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What to Do Before, During, and After an Anxiety Attack

Living with anxiety sucks. Here's how to ease into a healthier stress response.

What to Do Before, During, and After an Anxiety Attack

Living with anxiety is no easy feat. It can become a weight to carry through each day, an invisible ailment that others cannot see and therefore, cannot be sensitive to. From the most minuscule of triggers to living with a constant insidious hum, anxiety attacks can manifest as the culmination of built-up panic, becoming a very real and physical problem almost immediately.

If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety attacks, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to ride the waves and bring your body back to a state of equilibrium, as well as some tips and tricks on how to avoid or limit aggravation.

What Is an Anxiety Attack?

The physical manifestation of impending doom, an anxiety attack is defined as an episode of intense fear or anxiety and accompanying physical symptoms, based on a perceived threat rather than imminent danger. These attacks are a common symptom of illnesses like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and OCD. 

While doctors can’t necessarily diagnose anxiety attacks, they can diagnose anxiety symptoms or anxiety disorders.

Many use anxiety attack vs panic attack interchangeably, though the two differ in some ways. An anxiety attack tends to occur in response to a stressor and builds gradually, while panic attacks are unexpected and abrupt. Both may indicate an underlying health condition, like chronic illnesses or thyroid imbalance.

Beyond that, potential triggers may be:

  • a stressful job
  • driving
  • social situations
  • phobias
  • memories of suppressed trauma
  • chronic pain
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • caffeine
  • medication and supplements

When it comes to recognizing what an anxiety attack looks like, it truly varies from case to case and person to person.

Some of the most common physical symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  • apprehension
  • distress
  • fear of dying or losing control
  • a sense of detachment from the world (derealization) or oneself (depersonalization)
  • heart palpitations
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the throat or feeling like you’re choking
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • chills or hot flashes
  • trembling or shaking
  • numbness or tingling
  • nausea or abdominal pain
  • headache
  • feeling faint or dizzy

For some women, anxiety attacks can be a result of where they’re at in their cycle. Those with anxiety problems
may experience a premenstrual exacerbation of their symptoms. This means that making sure your hormones are as balanced as possible and that you’re cycle syncing, in particular during PMS, can help lessen the blow of any anxiety attacks.

How Do You Calm an Anxiety Attack?

While it can feel impossible to prevent an anxiety attack once you feel one coming on, there are certainly methods that can help you feel as grounded as possible amidst the panic. Everyone should build a methodology that works best for them, though there are some tried-and-true tools that can help anyone who needs it.

The one that stands out the most is breathing. It seems simple, yet our breath is the most powerful and accessible tool we have. If it can help women survive the barbaric pain of childbirth, it can certainly help us come back down from a panic attack. Try practicing long, deep, drawn-out breaths when you feel the anxiety arise, perhaps even counting down with each exhale.

Anxiety attack sufferer Nichelle White shares that when she’s feeling overwhelmed and notices an anxiety attack coming on, she practices “Chest taps, deep breathing, and naming three things I’m grateful for, despite the feeling of the moment. If all else fails, I just take a shower.”

What is ‘The 333 Rule’ for Anxiety?

If you’ve dealt with anxiety to any degree, chances are, you’re familiar with this calming tactic: The 333 Rule. This is when you’re instructed to name three things you can see and hear, and three parts of your body

The science behind this practice is that in doing so, you come back into your physical body, ground yourself in your surroundings, and witness the present moment, straying your mind away from whatever made it spiral in the first place. As a measure of preventative self-care, establishing the coping mechanism as a consistent habit can set you up for success when you’re actually feeling stressed.

Taking Care of Yourself After an Anxiety Attack

Aftercare is crucial when it comes to the come-down of a panic attack. You want to make sure that you land safely back into your body and give it the proper time and environment to recover. The most important note to remember is to move back into your day slowly and gracefully rather than rushing back as if nothing happened.

Anxiety attack sufferer Ilona Castro shares, “napping helps my body reset after all the emotions it just processed,” which feels like the most surefire way to let your body do what it needs to do: heal

Beyond that, it’s important to navigate your aftercare intuitively. For example, you might need to lay flat on the ground, spend some time in nature, or eat or hydrate. You also might feel the need to talk to someone, as socializing can help your mind ease some of its own chatter. Whatever the case may be, just make sure you’re checking in with yourself.

How to Prevent an Anxiety Attack

During a panic attack, the body’s autonomous fight-or-flight response takes over. So, in order to lengthen the time between anxiety attacks, it’s important to keep your mind and body out of fight-or-flight mode. This means committing to a lifestyle that’s minimally stressful and keeps up with your emotional, spiritual, and energetic hygiene. 

Given the state of the world that we live in, a stress-free life for the average human is near impossible, though there are things you can do to at the very least get you closer to it. Having a consistent mindfulness practice, whether it’s breathwork, meditation, or yoga, can train your body to process anxiety and stress in a more efficient way.

Similarly, counseling and psychotherapy can be incredibly beneficial in deconstructing some of the triggers that lead you to feel anxiety in the first place. Should you be open to it, you may also be prescribed antidepressants, beta-blockers, or anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines, a sedative medication that can suppress symptoms quickly.

If you prefer to take a more natural route, eating a balanced diet, cutting out alcohol and caffeine, and regularly incorporating exercise, guided imagery meditations, aromatherapy, salt baths, and muscle relaxation techniques can do wonders for your body and brain as well. Beyond that, joining a support group or staying in contact with friends who also suffer from anxiety attacks can aid in feeling less alone and more communal, as isolation is often a source of anxiety.

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