At the moment of an anxiety attack, your reasoning goes out the window. Thoughts race, and any attempt to catch up to them is as good as none. If you’re like me, you may experience shortness of breath as you watch the world tumble before you. Negative thoughts are hard to control during anxiety/panic attacks, but over time I’ve learned to incorporate certain techniques to lessen their impact. There’s no quick fix to get rid of frequent, intense levels of anxiety, but I believe in holistic practices that help us manage them so they become less frequent. (I have high levels of anxiety less frequently now, but it is easily triggered by financial worries, huge crowds, self-consciousness, and other triggers that get me worried about my future.) These tricks work by slowing down the whole process of an attack:
Deep Abdominal Breathing
Taking deep breaths helps reduce anxiety attacks by allowing you to be more present with your thoughts. For me, it’s as if I’m giving myself time to think about why I’m feeling this way, and it just allows me to calm down a bit. Here’s how to do it: Inhale deeply from your diaphragm as soon as you realize you’re having an anxiety attack, and exhale deeply. Do it on the spot discretely, in through the nose and out the same way.
A Gentle Pep Talk
You can repeat to yourself, in your mind,“I recognize this emotion, but I am not this emotion,” until you calm down. It might take a while before that happens, so be patient. Separating yourself from the feeling of anxiousness tricks your brain into observing the experience as something that is simply happening to you, and not something that is part of your identity. In other words, you are not an anxious person, but you are experiencing anxiety at the moment.
Take One Step at a Time
Last year I went through a major depressive episode spanning the length of that entire year. Summer was rock-bottom, but to the advice of my counselor at the time, I pushed myself to start taking walks outside. Sometimes I would get seriously nervous about going, so I started telling myself I just needed to get downstairs to the building’s main entrance. I wouldn’t walk too far, and that was key for me. This method is for when you are too anxious to move and get yourself anywhere. If the task is broken down into small steps or miniature goals, you’ll find it easier to push through the anxiety.
Don’t Feel Guilty
I used to feel guilty about my sensitivity; actually, while my self-judgement isn’t as bad as it was before, feeling guilty is still something I need to work on. But everyone’s level of sensitivity to environments and situations is different. We also carry experiences from our past that may make us feel the way we do. It’s totally okay if you can’t handle being somewhere like an overcrowded bus, or a funeral, or a call centre while your friend can!
All that is important is that we manage our emotions.