Most anxiety coping mechanisms like emotional eating, TV and drinking won’t do much against this leviathan of an experience that is the anxiety attack. You can soothe it though, and even become stronger because of it.
Facing the Beast
An anxiety attack is not like your regular, day-to-day anxiety. To cope with your normal stress you do things like breathing exercises, calling a friend and avoiding that neighbor who always “happens” to come out whenever you do and keeps you talking for ages.
None of those things work when an actual anxiety attack comes on because when it does your body is overwhelmed by waves and waves of fear that make you feel like you’re going to die. Logic doesn’t exist anymore and you are on a different plane of existence than everyone else in the world.
You feel like you’re going to collapse, break down, be ripped apart and go insane. You have no control over it and it is brutal make no mistake about it.
It’s the way you feel when you are facing death, except most of the time you’re not. There’s no lion about to charge you or bad guy with a gun to your head. A lot of the time you’re perfectly safe. Despite that, you don’t feel that way, you feel 100% certain something is terribly wrong.
GETTING IT WRONG
Most people in the middle of an attack do the exact opposite of what they need to do. They resist it, try to distract from it and find themselves panicking even more when their anxiety level goes even higher.
Then they panic some more, become more tense, breathe less and make it even worse, escalating the attack further and repeating that cycle over and over until they call an ambulance or curl up into a ball and hyperventilate.
That’s how most people handle their panic attacks and it’s completely understandable as that’s how most people would handle facing impending doom.
The good news is that even if they handle it in the worst way possible they’ll still be okay. Once the storm passes they will feel like they got hit by a truck but will otherwise be perfectly fine.
GETTING IT RIGHT
The best way to handle an anxiety attack is to let it happen. This is you voluntarily accepting it and even moving toward the fear, in a way saying, “bring it on.”
Trying to stop it is futile as you’ve probably figured out if you’ve ever been through one so it’s best to accept that it will be pretty uncomfortable for a little while and let it do it’s thing.
Handling it this way is WAY less painful and makes it go away much faster too. It will also teach you how to handle them better in the future, and is the beginning of the end of your anxiety attacks as well.
Tips to getting through an Anxiety Attack
Breathing – The first thing you need to do after you have accepted that it’s going to make you shake like a leaf and take over your body for awhile is to breathe. Breathing is one of the best known ways to slow or even stop a full blown panic attack.
Breathing helps you feel more in control as that is one area of your body you actually do have control over. So when you feel that familiar feeling coming on start taking some slow and deliberate deep breaths. Do the opposite of how you usually breathe during these attacks which is shallow and rapid.
You want to create an area of calm in a part of your body which in this case is your diaphragm. Slow controlled contractions to contrast the storm going on all around you. If the storm gets worse and you feel like you’re going to lose it keep holding firm.
In that case focus even more on the breathing and wait. It’s not easy to steady yourself in this way when your body is screaming, “DANGER!” but with practice you’ll get better.
I’m okay – The next tip to help see you through an anxiety attack successfully is positive self talk. When the attack grips you you’re likely thinking “OMFG! I’m dying.”
Again that’s normal but what you want to do immediately after you initiate your controlled breathing is to say to yourself, “This is okay and I’m okay.”
This is okay means that it’s fine to let the attack happen and I’m okay means I’m safe and nothing horrible is happening to me. “I can withstand this.”
What you are doing is telling yourself to accept what’s going on and to not try to fight it. You’re synchronizing your breathing and the self talk so that they are one action now and so the next time you go through it again you have these automatic cues to help you calm down.
Ground Yourself – Experiencing a full blown anxiety attack shakes you to your core and makes you feel unsteady. People instinctively have grasped at the nearest object to hold onto or sat down thinking they might fall when going through one.
That feeling of unsteadiness makes you more anxious and again escalates the attack. The way to counter that is to ground yourself by sitting down, standing up (if you feel better that way), placing your hands on your thighs to feel stable, looking at your hands to distract from the dizziness or feeling your feet and their contact with the ground.
There are many ways people use this tip and it’s different for everyone but what you’re trying to do with grounding is to anchor yourself either physically or mentally (via a distraction) from the feeling of loss of control.
Fail – The last tip is to accept failure. Anxiety attacks are no picnic and it can take a few tries before you are able to integrate all of the tips smoothly.
In fact failure is almost a prerequisite to getting over anxiety in certain situations. Don’t beat yourself up or even give up if your attempts at riding out the attack don’t go well. Understand that your brain is giving you this overwhelming experience and that many people end up in the hospital because it’s too much for them. Again they didn’t need to be there for a panic attack but simply didn’t know what else to do.
Once you learn to use these tips you’ll see that the attacks become shorter, less intense and occur less often too. You’re telling your brain that you can handle these now and so your neurology will change.
In other words your body can now handle the anxiety and so it doesn’t affect you the same way as it used to. It’s like your first day at a new, stressful job. You’re overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of the day. But over time you learn to manage the stress and so even though the stress doesn’t go away, you change and so the stress doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
The anxiety doesn’t go away. You get stronger by accepting the anxiety and letting your body become accustomed to it.
WHY THEY HAPPEN
Anxiety attacks occur because you’ve likely been avoiding your anxiety, or avoiding situations that make you anxious for a long time now. Just like with the attack, we need to feel our regular anxiety in order to do something about it.
Sayings like, “The only way out is through,” and “face your fears” have literal truth to them even if they’re not very helpful at the time. They mean that you need to stop avoiding areas of your life that you don’t want to face.
Maybe you married that spouse or choose that career to please your mother. Deep down this causes you conflict and pain as you feel trapped between your own wishes and those of your mother’s whose disapproval would make you anxious.
Or perhaps you have a hostile coworker or neighbor who’s been giving you a hard time and you don’t know how to say “no” or set boundaries with them as that too would make you anxious. So you avoid saying anything at all and quietly tolerate the situation day after day, feeling resentful until one day …
… you blow up in anger or in anxiety.
ANXIETY IS YOUR ALLY
You can see that the anxiety attack is not really a bad thing. It’s there to help you, to wake you up and make you aware of what you need to do with your life so that you can do and say what you want and be happy.
To say a firm no to your neighbor, tell your boss you deserve a raise and tell your mom that you are choosing a different career after spending 10+ years in the miserable (even if lucrative) one you have now.
It’s information. Listen to what it has to tell you and you’ll be rewarded. Yeah it will be difficult to confront all of the situations in your life that you’ve been avoiding out of fear. It can even be painful but in the end (in time) your psyche will thank you for getting your life on track so to speak.
For getting you to a place where you feel confident you can handle yourself and get what you want out of life, living it YOUR WAY. Living according to what your wishes, values and desires are. That’s what the hero does in every movie. They face a monster (their own anxiety) and it feels like death and once they slay the monster they get the reward (emotional growth).
ACCEPT THE CALLING
Don’t wish your anxiety away, examine it. Get help from a therapist and talk with people you trust about your fears and see what’s behind it. What’s going on with us is not always apparent which is why we get help to make ourselves aware.
We go into our unconscious and see what lurks below.
That’s the journey we need to take. Not the trip to Tibet or the one where we find ourselves (although trips like that can be helpful,) but the trip within.
Our unconscious is calling us, always on our side and begging us to accept the task. If we say no then it will make us pay attention and an anxiety attack occurs, “Hey dummy, listen up. There’s something you’re not paying attention to that will make us happy.”
Answer the call and reap the rewards. It’s best for you AND everyone around you.
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