When you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, getting through it can feel impossible.
The signals that panic sends to your brain create a biophysiological reaction that can easily overwhelm you. Anxiety gives you a racing heart, flushed face, shallow breathing, and everything else that comes with fear—whether in response to an actual threat or a perceived one.
The brain is amazingly powerful. It will trigger physical responses to the thoughts that we have. One small thought can cause a cascade of reactions. If you suffer from anxiety attacks, you know what this is like.
Importantly, though, the opposite is also true. You can train your brain to respond differently to anxiety attacks and triggers.
1. Grounding Techniques
Therapists frequently teach their clients to use what are called “grounding techniques” to help them get through anxiety and panic attacks. Grounding techniques are intended to distract you from the bodily sensations of fear. They help you get back in touch with your body, in a good way.
These techniques include numerous options. Some focus on providing sensory stimulation, such as holding an ice cube in each hand or rubbing an ice cube around your eyes. Others involve mental exercises, such as skip-counting or similar strategies.
Feelings of panic and anxiety cause energy to race through your body. One way to try to harness this energy is to get up and exercise. Many people effectively manage anxiety attacks through intense exercise.
Depending on what situation you’re in, of course, you may need to adapt this option. If you’re able to move around, go for a fast-paced walk, or burn off nervous energy in some other way, you may find some relief. And if you’re not able to leave your seat or walk around, you can instead use progressive muscle relaxation as a way to help you relax.
3. Change Your Thoughts
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very important part of being able to manage anxiety attacks. With guidance and practice, it is possible to retrain your brain.
You start out by challenging the thoughts you have that tell you a situation is scary or that you aren’t capable. As you begin to change the messages that you give yourself, your body listens. The physiological responses to anxiety can lessen and even go away as you practice CBT.
4. Be Gentle with Yourself
Struggling with anxiety attacks is frustrating. You may hate the way they impact your life and limit your daily activities. But beating yourself up emotionally over your anxiety is counterproductive. It won’t help you get over your anxiety attacks or move forward. Instead, it will only reinforce your negative beliefs about yourself.
So be patient with yourself. If you wouldn’t say something to a friend who is struggling, don’t say it to yourself. And use skills from CBT to reframe the way you think about yourself. Remember, you are so much more than how your anxiety makes you feel.
5. Physical Comfort
Anxiety attacks are upsetting. They can leave you exhausted, flustered, and even disoriented. During such times, draw upon physical comforts as a way to soothe yourself.
Take a hot bath. Wrap up in a blanket and play calming music. Watch a favorite comedy. Practice mindful awareness of your body and its sensations. Cuddle with a pet, your partner, or your kids. These experiences tell you that you are safe and help connect you with memories of feeling calm.
Anxiety attacks can feel debilitating, but they don’t have to control your life. There are many things you can do to learn to get through them. But if they continue to interfere with your daily life, it’s important to reach out for help. Therapists can guide you through the techniques mentioned above, as well as many others. They can help you when you get stuck and cheer you on as you make progress.
If you’re ready to move forward, we encourage you to call our office to learn more about our approach to anxiety therapy.