Anxiety Attacks – What are they and how are they treated?

There are quite a few fancy techniques for coping with anxiety attacks.  Over the years I’ve boiled it down to a few simple concepts. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

What are anxiety attacks?

First of all, let’s make clear what we’re talking about. Anxiety attacks, also called panic attacks, are a period of intense anxiety and fear. (Well, that was obvious!)  Physical changes in the body also occur such as increased heart rate, pounding or ringing in the ears, feeling faint, sweating, shaking, feelings of dread, and fear of dying or going crazy. If you’re not sure you’ve ever had one, you probably haven’t. They aren’t subtle.

The disclaimer you’ve been waiting for…

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: If you experience these symptoms, you should go immediately to a medical facility for an assessment. Many of these symptoms are also the symptoms of a heart attack. You should have it checked out and only once you know your symptoms are anxiety related should you take my advice below.  This article is not intended to replace treatment by a professional.  If you are having anxiety attacks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.  They can help you rule out possible medical causes of your symptoms.

Get your head in the game

Now, there are a few things you have to convince yourself of if you hope to reduce the distress associated with anxiety attacks.

  • Anxiety attacks will not harm you. You will not die.  You will not go crazy.  They are VERY uncomfortable but not life-threatening.
  • The fear of having an anxiety attack encourages more attacks in the future.  You’ll have to get Zen about it.  Resolve to cope with whatever comes to you that day, anxiety attack or not.
  • Do not avoid places because you fear you will have an anxiety attack.  This will only cause further problems.  Refuse to allow your anxiety to make your world smaller.
  • Hold your head high.  Don’t hide.  Most people around you will never notice you are having an anxiety attack.  If they do, they will have to deal with it too!  Why should you have to deal with it alone?

Right about now most people with anxiety attacks are looking at me like I’m crazy.  “I’m not supposed to care if I’m having an anxiety attack?  Go to places that cause them? Are you nuts?”  Well, maybe, but you will improve if you take my advice.  The real problem with anxiety attacks is our reaction to them.  For most people, anxiety attacks will reduce to a manageable level normally unless they are reinforced by behavior.

Now, notice I never said this would be easy or fun!  It will be uncomfortable, you might even look silly, but you will get through it.  Most of the techniques therapists use for anxiety accomplish one thing: distracting you long enough for your body’s natural equilibrium to return.  You can stand on your head and recite poetry in pig Latin if you like.  That’s just kind of difficult to pull off in the grocery store.

Self help techniques

After you’ve convinced yourself of the concepts above, fire up Google and find some relaxation techniques.  I won’t bore you with them here and you can find dozens of great ones on the internet.  Practice them daily at first.  Get good at them.  If one doesn’t work for you, try another until you find one.  Do NOT use them during your anxiety attacks until you are expert at the technique you’ve chosen.  Keep in mind that these techniques are only meant to keep your more comfortable until the anxiety passes.  They will not magically kill your anxiety immediately.

What a counselor can do for you

  • Speed up your recovery
  • Help you analyze what triggers your anxiety
  • Teach you more about how your thinking affects your anxiety
  • Suggest relaxation techniques based on your lifestyle and personality
  • Cheer you on through your successes
  • Provide a place where you can practice without feeling foolish
  • Provide a referral to a prescriber if you would like to explore medications

Parting thoughts…

Anxiety is a part of life but it shouldn’t control you.  There is hope for feeling more comfortable and getting back to doing the things you enjoy without fear of anxiety attacks.  Good luck to you!  I know you can do it.  Have questions?  Feel free to give me a call.  I’m always willing to chat for a few minutes and help you find out if I can be of service to you.

Online Resources

Want to read more?  Here are a few sites you might like:

 Mayo Clinic anxiety attack resources 

WebMD panic and anxiety pages