Throughout life, my level of anxiety has fluctuated – sometimes over days, sometimes over weeks or months. There are times where I’m not feeling anxious at all, and then I’ll have periods of time where the feeling doesn’t go away. Sometimes I know why, sometimes I don’t.
During those periods where my anxiety is generally heightened, I’m much more susceptible to both panic and anxiety attacks. And it’s the same thing where I may have one random attack, or there may be times where I have them often over a period of time.
Needless to say, I’m no stranger to the feeling. Shaking so hard you think you may shake yourself out of your own hot, clammy skin. The inability to catch the breath and slow the heart rate. Difficulty swallowing even your own saliva. Tunnel vision and Charlie Brown voices around you. Not trusting your legs to hold your weight.
The list goes on.
Let’s be honest, for most of us, the last couple of years have been wrought with added anxiety from things out of our control. With that in mind as I’m waiting out the same winter storm many are, my level of anxiety has been heightened and I know I’m more susceptible to an attack. While mentally preparing for that possibility, I decided to share a few of the things that can help provide me some relief in the throws of an attack in case it may help you, too. ☺️
1. Comforting mantra
- This works well if looking to break a thought pattern during the attack. It’s also particularly useful when in a situation where discretion may be necessary.
- One of my favorite mantras came from a friend of mine: ‘The only thing that’s real is this moment, and in this moment, I am fine. ‘
- One of my previous jobs involved running events; I can’t count the times I sat through a meal internally chanting a mantra because getting up and otherwise addressing the anxiety attack just wasn’t an option.
2. Physical distraction
- Being able to ground ourselves with physical sensation can be a good way to help come down from an attack. This works just as well if we touch things or things touch us. It’s helpful to also think of describing the sensation in detail if you’re still struggling with wandering thoughts.
- Some examples are massage, touching objects around you, touch yourself with other objects (like a feather, don’t be crass y’all), shuffle a deck of cards, pet an animal.
3. Warm water
- One of the few things I’ve found to warm that inner chill that shakes you to the core is warm water, usually in the form of a shower/bath or tea, but even just washing the hands in warm water can be incredibly soothing. I can literally feel tension melting from my body.
4. Eye-hand coordination
- This is one of the ultimate distraction methods. I employ this when I am really struggling to bring myself down. The ability to distract the body and brain – while connected – can be really effective.
- Some examples are driving (recommend only for those experienced in attacks and only if in a safe enough state of mind), video games, computer/phone games, etc.
5. Physical exertion
- The body’s physical reaction during an attack can be similar to what we experience when we exert effort. This can be helpful for a couple of different reasons: physically, it can be helpful to literally burn off the energy coursing through us, channeling it accordingly; mentally, we can tell ourselves that the physical sensations we are experiencing like rise in heart rate are due to our exertion, not the attack itself. It’s a way of reframing the physical reaction we are having.
- Some of my favorites are taking a walk or pacing, vigorously doing housework, dancing, body movements like jumping jacks/squats/etc.
Oh! What’s the difference between a panic and anxiety attack? Generally anxiety is rooted in an unknown cause whereas panic is rooted in a known cause. So an anxiety attack can come out of nowhere and have no real known cause – or maybe a combination of things – whereas a panic attack typically refers to fear or aversion of something in particular. Think of the difference between a panic attack that comes out of nowhere versus a panic attack from thinking about flying for a person who has a fear of doing so.
I hope these helped!