One of the many unpleasant aspects of living with chronic anxiety is experiencing an anxiety episode. An anxiety episode can derail your whole day, make you feel out of control, and can digress all the way to a full-blown panic attack. That’s why it’s important to learn how to identify the symptoms of an anxiety episode and how to handle the situation in the most calm and collected way. Here’s how you can deal with an anxiety episode.
What is an Anxiety Episode?
First off, let’s define what an anxiety episode is. Anxiety episodes or anxiety attacks are characterized by feelings of overwhelming fear and worry that often come out of nowhere. They’re not as intense as a panic attack, but that’s no consolation when you’re having an episode. Anxiety episodes are extremely intense and accompanied by physical symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and a racing heartbeat.
Anxiety episodes and panic attacks are slightly different phenomena. Panic attacks are known for being pretty scary. People feel as if they are in imminent danger of dying or losing control of themselves. Anxiety episodes can last hours or days. They have the following characteristics:
- Tense, tight muscles
- A sense of worry, dread or apprehension
- Feelings of distress
- Trouble concentrating, going blank easily
- Restlessness or feeling fidgety, on edge
- Fear (fear may not be attached to a particular situation)
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Shortness of breath, chest pain
- Choking sensation or constricting throat
- Tingling or numbness
- Stomach cramps or nausea
- Dry mouth
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
It’s important to note that you don’t need to have all or even most of these symptoms to be experiencing an anxiety episode.
Stopping Anxiety Attacks
With practice, you can learn how to stop an anxiety attack before it intensifies further. Here are some key techniques and practices that can help get you back on track.
- Take deep belly breaths. When we’re stressed and anxious, we tend to use the top quarter of our chest to breathe. This allows rapid but shallow breathing that doesn’t get enough oxygen into our bloodstream, thus causing us to breathe faster and faster. You can start to get control over an anxiety episode by slowing and deepening your breathing. Breathe from the middle of your body by constricting your diaphragm. Lay your hand on your stomach and think of making your hand rise up and down on your inhalations and exhalations. Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 1 or 2 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds.
- Reassure yourself. Tell yourself that you are safe. Remind yourself that you’re having anxiety and that anxiety often tends to make us believe our situation is worse than what it actually is.
- Challenge your thinking. Anxiety often comes from looping, repetitive, distressing thoughts. Interrupt them with a stop word, which can be “stop!” or any other word that will get your attention. You can use any short word that’ll break through the tide of fear and worry and let you circle back to reassuring yourself that you’re safe and that you’re experiencing an episode of anxiety.
- Ground yourself in the here-and-now. Use your senses and observe your surroundings. What do you see? What can you touch? What do you hear? Can you smell anything? Doing these things will ground you back into your senses and will help control that anxiety attack.
- Get moving. If you can, get in motion. A short walk, even 10 or 15 minutes, can help you calm your thoughts. Feelings of restlessness can be reduced when you move around.
Anxiety attacks can co-occur on top of chronic, lower-level anxiety. They can become a brief worsening of an ongoing anxiety disorder, too. Figuring out what situations and stresses contribute to your anxiety episodes is an essential first step to getting long-lasting relief.
Consider the following two-step process for reducing daily anxiety:
- Figure out your triggers. Meeting with a therapist is a great way to figure out what situations and contexts really set your anxiety levels through the roof. Some triggers might be easy to find but others may require some work to identify. Anxiety isn’t always about imminent threats. Anxiety can easily arise from long-term situations that have never been resolved. These are some common anxiety triggers:
- Stressful work environment
- Health issues (yours or a loved one’s)
- Intimate relationships
- Family conflict
- Past trauma
- Existing mental health issues
- Learn new coping skills to manage your triggers. This is another task made much easier by visiting a mental healthcare professional. There are many excellent approaches to reducing and eliminating anxiety episodes. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) looks at how what we believe affects our behaviors. It’s often our beliefs about events that affect us more profoundly than the events themselves. Much of chronic anxiety consists of deeply established negative thoughts. Learning to challenge those thoughts can help reduce unbearable levels of anxiety.
Treating Depression-Linked Anxiety With No Side Effects
If you suffer from depression and are experiencing anxiety because of it, consider Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy. This is an FDA cleared non-invasive treatment for depression that uses targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that affect mood, which helps you get back to your best life quickly and with no side effects. Among the many treatment options out there, TMS therapy is an excellent, pain-free solution that is covered by most major insurance companies. The best part is there are no side effects associated with TMS therapy, making it an excellent solution.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
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Wells, A. (1990). Panic disorder in association with relaxation induced anxiety: An attentional training approach to treatment. Behavior Therapy, 21(3), 273–280. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0005-7894(05)80330-2