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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Handle Anxiety When It Hits You out of Nowhere

How to Handle Anxiety When It Hits You out of Nowhere

Have you ever experienced shortness of breath, racing thoughts, or feelings of absolute panic that seem to come out of nowhere? That’s what anxiety can look like, and it’s important to learn how to handle anxiety when it surprises you and threatens to ruin a perfectly good moment or day.

Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders. They fall into several categories: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.[1]

Panic disorder is commonly associated with a feeling of anxiety that hits you out of nowhere. These are often referred to as panic attacks. This article will teach you how to handle anxiety associated with panic disorder and panic attacks.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Panic Attack?

Panic disorder is characterized by sudden and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks may feel like they hit you out of nowhere. However, there are common warning signs, and learning to identify them is the first step in learning how to handle anxiety.

Here are the common symptoms associated with a panic attack:

  • Difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heart beat
  • Sweating, shaking, or trembling limbs
  • Feeling dizzy, nauseous, or faint
  • Perceived loss of control or becoming detached from the body
  • Fear of death

What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety can have many root causes, and knowing them can help learn how to handle anxiety in a more comprehensive way.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

While an anxiety attack may feel debilitating, it is actually the body’s natural response to danger. The fight-or-flight response is activated rapidly by the amygdala, which is the brain’s threat detection center. This response happens suddenly and without warning to help you respond quickly to danger.[2]

However, the system may become overactive when you have a history of trauma, an abundance of stress, or excessive fears about the future. Your brain may become hypersensitive to potential threats and detect danger everywhere. As a result, seemingly harmless objects, places, or people may trigger sudden and intense panic.

Conditioned Fear

Psychological studies have also determined that fear and anxiety may be conditioned. For example, pairing a neutral stimulus with a negative experience may lead to the neutral stimulus becoming associated with fear.[3]

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Stated in simpler terms: a non-threatening situation, person, or object may become threatening after it is paired with anxiety.

For example, if you experience a panic attack while driving, you may start to associate driving with panic. As a result, driving may become a negative experience and general source of panic attacks.

Medical Conditions, Genetics, Stress, or Trauma

Anxiety may be the result of health conditions that mimic panic, such as heart arrhythmia or hyperthyroidism.[4] This speaks to the importance of meeting with a medical doctor at the onset of anxiety to rule out medical causes.

Genetics may also play a role in the development of anxiety. If you have a first-degree relative diagnosed with anxiety, you are 40% more likely to develop anxiety. Anxiety may also be the result of chemical imbalances in hormones such as serotonin, cortisol, or gamma-aminobutyric acid.[5]

Additionally, stress may play a major role in the development of anxiety disorders. You may be at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder if you have been exposed to catastrophic or ongoing stress.[6]

Lastly, anxiety is more common in individuals who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs include abuse, family challenges, and neglect. You can learn more about ACEs and find your personal ACE score on the Centers for Disease Control website.[7]

What Triggers Anxiety?

It may be frustrating to note that 53% of panic attacks occur in situations that are not threatening. The attack seems to hit out of nowhere. Alternately, the most common triggers for anxiety attacks in stressful situations are: work, driving, and shared public spaces.[8]

The crux of a panic disorder is that panic attacks lead to intense fears or avoidance of recurrent panic attacks. You may work yourself into a panic simply attempting to avoid experiencing panic. This can create a frustrating cycle if you don’t know how to handle anxiety and move away from panic when the first symptoms appear.

How to Handle Anxiety With Self-Help Techniques

Now that you have learned to identify the symptoms and causes of anxiety, you can begin to develop techniques to combat it.

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Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is difficulty breathing. Shallow breathing can limit airflow and increase feelings of stress and anxiety.[9] Diaphragmatic breathing (also known as deep belly breathing) taps into the full capacity of the lungs while restoring a state of calm.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing:

Begin by placing one hand on the belly and the other on the chest. Attempt to send the breath into the lowest part of the lungs. You should feel your belly expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale.

If you notice your chest rises more than your stomach, attempt this lying down. If you still have difficulties, try breathing into a paper bag. Alternatively, you can slowly inhale through the nose and fully exhale through the mouth.[10]

Diaphragmatic breathing takes practice. It’s ok if it doesn’t work on the first attempt. It is also important to practice when you feel calm.

Develop a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness simply means present-moment awareness. Mindfulness practices have been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness practices have also been linked with increased quality of life.[11]

Utilizing the five senses can be helpful if you are new to a mindfulness practice. One technique that focuses on the five senses is called grounding. It is a simple and quick method for returning to the present moment and regaining a sense of calm.

Try this grounding activity:

  • Notice 5 things you can see
  • Notice 4 things you can touch
  • Notice 3 things you can hear
  • Notice 2 things you can smell
  • Notice 1 thing you can taste

Repeat this activity as often as you like when learning how to handle anxiety. Think of grounding like a grown-up game of I-spy with the added benefit of increased calm.

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Avoid Stimulants and Smoking

As you have learned, people with panic disorder are hyper-sensitive to bodily sensations that mimic panic. Stimulants may trigger the fight-or-flight response. Sources of stimulants include coffee, cold medicines, and some over-the-counter medications.[12]

Additionally, people with panic disorder are hyper-sensitive to breathing abnormalities. Smoking can restrict oxygen in the brain, which increases heart rate and may result in panic.[13]

Learn More About Anxiety

Bibliotherapy is often practiced along with therapeutic support. Bibliotherapy simply means reading self-help books as a complementary treatment.

The following list is an introduction to several helpful resources:

  • Don’t Panic (Third Edition): Taking Control of Panic Attacks by Reid Wilson, Ph.D.
  • Coping with Panic: A Drug-Free Approach to Dealing with Anxiety Attacks by George A. Clum
  • The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (Fifth Edition) by Martha Davis, Ph.D., Elizabeth R. Eshelman, MSW. & Matthew McKay, Ph.D.

Learn How to Handle Anxiety With the Help of an Expert

Only a licensed therapist, physician, or medical doctor has the authority to diagnose and treat a panic disorder. It may be helpful to visit an expert if you notice major changes in your behavior, thoughts, or mood as a result of anxiety.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

(CBT) is commonly cited as the most effective treatment for anxiety. CBT can only be utilized by a trained professional and can be very helpful as you’re learning how to handle anxiety.

There are three components to CBT: Relaxation, Cognitive Restructuring, and Exposure Therapy.

1. Relaxation Techniques

Therapists may work with you to develop relaxation strategies. This may include working with your breath to create a sensation of relaxation. You will learn how to handle anxiety with coping skills, which you can utilize outside of therapy.

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2. Cognitive Restructuring

Within CBT, you can expect to explore triggers for panic, including thoughts, events, or bodily cues. A technique called cognitive restructuring helps to replace negative thinking around panic with more realistic and positive thoughts.[14]

3. Exposure Therapy (ET)

There are two forms of ET that are commonly practiced as you’re learning how to handle anxiety:

The first form of ET involves environmental exposure to panic-inducing situations. This is called in-vivo exposure.[15]

The second form of ET involves exposure to physical symptoms of panic. This is called interoceptive exposure.[16]

Working Through Therapy Anxiety

It is common to feel nervous about visiting a therapist. In fact, some people may experience increased panic symptoms at the mention of therapy. It may be helpful to practice self-help techniques before you attend your first session.

Many therapists are offering services online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Studies have shown internet-based CBT is as effective as in-person CBT.[17] Online alternatives may also be helpful for people with limited mobility due to panic disorder with agoraphobia (fear of crowds, leaving the home, or entering a scenario where escape is difficult).

Final Thoughts

It is important to educate yourself on the warning signs, triggers, and causes of a panic disorder or panic attack. Anxiety can be frustrating to live with day in and day out, but it is possible to learn how to handle anxiety and live a calmer, more focused life.

You do not have to suffer in silence or live a limited life. There is a solution for your suffering whether you choose to start with self-help techniques or seek therapy. The most important thing is to simply get started on your path to healing.

More Tips on Handling Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
[3] Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: The Biology of Fear- and Anxiety-Related Behaviors
[4] Pharmacy and Therapeutics: Current Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
[5] Stat Pearls: Panic Disorder
[6] Pharmacy and Therapeutics: Current Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
[7] CDC: About the CDC- Kaiser ACE Study
[8] Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review: Etiology, Triggers and Neurochemical Circuits Associated with Unexpected, Expected and Laboratory-Induced Panic Attacks
[9] Harvard Health Publishing: Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response
[10] FRAN K M. DATTILIO , Ph.D. : Crisis Intervention Techniques for Panic Disorder
[11] Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy: Mindfulness in Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Review of the Literature
[12] Harvard Health Publishing: Combination Therapy for Panic Disorder
[13] Harvard Health Publishing: Combination Therapy for Panic Disorder
[14] American Psychological Association: Answers to Your Questions About Panic Disorder
[15] BMC Psychiatry: Interoceptive Hypersensitivity and Interoceptive Exposure in Patients with Panic Disorder: Specificity and Effectiveness
[16] BMC Psychiatry: Interoceptive Hypersensitivity and Interoceptive Exposure in Patients with Panic Disorder: Specificity and Effectiveness
[17] Cureus: The Effectiveness of Internet Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

More by this author

Olivia Schnur

Olivia is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher. She writes about healing, health and happiness.

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Published on March 2, 2021

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

It is not easy to decipher how to not stress, as stress is a part of life. Stress is the wear and tear of our mental and physical being as we continue to find soothing ways to cope with the constant change in our surroundings.

People often think of stress as related to work, chores at home, illnesses, and trying to beat rush hour traffic—which is not wrong—but it is more. Several factors trigger stress, but stress is the body’s internal reaction to fight or take flight in the presence of adversity.

In simple biological terms, stress is the state of increased arousal necessary for the human body to defend itself from a clear and present danger. Whenever we feel anxious, angered, tired, frightened, happy, excited, sad, or afraid, we are undergoing stress.

From minor challenges to major issues, stress is an acceptable and unavoidable pressure of human life. Stress is normal until we are incapable of controlling and coping with the overwhelming effect that stress becomes a problem.

Three in every four adults American suffer from stress—that is about 77 percent of the population.[1] Stress is triggered by anything from the economy, jobs, home front, kids, illnesses, and so on.

Types of Stress

In learning how not to stress, you must understand the types of stress and how you encourage it in your life. The causes of stress (stressors) are varied and multiple, but I am grouping them into two sectors.

External Stressors

These are external triggers that affect your immediate ability to stay focused or composed. They are:

  • Physical environment – confined spaces, light, noise, heat, brightness, and even darkness
  • Organizational – rules, regulation, deadlines, office gossips, pressure from work, etc
  • Social interaction – bullying, bossiness, disregard, harassment, aggressiveness (general human behavior towards you)
  • Life crises – death, relocation, new baby, marriage, losing your job, divorce, etc
  • Daily hassles – late in catching the bus, misplacing your car/house keys, mechanical breakdown, etc

Internal Stressors

These are stressors that emanate from our thoughts, mindset, and attitude. For example:

  • Your lifestyle – not getting enough sleep, busy schedules, caffeine or alcohol
  • Negative thoughts – pessimism, self-criticism, overthinking, feeling incapable.
  • Mind traps – being too personal about issues, unrealistic expectations, exaggerated or rigid mindset, etc
  • Personality traits – workaholic, OCD, perfectionist, etc

These factors contribute heavily to mental and physical stress leading to fear, anger, unforgiveness, and depression.

Stress and You

To consider stress as an ailment of modernity and technology is misinforming. Yes, our fast-paced lives and lifestyle are stressful, straining, and under relentless pressure. But we have actually created these triggers on our own. This is due to a desire for intense competitiveness and to match up with our peers. Stress is different for every individual, even if they are in the same situation.

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For example, a couple going through a bitter divorce will see the man enjoying himself while the lady suffers from bouts of emotional ups and downs. What is distressing to you may be nothing to another.

Take this example: a man works effectively in the comfort of his home yet finds working in a team or office stressful and overwhelming.

It is necessary to know that most of the stresses we experience are self-generated and self-induced. How we perceive (life)—whether a situation is threatening, sad, or happy—depends on how we see ourselves. The ability to recognize the stresses we create is the first step toward preventing stress.

Symptoms of Stress

Excessive, prolonging, and denying the existent of stress in our lives is detrimental and affects our entirety—and if left unresolved, results in a feeling of fear, anger, frustration, and depression.

Stress contributes to simple illnesses like headaches, skin diseases, ulcers, insomnia, and digestive problems. In severe cases, stress can lead to suicidal thoughts and death. The following are the symptoms of stress grouped into four categories.

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Change in sleep pattern without any obvious reason
  • Unstable digestive system resulting in diarrhea and inability to hold down food
  • Low sexual libido
  • Headaches and body pain
  • Dizziness, unnecessary sweating, and feeling faint
  • Palpitations, breathlessness, quickened heartbeats, or missed heartbeats

Mental Symptoms

  • Inability to focus
  • Memory lapses
  • Indecisiveness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Fear/panic attack

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Eating disorder and appetite
  • Increase smoking and alcohol intake
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, and nail-biting

Emotional Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Easily irritated
  • Anger, rage, cry easily
  • Deterioration in hygiene habit and appearance

The primary triggers of stress are lack of financial stability, job security, family responsibility, personal relationship, health issues, and safety. Now that we have successfully categorized stress, it is time to recognize the one you are suffering from and choose a simple technique to manage it.

Remember, stress can be controlled, allowing you to live a fulfilling life.

10 Stress Management Techniques

The most common stress management techniques are eating right, exercise, yoga, and meditation. However, some stress is beyond these four techniques, so we will try to list out as many as possible to help you beat that stressful situation.

A set of simple yet effective techniques to help individuals identify, understand, and effectively deal with the stress in their lives to minimize the impact.

1. Change the Perspective

How many times have you replayed a negative situation and outcome in your head that never happens? We are all human, and as crazy as it sounds, negativity is appealing and more creative than positive things. However, stress is tied to negativity and our inability to break free from them.

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Changing your perspective is not as simple as ABC. However, you can start by analyzing the feeling, removing all exaggerated parts, pick out the truth (be honest here) and discard the rest. Phew, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Now, take the truth and work on it from a positive angle. You will immediately feel less stressed, disoriented, and angered. It will take some time, but never judge an issue from an exaggerated point of view.

2. Create a Journal

A problem shared is half solved. While we cannot all go about blabbing our predicaments to others, an effective way of sharing and solving is journaling. There is really nothing difficult about journaling—it is just you writing the day’s events and how they made you feel.

Stress takes clarity, focus, and awareness of our immediate environment from us. Well, journaling restores them back to you. When you write down your feelings, you can identify, understand and deal with them better than replaying them in your head. It allows you to separate your feelings, accurately define emotion connect with your internal aura for better clarity.

3. Mindful Breathing

Stress takes peace and stability away from your life. Breathing is held in high regard by Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists who believe breathing is a system of reintroducing peace into a troubled soul.

Mindful breathing is breathing that comes from the pit of your belly. It is, deep consistent, and stress relieving breathes which calm you down.

Mindful breathing can be done anyway in two easy steps:

  • Gentle inhale air to fill your lungs and stomach while slowly counting to 3 or five through your nose
  • Hold for a second or two and gradually exhale while counting 1 through 5

Repeat this as many times as possible until you feel your power returning to you. As you exhale, imagine that you are breathing out the stressors and tension.

4. Positive and Guided Daydreaming

We all daydream—some are good, and others run wild with our imagination. Using guided images and thoughts, you can avert a stress situation from escalating.

For example, you just had a heated argument with your spouse on the phone, and you are at work. Two things can happen: have your mood down all day, or you can identify the stress and calm dissipate it with happier images—daydreaming.

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Close your eyes and imagine a happy memory. Use good thoughts to counteract negative ones ad build your confidence from deep within. Also, forgive the situation and yourself, else you will keep playing the thought in your mind.

5. Go Back to Your To-Do List

If you cannot complete the chores, let it be. Remember that trying to squeeze in more than you can handle is actually killing you gradually. Even superman rests once in a while, so you should, too.

Reducing or prioritizing your workload could be the solution to the constant headaches, backaches, and shoulders. If you are a mom, learn to delegate duties to your kids or allocate time to work for yourself.

6. Yoga It

Yoga is an Indian form of meditation that combines simple poses, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques to ward off stress and stressors. Yoga is an effective stress relief technique because it deals with the physical, emotional, and mental organs that stress hacks into. The immediate benefits of yoga are felt immediately, but the long-term impact is also beautiful.

To get started, you can follow simple yoga programs online or enroll in a class to help you to master the poses at your own pace. Yoga enables you to breathe easily, improves the clarity of thoughts and mind, relaxes the body and mental health. However, if the twist and turns of yoga are not for you, then you will enjoy the next technique.

7. Add Exercise to Your Routine

Our body is like a car engine, if you do not maintain it, it will crash when you need it most. Regular exercise builds a strong body, no doubt. However, it also builds a strong mind to deal with stresses that affect us daily. You do not have to HIIT or do any strenuous exercise, choose something simple and for 7 to 15 minutes every day.

Joining a gym or community fitness center is outstanding, but you can choose to walk, run, jog, swim or go dancing. The idea is to keep your body moving for fun. Furthermore, if you are the outdoorsy type, indulge in your passion and watch the stress melt away.

8. Massage and Detox Therapy

When your insides are unclean, it can lead to stress. Equally, tired and over-working can double the stress effect leading to illness and mental breakdown.

There are many reasons to go for a massage, and stress is one of them. Massages are an ideal tool for maintaining physical and emotional health. While detoxification is a way to relieve the stress on your internal organs, both will make you feel light and relaxed.

9. Imbibe in the Power of Positive Affirmations

The power of positive talk has proven to increases positive emotion, compassion, and confidence in the speaker. How we treat ourselves determines the outcome. If you begin the day with negativity, you are likely to attract negativity and problems to yourself.

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However, if you take your time to affirm positive thoughts in your life, you will succeed. Affirmations are more than mere words; they are meant to awaken the optimistic and daring part of your being.

So, when you feel that negative emotions are building up or images are flashing before your eyes, take a moment and remind yourself of your capabilities and believe it, too. What you perceive is what you are.

10. Getting Enough Sleep

Let’s be honest, it is almost impossible to get 8 hours of sleep as recommended, but you can get a good night’s sleep instead. Many people sleep for 8 hours or more but are restless in their sleep and wake up feeling exhausted, drained, and stressed.

Sleep is a fundamental way for the body to recuperate for the day’s activities. However, your sleeping condition should be prioritized for relaxing sleep. To do this, ensure your mattress is comfortable and your bedroom is at the right temperature.

If you cannot get 8 hours at night, try to nap in the afternoons and watch your diet before bed. Finally, create a sleep routine. You do not have to “do-or-die” it, but gradually ease your way into better sleep.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, stress is the baggage you refuse to let go of. The more you pile on, the deeper you are sinking into a place of darkness.

Let go of the excess load now. Start by following these stress management techniques on how not to stress. Do you have one or two methods you are currently using to relieve stress? Feel free to add them to the list.

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Featured photo credit: whoislimos via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] American Psychological Association: Stress in America™ 2020

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