Anxiety is an issue that plagues the vast majority of Americans. In fact, roughly 40 million adults suffer from a diagnosed anxiety disorder. This statistic does not include children, teens, or those that remain undiagnosed. In general, the severity of anxiety varies from person to person. While some may experience purely situational anxiety, such as fear of flying, others may experience relentless daily anxiety.
Daily anxiety impacts the ability to succeed in all aspects of life. It can manifest into panic attacks, fear of leaving home, and reduced positive mental health overall. The most common symptoms experienced by those having frequent panic are muscle tension, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dizziness, and chest pain. These are often incredibly uncomfortable and can expedite the experience into a full-blown panic attack. Fortunately, there are many research-backed methods that can help reduce or even alleviate anxiety related symptoms.
Regardless of the kind of anxiety a person experiences, the following techniques can promote a sense of calm, improved symptoms, and overall relief from the discomfort of panic, worry, or fear.
One of the most prevalent symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety is rapid breathing or hyperventilating. This can quickly accelerate the level of panic as rapid breathing offsets the body’s balance of carbon dioxide. Specifically, it removes carbon too quickly, which alters the blood pH and causes a weak or faint-like feeling.
For someone experiencing a panic attack, this perpetuates the already uncomfortable bodily sensation. However, by focusing on the breath and gaining control of it, the body is able to balance itself and self-soothe.
One of the best ways to regain control of the breath during a panic attack is by using what is known as the box method. This method involves taking a deep breath in for a count of four, holding it for a count of four, and then exhaling for a count of four. Repeat this for as many cycles as necessary.
Another great breath work method is simply inhaling to the lung’s maximum capacity and exhaling slowly. This exercise, too, can be repeated until relief has been achieved.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Many psychologists recommend mediation as a preventative method for anxiety. Even so, it works wonders in the midst of a panic attack as well. Both mindfulness and meditation force the brain to focus on the present.
Panic attacks and anxiety are generally based on fear of something that may happen in the future, near or far. In the present moment, the brain is forced to rationalize that there is no immediate danger and everything is fine.
One way to practice mindfulness during an anxiety attack is by focusing on the thoughts that are at the root of anxiety. Visualize each thought in the form of a cloud. Then, with closed eyes, simply visualize the clouds floating by. Accepting these feelings and releasing them is a highly effective way to regain control.
During a panic attack, exercise is likely the last thing on the mind of the person suffering. While vigorous exercise is not recommended, stepping outside and taking a walk is a proven way to re-center the brain and provide relief.
The brain struggles to focus on multiple things at once. When you force your body to move, it has to focus on completing the task. This distracts the mind from hyper-fixating on the panic attack and can provide almost immediate relief.
Similarly, breathing in fresh air can be beneficial for fighting panic as well. During a bout of anxiety, step outside and go for a walk for as long as necessary until breathing returns to normal and the heart rate is back at a comfortable level.
The 5-4-3-2-1 Method
This method can be done either inside or outside and distracts the mind from focusing on whatever induces anxiety. Begin by sitting in a comfortable spot. Looking around you, name out loud five things you see. Naming them aloud is an essential aspect of the technique.
Next, name aloud four things you can physically feel. This could be the carpet, a pillow, a ring, etc. Then, move on to naming three things you can hear. This could be birds chirping, a washing machine, cars, etc. Next, name two things you can smell. Finally, name one thing you can taste. This could be as simple as fresh air when you inhale. Repeat this cycle until the brain is sufficiently distracted.
Though this solution does not have the ability to impact anxiety immediately, it can significantly impact the extent to which a person continues to experience it. Certain foods and liquids can either increase or decrease anxiety.
One often consumed liquid that is incredibly detrimental for anxiety sufferers is alcohol. Alcohol contains ethanol, which effectively wipes the gut of healthy bacteria. This bacteria produces serotonin and plays a crucial role in mental health overall. By consuming alcohol, anxiety can be made dramatically worse.
Another liquid that plays a massive role in anxiety is caffeine. For those who suffer from frequent panic attacks, it is recommended to avoid caffeine as much as possible. The increased heart rate from caffeine can quickly induce a panic attack.
In contrast, including things in your diet such as turkey, bananas, and oatmeal can work to decrease anxiety. These three foods, in particular, contain tryptophan, which is known for its ability to provide a calm, relaxed sensation. Being mindful of what you consume is a great way to reduce overall anxiety.
Keeping certain essential oils on hand can provide immediate relief during an anxiety attack. For example, lavender has the ability to calm nerves and specifically targets soothing the body’s fight or flight. In a study done on lavender effects on patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, aromatherapy with the essential oil form had a similar effect to a low dose of Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety pharmaceutical. This potent essential oil can be rolled onto the wrist, neck, face, or anywhere it can be easily smelled.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This deep relaxation technique is an easy-to-follow, effective way to loosen up tense muscles that often result from frequent anxiety attacks. Highly tense muscles, when left unattended to, can manifest into severe physical pain over time. Tension headaches are one example of repeated anxiety building in the body.
Practicing progressive muscle relaxation can drain the muscles of this stiffness and relieve the feeling of anxiousness. The best way to practice this exercise is by setting aside ten to fifteen minutes. During this time, you will choose one muscle group to focus on at a time. For example, try beginning with the hands. Tense the hands as tightly as possible for around five seconds. The feeling should be incredibly tense and may even induce muscle shaking. After the five seconds are up, release the tension slowly. Simultaneously exhale and focus on the connection of the exhale and the release.
Tying these two sensations together is key to success. Repeat this pattern with as many muscle groups as necessary or until the ten minutes are up. Other muscle groups that are effective to practice with are the back, shoulders, neck, feet, stomach, mouth, and legs.
Any of the above methods can be a great go-to during a moment of anxiety or a full panic attack. Going for a walk, practicing breathwork, meditating, and trying out muscle relaxation are just a few of the uniquely powerful techniques that can be utilized. The ability to self-soothe and recenter both the mind and body can provide a sense of power that can not only increase the ability to cope with anxiety but can also help decrease the severity overall.
Therapy Can Help
If you are struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, therapy can help. To learn more about in-person or online treatment programs for anxiety in Texas, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com.
We Can Help!
MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home. If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
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