Most emergencies arise from somewhere outside ourselves: we suddenly realize that we should have looked both ways before crossing the street, we get a phone call from the hospital, or the water heater breaks down. In these cases, it’s usually clear that we have to do something and what that action should be.
For some people, however, a crisis can arise from inside themselves, often without warning and for no apparent reason. This is called a panic or anxiety attack and is by no means pleasant. Since those who have not experienced one have great difficulty in understanding these seizures, anxiety attack help is rarely taught in first aid courses. So how do you help a person in such cases?
“Anxiety is often used as a tool to help you push yourself to your limit of achievement. The downside is that there are often negative meanings attached, such as not being good enough or not valuing rest.” That is according to Kristine Tye, MA, LMFT. Still, an impending anxiety attack might cause someone to have to pull over if driving or hide out in the bathroom until it passes. If these episodes are frequent, they can prevent a person from doing certain kinds of work and may cause them to withdraw from society or refuse to visit crowded public places.
The Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack
“Some commonly held beliefs about anxiety disorders that are mostly or partially false, including why reducing stress, thinking positive thoughts, gaining insight about its origins, and lots of reassurance often do not really help much in reducing significant symptoms of anxiety.” – Sally Winston, PsyD
An anxiety attack is partly mental but is mostly a physical event. The way it expresses itself can also be very different depending on the individual. The duration may range from a minute or so up to an hour.
The most noticeable and characteristic symptom is the sudden or rapid onset of extreme fear or anxiety, without any clear cause to explain its severity. On a physical level, uncontrollable trembling, sweating, heart palpitations and dizziness are common. These are frequently accompanied by a shortness of breath, numbness in the limbs and nausea. Severe attacks may cause a person to lose consciousness.
What to Do When Having a Panic Attack
Robert Allison, MA, LPC used to say, “When anxiety is at it’s worst and reaches the level of panic it can be debilitating and feel paralyzing. Your mind gets a little too suspicious. Suspicious of what might happen, what could happen, suspicious of other people.” But the first thing to remember is that it’s of no use to start panicking about panicking: a person in the midst of an attack will often feel that they’re dying, but this is not the case. It may seem that you are unable to breathe or about to have a heart attack, but rest assured that this will not happen. It is important to realize that this event will certainly pass, probably in no more than a few minutes, and might leave you feeling somewhat silly but otherwise unharmed.
Sit or lie down if possible, especially if feeling lightheaded. The simplest, most effective technique to calm down is to control your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths that last ten seconds each. Direct your thoughts to something comforting, such as imagining a pet or your bedroom.
Ways to Avoid Anxiety Attacks
A body that isn’t functioning as it should can contribute greatly to all kinds of psychological issues, including anxiety disorders. Regular exercise, such as walking fast for half an hour each day, as well as a balanced diet, can often eliminate panic attacks, or at least reduce their frequency and severity. Chemicals such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all contribute to anxiety, as can unstable blood sugar levels.
Anxiety attacks are often associated with some kind of psychological disorder, such as PTSD or social anxiety. It is, therefore, worth identifying what experiences and circumstances are associated with panic attacks, even to the point of keeping a log of each event. These triggers are not always obvious since our minds rely heavily on symbolic representations of memories and phenomena.
Once a trigger for anxiety attacks has been identified, it is time to address the issues at the root of the problem. This is not always easy, but it is the surest route to becoming free of unnatural anxiety. Avoiding stressful situations may be a good solution in the short term, but isolating yourself from the world means that you are restricting your happiness unnecessarily.
Meditation and yoga may help in this regard, but anyone with persistent or severe anxiety will do well to seek professional help. Money and time spent on therapy will rarely be wasted. No psychologist or counselor in the world will be able to do the necessary mental work for you, but they can at least point the way and give invaluable advice and support.