Have you ever wished you could retrain your mind? Anxiety attacks are as much a mental phenomenon as they are physical. Fortunately, there are several practical ways to stop an anxiety attack before it takes over. Once learned, these basic methods can be utilized to quell anything from minor stress to extreme panic.
The single most important thing to know if you suffer from panic attacks or general stress is proper breathing. When we panic, our bodies naturally begin to take in air incorrectly. The more inefficiently you breathe, the worse you panic, and a vicious cycle begins where you seem to lose control.
As a rule, if only your chest and shoulders are rising, you are breathing in a way that worsens stress. Make sure that when you breathe, your abdomen is expanding. When anxious, this may feel unnatural, or even like you are making things worse. Keep doing it anyway, and after several minutes your nervous system will start to shift out of sympathetic mode.
The other important thing to remember is that your exhales should be longer and slower than your inhales. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Again, this might feel difficult to manage when anxious, but be persistent. Some doctors recommend making the “shhh” sound when exhaling, as it slows your breath down naturally.
Have you ever made a phone call only to be put on hold? There’s the waiting, the boring elevator music, and no one to talk to. The experience has quite a sedative effect. This is the atmosphere you should cultivate in your mind. You must put it on hold.
Meditation techniques and anxiety reduction techniques are one in the same. If your anxiety comes from constant ruminating or worrying, the most important thing for you to do is STOP. Stop thinking. Stop internally talking to yourself.
You may experience many intrusive thoughts, and you may feel like you are too panicked to have any control. Again, consistency is key. Meditation gurus tell us that we must keep bringing our mind back to blankness each time it wanders. It works the same way for anxiety attacks.
So pretend you are the phone operator and your mind is the unruly customer, refusing to be put on hold. Do what all of our insurance companies would do, and leave it on hold.
Tension is linked to stress and anxiety. Wherever you are, try to find the most comfortable and relaxing position available. This may be lying down, sitting in a chair, or standing up. Whatever feels comfortable, do it. You should obviously avoid anything strenuous that increases your heart rate, like climbing stairs.
Move your shoulders around to loosen them. Try to go through your body from head to toe, and focus on relaxing each muscle group individually. If you are wearing anything restricting, especially tight belts, remove them. Stretching is also helpful as it contributes to a loose, relaxed feeling that will stifle anxiety.
For some of us, environmental triggers are the main cause of panic. Unfortunately we can’t always control our environment. Popular fears like crowds, heights, and public speaking are sometimes unavoidable.
People who suffer from anxiety often have sensitive nervous systems, meaning they are greatly impacted by their environment. When in doubt, you should seek out fewer people, less noise, and less stimulation.
Try to mold your environment into a place where relaxation is possible. This is different for everyone, so you need to consider what makes you feel safe and comfortable. If candles relax you, light them. If showers relax you, get naked and hop in. If you are stuck at work, asking for a 15 minute break and a change of scenery might be best. Do not get naked at work.
While some people prefer solitude, you may feel better in the presence of others. Any kind of internal thinking could worsen panic. So try asking a trusted friend or family member to talk to you. This will bring you out of your head- the worst place to be during an anxiety attack.
When someone talks, keep forcing yourself to think about what they are saying. Even if it seems impossible, keep bringing your attention back to whatever they are talking about and join in as best you can. When your mind is focused on something external, you become preoccupied and the panic may begin to subside.
Sometimes focusing on the panic and having others try to calm you down only keeps your attention on it. This might worsen your fixation or feeling that something is “wrong.” Instead, try to create an atmosphere of normalcy, and ask your friends or family to do the same while they help occupy you.
Ultimately, you control everything. Your body panics because you indicated that something was wrong. As soon as you convince your body that nothing is truly wrong, it will revert back to normal. The same goes for your mind. It faithfully does what you tell it to do.
An anxiety attack is a battle of wills- with yourself. If you don’t give in to fear and relentlessly do the 5 things above, you will win the battle every time.
Featured photo credit: Alyssa L Miller, Fear and Suspicion via flickr.com
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