We’re in an era of high anxiety. Global conflict, COVID-19, and financial uncertainty –– all add to feelings of fear and insecurity, in other words, anxiety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), during the first year of the pandemic, there was a 25% increase in incidences of anxiety and depression globally. That’s a massive statistic, and many new sufferers go untreated. Learning more about anxiety, what causes it, and how to deal with it, especially as it manifests physically as a panic or anxiety attack, is more important than ever. We don’t have to suffer in ignorance, nor do our loved ones.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is part of life. It’s the occasional fear or worry about an upcoming event, possible illness, or even a person. But when symptoms of that anxiety become persistent, unreasonable, hard to control, or begin to impact daily life, it may be the sign of a burgeoning anxiety disorder.
Because the global pandemic and various lockdowns and restrictions have been so widely impactful, lingering anxiety is entirely understandable. For many, gradually returning to normalcy will eliminate most anxieties and reduce stress to manageable levels. For others, controlling anxiety is an ongoing battle.
From a physiological perspective, intense anxiety and stress lead to elevated levels of powerful hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones kick start the “fight or flight” response that keeps humans safe when danger emerges –– and that’s usually a good thing. The problem with chronic stress and anxiety is that the continued production of these hormones is difficult on the body and can eventually lead to health problems.
From a mental health perspective, anxiety is one way humans respond to difficult or painful situations. That situation may be emotional, or it may be triggered by past trauma and pain. However it arises, anxiety can kill the joy in the simplest human pleasures and cause us to withhold and hang back from doing things we would typically enjoy. It can keep us from connecting with others and exacerbate isolation and loneliness. And, if not dealt with early on, anxiety can worsen, resulting in a lifetime of insecurity and fear.
What is a Panic Attack?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying.”
Panic attacks can be intense, and they can cause us to react strongly, refusing to get on an airplane, for example, or having to leave a room suddenly. Often, they immobilize the person having the attack, rendering them incapable of speaking or moving. And, for the inexperienced especially, they can be terrifying.
Here are a few of the more common signs that you, or someone you are with, may be having an anxiety or panic attack:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or ache in the throat
- Chest pain
- Light-headedness or faintness
- Feelings of unreality or detachment
How to Deal with Intense Anxiety
If you or someone nearby is having a panic attack, there are some immediate things to do. Remind them or yourself that this moment will pass. If the environment is chaotic, get them or yourself to a calmer space. Focus on something, an object, the second hand on a wristwatch, a tree, or someone’s face until the feeling passes.
Deep breathing is often helpful. Several types of breath patterns can restore calm, including the 4-7-8 pattern. Also known as “relaxing breath,” it involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Breathing with intention can often regulate the rest of the physiological system, slowing the heart rate, regulating body temperature, and calming the mind.
Be Kind to Yourself
The aftermath of a panic attack brings its own set of problems, including intense fatigue, a need for hydration, and a feeling of wanting to make up for causing trouble. Indulge the first two but don’t beat yourself up about the latter. Most people who witness an anxiety attack have nothing but compassion and empathy for the person experiencing it. Don’t feel you have to apologize or make up for something that is quite literally beyond your control.
These tips for getting through a panic attack may work for some people under some circumstances. But the best way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Often lifestyle choices can alleviate the worst symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially if there are no complicating factors such as addiction or underlying health conditions. Try the following:
- Cut back on caffeine, sugar, and alcohol
- Get enough rest and avoid stimulation before sleep
- Get daily exercise, especially the kind that requires controlled breathing, such as walking, running, yoga, etc.
- Avoid negative self-talk; focus on gratitude and the positive
These basic strategies seem so obvious, yet again and again, we see evidence that they can relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. So they’re well worth a serious try, and only if symptoms of anxiety, depression, or panic persist is it time to consider medication or some more serious intervention.
We Are Here to Help
If you, a friend, or a family member are experiencing anxiety, try following the suggestions. Often they can relieve the intensity of panic attacks or anxiety-induced behaviors. If these strategies are not working, help is available. Get in touch with the compassionate experts at the Comprehensive Wellness Center in Lantana, FL. Their professional counselors can assess and treat individuals with severe anxiety and teach coping mechanisms for maintaining mental health.