Anxiety is the most common mental illness in America, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), and it affects 40 million people over the age of 18. It’s highly treatable, but most of those with anxiety don’t seek professional treatment.
Unlike a panic attack, which is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and can occur without a specific reason, an anxiety attack is often open to interpretation. The two types of attacks are very similar, and it’s possible to experience both simultaneously. But typically, anxiety spikes for a reason, such as a stressful situation.
Every person who has an anxiety attack may also experience different symptoms, however, the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
The two disorders share many physical and emotional symptoms. Both anxiety and panic attacks can make your heart beat faster. In fact, anxiety can even trigger a panic attack. You may experience:
However, where they differ is that an anxiety attack is usually brought on by something you perceive as stressful or threatening and the anxious feeling will build gradually whereas panic attacks can happen at random and come about abruptly.
Expected panic attacks and anxiety can also be triggered by similar situations or events, including the following triggers many people experience:
20 Ways to Alleviate Anxiety Attacks Anywhere
A medical or mental health professional will help you learn to spot your triggers and begin to cope with your anxiety or panic-related symptoms. Many treatment plans are available to help you gain control. However, there are some helpful ways you can stop anxiety in its tracks on your own, no matter where you are. The following list of techniques may help you limit the severity of your attacks and learn to manage your feelings.
Take Deep Breaths
Anxiety can trigger rapid breathing, which enhances your physical symptoms. To slow your breath, try taking inhaling slowly. Slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm will soothe the mind and body, allowing you to regain control and even stop an attack before it takes place.
Focus on Your Surroundings
Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the present moment and distracting yourself from anxious thinking. Think about how your blanket feels on your skin, head to the park and look at the sky, or people watch at the mall on your lunch break. Pay attention to what’s happening around you and try to live in the now.
Negative thoughts take over your mind and lead to a downhill spiral of helplessness and depression. Push them from your mind by reminding yourself that you’re in control of your mind and body. Focus on a situation you managed successfully and remember that attacks happen, but the attack will end.
Allow Limited Time for Worry
Instead of spending your entire days worrying, set aside a 15-minute block of time daily where you allow yourself to worry or focus on an important issue. Set a timer and stop thinking about it when the timer goes off.
Stand Up Tall
Sit up straight in your chair or straighten your spine if you feel an attack coming on, and you may notice a feeling of control. Plus, good posture allows you to physically breathe better.
Check in With Your Senses
Because sensory experiences, or anything you can physically feel with your five senses, are distracting, try focusing your mind on your surroundings. How does your ice water taste? What does the glass feel like in your hand? Walk through how your body feels and take inventory of the world around you.
Stretch and Move Around
Moving around, stretching, and other forms of exercise are known to boost happiness and reduce anxiety in the present and future. It breaks your concentration and reduces cortisol levels simultaneously. Jumping jacks, meditation, and yoga are all proven ways to calm yourself. You can even go for a walk to benefit. Move around, and you’re sure to notice results.
According to a mental health study, chewing gum on a regular basis may boost your mood and anxiety. Because the act of chewing reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in saliva, chewing quickly for 14 days or more can help reduce anxiety.
Splash Cold Water on Your Face
A study in Japan determined that cold water slows down heart rates and produces a calming effect. Whether you feel an attack coming on, are currently experiencing an attack, or simply want to reduce the likelihood of having an attack, splashing cold water on your face is the perfect way to calm down.
Wiggle and Fidget
Researchers in Japan found that repetitive, tactile motions also are effective at getting the mind off negative feelings and panic. Distract yourself when your nerves seem on edge with a stress ball or fidget spinner. Don’t be afraid to act silly and wiggle around to reduce tension as well.
Boost Magnesium Levels
If you have low magnesium levels, you may feel especially anxious. Magnesium is vital for calming nerves and muscles in the body, allowing normal nervous system function. Try eating green, leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, eggs, or try taking 310-350 milligrams of a magnesium supplement just before bed each night.
Give Your Anxiety a Name
Separate yourself from your anxiety by giving it a name. When you notice anxious feelings, call them out by name to take away its power. This is a helpful reminder that you are not your anxiety that provides some distance and allows you to talk to it.
After you’ve acknowledged your anxiety, explore how it feels with questions. This anxiety-busting hack may seem counterintuitive because your first instinct may be to hide from your feelings, but driving into your feelings deeper and acting curious about your anxiety can help you understand why you feel the way you do, break your cycle of overthinking, and grasp misplaced emotions.
Try an Adult Coloring Book
Calming activities like coloring is proven to help anxiety. Grab a coloring book and you will find that the process calms down your amygdala, which is the piece of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response and makes some people feel an overwhelming sense of worry and hypervigilance. Studies have shown coloring geometric patterns are especially helpful and relaxing.
Drink an Herbal Tea
Herbal remedies, like in tea form, were used long before traditional medicine thanks to its healing properties. It’s a natural way to cure yourself at home, without a doctor’s assistance. There are herbs for any ailment, and the herbs particularly helpful in lowering anxiety include:
Listen to Soothing Music
Soothing music can help lower stress levels and stop anxiety in its tracks. Studies show classical music is perfect to slow your heart rate and pulse, lower the production of stress hormones, and reduce blood pressure. But you can listen to anything you find relaxing to reap the benefits. Listening also aids attacks by giving you something to external to focus on. Make a playlist, sing along, and dance in your seat.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
Pay attention to how you feel, as suppressing emotions leads to higher levels of anxiety. The uncomfortable feeling, even anger or frustration, may be attempting to tell you something, and sometimes all you need is to pay attention. When you feel anxious, acknowledge the feeling out loud. Don’t push your feeling to the back of your mind for another time.
Face Your Fears
It may feel like the opposite of what you want to do but facing your fears instead of avoiding them will help squash anxiety. Each time a person experiences a negative or anxious experience, their brain may trigger an avoidance response. Yet, the only way to kill the process is to step up to the things you fear.
Eat Healthy Meals
A well-balanced diet makes a healthy person, and healthy people often show lower levels of anxiety. Foods like green veggies, cashews, beef, turkey, oysters, complex carbs, eating protein like egg yolks for breakfast, and drinking plenty of water are great suggestions to help anxiety, while some processed foods like hot dogs, candy, or drinks like caffeine and alcohol actually make it worse.
Join a Support Group
Talk to other people with anxiety and know that you are not alone. The ADAA has a list of support groups you can join, some of which are online accessed via phone.
Finally, speak with a doctor or mental health professional to find other ways to manage your anxiety. They can help you form a treatment plan personalized for you, and there are treatments like psychotherapy and medications like antidepressants or antianxiety drugs you can take. The right combination of treatment options and a little time is all it takes to start feeling better.
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