nutrient deficiencies can impact your neurochemicals, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Research suggests that certain supplements can help alleviate anxiety, including:
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins
- Omega-3 fatty acids
There are also a variety of herbs that can have calming effects on the central nervous system. These include:
- Lemon balm
- Valerian root
If you have received a diagnosis, you can also ask your healthcare provider whether you are a candidate for anti-anxiety medication.
Try Out Meditation
Meditation could be another useful tool to add to your anti-anxiety arsenal. Meditation is a simple, fast way to decrease stress. Over time, it can even train the body into calmer states.
A recent study showed that meditation can be as effective as daily medication for people suffering from anxiety disorders.
If you struggle to keep your brain calm, you can try following guided meditations. You can also use a meditation app.
If you’re prone to anxiety and panic attacks, you should be careful of stimulants. Stimulants excite the central and peripheral nervous systems. This speeds up the rate at which chemicals and messages move through your nervous system and body.
Stimulants can make you feel more alert and energized, but they can also trigger panic attacks by speeding up your heart.
Some common stimulants include:
Illegal stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines carry some of the highest risks of inducing panic attacks. If you have developed a dependency on an illegal stimulant, it can feel like you’re trapped between taking and risking a panic attack, or stopping cold turkey and having withdrawals.
If you are in this situation, the best thing to do is seek professional help. Going through withdrawal on your own isn’t safe, and it can also increase the chance of relapse.
With professional rehabilitation, you can also access medications that can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
For instance, you can look into undergoing a medical detox where you receive 24/7 medical supervision and medications to counteract any withdrawal symptoms.
Address Your Diet
Diet alone is unlikely to cause panic attacks, but poor nutrition can exacerbate anxiety. Research has revealed an association between anxiety and:
- High-fat diets
- Inadequate protein intake
- High sugar intake
- Refined carbohydrate consumption
- Overall “unhealthy” dietary patterns
Overhauling your diet can be challenging, especially if you’re prone to comfort eating or have a history of disordered eating. Start by taking small steps and focusing on adding in healthy foods rather than restricting what you eat.
Look After Yourself
Looking after your body as a whole is key if you want to give yourself the best chance at reducing anxiety. Prioritize your sleep, stay hydrated, and engage in some form of exercise.
Too little sleep can impact cognitive function, robbing you of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine. Long-term sleep deprivation can even reduce the number of dopamine receptors in the brain.
Exercise is one of the best ways to trigger a natural release of dopamine and serotonin.
Are You Considering Addiction Treatment?
Panic attacks can be incredibly scary and unpleasant. The next time you feel one coming on, try out some of the techniques listed above. Overcoming an anxiety attack can sometimes be possible if you know what to do.
Besides these immediate measures, you can also take proactive steps to reduce anxiety long-term. If you’re a victim of substance abuse, this is one of the most important areas to address.
Are you thinking about enrolling in an addiction treatment program?
Here at America’s Rehab Campuses, we offer a multi-dimensional approach that addresses the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of well-being. We aren’t just here to facilitate recovery, we’re here to see you thrive.
Browse our treatment options to learn more.