Panic and anxiety attacks can seemingly come out of nowhere. And yet, they’re symptoms of more significant, underlying issues that deserve further examination. If you or someone you love struggle with an anxiety or panic disorder, knowing that background is the first step to understanding how to stop the anxiety attack and how to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Anyone suffering from an anxiety-related disorder knows that what should be a natural reaction can become debilitating at its worst. Finding the proper response and treatment options is essential to getting back to health and the life you deserve.
What is Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an emotion born out of tension and worry, which can lead to physical changes in a patient’s body, like shaking and increased blood pressure. These feelings are a natural response to a dangerous situation in a stable environment. They allow the body to stay focused and encourage actions.
However, this state of anxiety can become chronic or move beyond its original purpose. In those cases, medical professionals refer to anxiety disorders.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, nearly 30% of American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. These disorders range from specific phobias to general social anxiety and panic disorders.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
The APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines seven common symptoms that mental health professionals use to diagnose anxiety disorder:
- Restlessness or consistent feelings of being on edge
- Feelings of fatigue even after activities that would not typically warrant it
- Difficulty concentrating, with periods of the mind going blank
- Increased irritability, even in otherwise innocent scenarios
- Increased muscle tension and potential soreness
- Sleep disturbance, including problems both falling and staying asleep
These symptoms typically add up to more general anxiety and worry. These feelings can impact every aspect of the patient’s life.
Fortunately, an accurate and timely diagnosis can lead to treatments in various ways. Without treatment, though, the risk of anxiety attacks increases drastically.
What is an Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety or panic attacks are exactly what they sound like: short episodes, usually ten minutes or less, in which the patient feels complete panic or fear. In some cases, they can last up to 30 minutes. They typically arrive without warning, making it difficult to determine exactly what triggers anxiety attacks.
For people with an apparent anxiety disorder like claustrophobia, panic attacks arrive at obvious triggers. But more often, and especially for patients with more general anxiety disorders, the triggers can be impossible to determine immediately.
The symptoms of these attacks can be so significant some patients think they’re suffering from a heart attack. They include:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Shakiness and hot flashes or chills
Some patients also report feeling detached, like looking at themselves and experiencing the attack from the outside. That can lead to feeling like they’re losing control and even overwhelming panic. Finally, every anxiety attack can lead to a worsening fear that the next one is just around the corner and worsening symptoms when it does arrive.
How to Calm Down an Anxiety Attack
Because the fear of panic attacks makes them both more likely and worsens the symptoms, most medical professionals recommend tactics to avoid letting the fear control you as an essential first step. Simply telling oneself that the symptoms are not severe and only a result of the attack can prevent a downward spiral and cause them to lessen.
Remaining calm is easier to accomplish when finding things to do to distract the mind from the attack. Mindless activities like cleaning, reading, or watching a favorite TV show can help calm the mind and stop a panic attack.
Having a support person by one’s side during the attack can also be helpful. Simple reassurances that the attack will pass and the symptoms are not dangerous can go a long way.
Finally, techniques that focus on slow, methodical breathing can stop the anxiety attack helping to calm down faster. For example, patients can practice the 4-7-8 exercise to internalize it in the event of an attack:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds.
Intentionally slowing down the breath allows the person to think more clearly. And prevents the hyperventilation that can lead to many symptoms described above when feeling anxious.
How to Prevent Anxiety Attacks
Of course, knowing how to calm down during an anxiety attack is only an immediate solution. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent these attacks from appearing in the first place. A few easy steps and lifestyle adjustments can help patients reduce their potential for anxiety attacks:
- Practicing relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises like the above, as well as meditation, can reduce anxiety symptoms and improve overall emotional health while also allowing you to be prepared in the event an attack occurs.
- Exercise regularly. Especially aerobic exercise can help to manage stress and release the everyday tension that would otherwise build up. The added confidence boost can also help to build your resistance to attacks.
- Emphasize regular sleep. A lack of consistent sleep is one of the biggest reasons for stress. Aiming for at least 6-8 hours of sleep at around the same time every day can go a long way toward building up your strength and resistance to attacks.
- Reduce your alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine intake. All three have active ingredients that can worsen your anxiety and the symptoms of anxiety attacks.
- Connect with others. Loneliness is another common trigger for anxiety. A more active social support system also increases the chances that you have someone available who can calm you down and get you back on track in the event of an attack.
In some cases, following all these steps is not enough to fight against a person’s anxiety disorder and stop anxiety attacks. In that case, one might need to seek external help, like meditative and cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy serves to more systematically calm their mind and fight the stress.
Treatment for Anxiety in San Diego
When seeking systematic treatment for your anxiety, you need the right medical professionals. Brain Center TMS has a long history of successfully treating patients with anxiety, helping patients with even the worst symptoms get back to living everyday life.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation can be used to treat anxiety and anxiety attacks by targeting areas of the brain that need stimulation. TMS uses no medications and is often associated with little to no side effects. Call Brain Therapy TMS to find out if TMS can help you or your loved one with anxiety and anxiety attacks.