Maybe you’re on your way to work feeling great... Then all of a sudden the train gets stuck in the tunnel, and you begin to feel claustrophobic. In seconds, your body starts to react.
Anxiety attacks (or panic attacks) hit fast, suddenly and are often completely unpredictable.
The hormone adrenaline is released into your bloodstream, putting your body into high alert. This is called the fight or flight response and is the body literally preparing to either fight or flee the danger.
This can be extremely scary, particularly as anxiety attacks often strike out of the blue.
It can help to remember that whilst it might not feel like it, anxiety attacks are actually your body’s way of trying to protect you. Each of the symptoms of an anxiety attack serve a purpose in keeping your safe. For example, an increase in sweat production keeps you cool in case you need to run, and dilated pupils enhance your vision - both providing you with the best chance of escaping a perceived threat.
Fight or flight is a primeval trait that has been passed down from cavemen/women to the modern person, from when we had to fight off predators to now when we dart out of the way of a moving car.
In the modern world, even though there are less immediate life-threatening dangers, chronic stress means it can still be activated in situations where flight or fight is not necessary e.g. during a stressful day at work.
Our relaxation response, which normally calms the body down and helps keep us in check, isn’t always able keep up with our increasingly stressful lifestyles. That said, there are certain ways we can support our body to prevent anxiety attacks from taking hold.
1. Deep Breathing
Breath in filling the stomach and chest with air for 5 seconds, then breath out for 7 seconds, do this 5 times.
Look around for something to read if you are out. If you are at home start doing some chores empty the dishwasher, do something mindless it will stop the negative thoughts spiraling.
3. Ignite your senses
Dip your fingers into a bottle of water and wipe the water on the back of your neck. Smell your hand cream or perfume. If you have cooling spray spritz some on your face. These sensations will divert the mind.
4. Step outside of the anxiety attack
Label what is biologically happening to your body- “Connie you are fine this is just the adrenaline going through your body it will pass.”
5. Bilateral stimulation
Watch a hand or moving light alternating from left to right and back again, or pace up and down. The movement unsticks your thoughts on whatever is distressing you and worries decrease.
6. Take light exercise
Leave the office and walk off the adrenaline for half an hour. If you’re at home turn the music on loud and start dancing.
7. Stop fighting it
By allowing the mind to feel it is ok to feel panicky it will decreases the sense of stress, just say to your self, “I am safe, it will pass (anxiety attacks normally only last 10 minutes)”.
Take a moment to completely relax the body and listen to guided mediation.
9. Keep a snack handy
Maybe a banana or a packet of crisps - eating helps level out your sugar levels.
10. Cry, scream, and laugh!
Release the emotion in any way you can.
11. Remember that you’re safe
People will help you.
12. Hot bath before bed
A warm, relaxing bath helps comfort the body.
Your mind and body basically ran a marathon in 20 minutes. Rest up and the next day you will feel as good as new.
I used to suffer from over four attacks per day. They would come on trains, at work, and friend’s houses. With the help of my therapist, I figured out what they were targeted at and worked through it. As a result, my anxiety attacks have stopped and I use the 12 techniques above for moments of rising panic like when the tube gets stuck in the tunnel.
Constance Knox is a freelance writer in her mid twenties and has interviewed therapists and celebrities about mental health; she studies Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regents University. You can contact Constance directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org