Ways To Come Down From An Anxiety Attack
Written By: Shannon Sweeney
If you suffer from anxiety, you know you can’t control the onset of an attack — it can happen at work, on a date, during a class, or while you’re driving. I’ve been there, and losing that sense of control is as frustrating as it is terrifying.
I’ve dealt with anxiety for what feels like my entire life, and while I only started seeing a doctor for it about two years ago, I learned some strategies along the way that help me come down from when I feel an anxiety attack starting.
It’s worth noting that I also take medication for my anxiety, which definitely helps, but may not work for everyone! The best way to find out is to contact your doctor or a therapist to find out what’s best for you. It can be scary to take that first step, but trust me, it’s worth it.
What are symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack?
Some symptoms of anxiety attacks include:
An overwhelming feeling of fear
Shortness of breath
Numbness and tingling sensation
If you notice yourself suffering from some of these symptoms, here are some things I’ve done to come down from an attack.
Relaxed breathing exercises
Hyperventilating and shortness of breath is one of the key symptoms of an attack. If you know some deep breathing exercises, this can help tremendously. If you can control your breathing, you may be able to prevent the attack from getting worse or prevent it altogether.
To do this, focus on taking deep breaths through your mouth. Breathe in for five seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and breathe out for five again. This rhythmic breathing makes you feel in control again, as well as prevents it from feeling like your chest is getting heavy.
I’ve also pulled up this gif (at work, or during class, don’t do this if you’re driving!) to help calm me down. By focusing on one image and controlling my breathing, I’ve prevented attacks from getting worse.
Simple Habit has been a godsend during work or at night when I’m having trouble sleeping. This app has multiple meditation options — pick one specifically designed for work, while you’re walking, or taking a break. All you need is headphones, and it’ll guide you through meditation and more breathing exercises to bring you down from an attack.
Close your eyes
If you’re in a place where you can close your eyes, try it out. Some anxiety and panic attacks are triggered by things we see that overwhelm us. If you’re in a place with a lot going on, this stimuli can spark an attack out of nowhere (I once had a panic attack at a bar because of the loud music and big crowds). To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes and focus on breathing — it helps when you can’t see anything to make the attack worse or make you feel overwhelmed.
Find a focus object
If you find yourself in a place where you can’t close your eyes, try finding a focus object around you — like the clock at the front of the classroom, the design of the carpet, the sound of the coffee maker. Describe its shapes, sounds, movements, color, and more to yourself. Focus all of your energy on this object. This helps reduce other stimuli during an attack.
Relax your muscles
What’re you doing right now? I guarantee your shoulders are tight and your jaw is clenched. When you have an attack, you may notice yourself clenching your jaw or your fist, or tensing your shoulders. Start with your head and work your way down — relax your jaw and your mouth, relax your shoulders, move your fingers, uncross your legs, and wiggle your toes. Rotate your neck and focus on breathing.
Learning how to do progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process, according to Anxiety Canada. They provide helpful hints on how to learn best methods, and how it can help. Physical body tension affects mental health greatly, and we don’t even know when it’s happening.
Repeat a mantra to yourself
Having a phrase or mantra to repeat to yourself can help you focus and gain control of your body back. When I have an attack, I simply state “You’ll be okay” to myself internally, or I say it out loud if I’m by myself. Say whatever makes you feel better — something like “This will pass,” “You are strong,” or something else that speaks to you personally will help the attack subside. Say it on a loop to distract your mind from going elsewhere until you feel the attack start to subside.
These are only a few ways that can help bring you down from an attack, and there are countless others — because all people and anxiety attacks aren’t the same, try what works best for you! If you don’t already, try finding a therapist or medical professional who knows other methods for preventing or stopping an anxiety attack. And remember that having an attack does not make you weak — you are strong, and I promise you’ll be okay.