It started with an uncontrollable urge to escape.
Then my heart raced as I looked towards the door, and without even realizing what was happening, the tears began pouring out.
I was having my first anxiety attack.
If you have ever had one, you know the symptoms.
- Apprehension or dread takes over as you expect the worst.
- Your heart starts pounding, and you have trouble catching your breath.
- The sweats or chills set in.
- You feel sick to your stomach.
- Then your head spins, and your body begins to tremble and twitch.
While you may not have all these symptoms, having several of them at one time may mean you are having an anxiety attack. More importantly, however, a sure sign of an anxiety disorder is the “persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
Often people dismiss anxiety as an over-reaction to a normal situation. In many ways, it is, but it should never be belittled as the condition could lead to more serious problems including:
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Eating Disorders
The good news is that you can use techniques to help manage your anxiety. Try any or all these tips to help you get through an anxiety attack or even release you from your anxiety forever.
Bring Your Thoughts to the Present
Often, anxiety comes from regret of the past or worry about the future, so if you can get rid of those, you can often reduce or eliminate your anxiety. One way to do this is to put your thoughts in the present by focusing on one or two of your senses.
Touch: You can use any item within reach but keeping a selected item such as a necklace or a small pebble might trigger a calming effect. With that item between your fingers, focus on feeling the texture and shape.
Sound: Close your eyes and listen, taking note of each individual sound you hear. It doesn’t matter if it’s nearby traffic or the sound of silence. All you need to do is listen.
Taste: Pop a hard candy in your mouth and focus on trying to identify different aspects of the flavor. Imagine you are a food critic trying to recreate the recipe.
Sight: Look around you. Focus on the fine details in your environment. This can be anything from the structure of a building to the stitching in your clothes. However, elements of nature work best as they can be very calming. Take a few moments to stare up at the clouds.
Smell: Experience and identify the smells in your natural environment. You can also use aroma therapy to focus on your sense of smell. Keep a cloth with drops of lavender oil or some other scent you like in your pocket for when anxiety strikes.
Get Rid of Financial Clutter
Bill paying time can increase stress and heighten the likelihood of an anxiety attack. The attack can be completely unrelated to your finances but having financial stress will weaken your ability to fight anxiety that occurs for other reasons. By eliminating financial stress, you will sleep better, feel more confident, and have more strength to place your focus in positive directions.
Cut back on expensive, but non-productive, forms of entertainment. For example, you could pay over $100 a month for hundreds of satellite channels, most of which you ignore, or you can spend as little as $15 a month for one of the popular streaming memberships. Better yet, today’s technology allows you to stream YouTube for free right on your television.
You should also try logging your spending habits for a week. You can easily lose track of how much you spend on non-essential items, so evaluating that from time to time is a great practice. For example, a daily cup of designer coffee might not seem like much money each time you hit the drive thru. However, when you add that up, a $5 latte becomes a $35 weekly expense. After 56 weeks, you have spent $1,960 on coffee. That is enough for a vacation that could help you relieve stress and control your anxiety.
Take Care of Yourself
We could all eat better, sleep more, or benefit from a little exercise. These are basic things that you could do to help control anxiety. Evaluate your daily habits and improve where needed by adding some of these to your routine.
Additionally, give yourself the gift of “me” time. For example, you could spend a day at the spa getting a massage and haircut. You could also plan a day to relax on the beach or walk through the woods.
Wake Up Earlier
Starting your day with anxiety leads to more anxiety, and a bustling, rushed morning is the easiest way to do that. Waking up earlier will give you a few minutes to make a list of the things you need to do during the day, so you can be prepared. You can also use the time to meditate, starting off your day with serenity and positive energy. Take your time with the rest of the morning. Avoid rushing to get the kids ready and leave in plenty of time, so normal traffic doesn’t create unnecessary stress.
Use Brain Power
Your brain has some amazing abilities that when understood and used properly could change everything about your life. To start, negative thoughts create negative feelings. When you tell yourself that a certain situation gives you anxiety, you are telling your brain how to feel in that situation. Instead, try saying that the situation creates excitement. Your body will have the same reaction no matter how you talk to yourself (heart racing, stomach turning, nervousness), but your outlook towards it will be positive and less likely to cause anxiety.
Get a Deeper Understanding of Your Anxiety
Start an anxiety journal to record what you experience during an anxiety attack. Take note of the following:
- What happened to lead up to the anxious feelings? Was the situation stressful? Who was involved? What was the physical environment like? Were there things going on through the day that already had you feeling stressed?
- List any feelings or thoughts you had as the anxiety was building. Were you already frustrated or angry? Was there an unresolved conflict with the other person involved? Was your own self-esteem damaged? Did the experience trigger painful memories?
- Make note of things you could have done to change the experience. Would deep breathing and taking a moment to reframe the situation have changed how you reacted? Do you need to forgive yourself or the person involved?
Understanding these three main components of your anxiety (environment, feelings, and actions) could help you to develop the appropriate responses to it. For example, you could divert the situation before it begins, change the way you handle the situation as it is occurring, or shift your perspective of the situation after it is over.
Identify Your Anxiety
Finally, anxiety, for some, is a form of mental illness. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States […] Over 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder.” (https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders) Their website even lists several types of anxiety disorders including,
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Chronic worry.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Fear of social situations.
- Panic Disorder: Feelings of extreme panic and terror.
- Phobias: Irrational fear triggered by certain places or objects.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: Fear of separation from home or people.
- Substance/Medication Induced Anxiety Disorder: Fear of withdrawal or treatment for substance abuse.
Whether you experience mild anxiety or one of these more serious types of anxiety disorders, it is a good idea to seek advice from a medical professional. They could prescribe medications, psychotherapy, or holistic medical treatments to help with your anxiety. A health care professional also has the knowledge to rule out medical conditions including hyperthyroidism and cardiovascular disease.
Don’t Let Anxiety Manage You
Your last anxiety attack may have been very embarrassing. After all, when it happens, you lose control of how your body reacts in a situation that most people would pay little or no attention too.
Instead of experiencing that embarrassment and letting your anxiety manage you, implement one of these tips, so you can stay calm and float through the experience. It may take some practice at first, but if you stay persistent, you could one day be free of all anxiety.
This article only provides a small sample of the activities you can do to manage your anxiety, but there are many more techniques available. Spirituals Life would love to hear about yours. Please let us know how you deal with your anxiety in the comments below.