How to act if you have an anxiety attack

Put these small actions into practice so that the fear and anguish you feel can be reduced and disappear.

Have you ever had an anxiety attack and didn’t really know how to handle it? How to act if you have an anxiety attack? Anxiety attacks, also known as anxiety, panic, or panic attacks, are episodes of fear, anxiety, or intense discomfort that cause a series of physical and psychological symptoms, such as palpitations, breathing difficulties, fear of losing control, go crazy or even die.

In this article, we offer you some ideas on how to act in one of them. It will be important not to lose calm, to find a safe place, and, above all, to focus on breathing (or an external object, to decentralize our attention to the symptoms).

Anxiety attack: definition and prevalence

An anxiety attack is defined in the DSM-5 (APA, 2013) as the sudden appearance of intense fear/discomfort that reaches its maximum expression in minutes. During this time 4 (or more) symptoms occur, such as palpitations, sweating, tremors or shaking, feeling of suffocation, chest pain or discomfort, etc.

According to Antonio Cano Vindel, Professor of Psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid and president of the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress, anxiety attacks are ‘ extreme emotional reactions of alarm that produce fear’.

This type of crisis is related to moments of stress or traumatic events, although not all of them are triggered by an identifiable cause. That is, they can arise in times of stress, but also in calm.

More than 10% of the adult population in Spain has suffered an anxiety attack at some point. This is stated in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

How to act if you have an anxiety attack?

Keep in mind that an anxiety attack will sooner or later disappear, but you can take small actions so that the fear and anguish you feel are reduced and disappear sooner. Yes, we are talking about reducing suffering.

Keep in mind that the initial goal will be to get you to stop thinking about the symptoms. So try to breathe slowly and focus your attention on elements other than your symptoms and thoughts.

1. Breathe calmly

At this point that we propose, you do not have to propose to breathe very deeply; just that you take control over a process that is normally automatic and that you regulate it in a way contrary to how it would be regulated automatically in the face of a real threat.

You can try the following: inhale the air for two or three seconds, hold it for two or three more and exhale progressively until everything is released. You see repeating this little exercise and you will see how having control of your breathing gradually reduces the anxious symptoms.

2. Find a safe and quiet place

Another key idea on how to act if you have an anxiety attack is to find a safe and quiet place, where you can not hurt yourself.

Sit down if you consider it necessary; try to gain a sense of calm. And if you think you can feel more secure calling someone, go ahead.

3. Try to stay calm

It is clear that staying calm during an anxiety attack is not an easy task. However, you don’t have to set out to be extremely calm.

Just keep breathing easy and don’t feed negative thoughts. Just focus on breathing.

4. Focus on non-internal elements

To stop focusing your attention on the symptoms of the anxiety attack, it may be good to focus on something from the outside. It can be something from the landscape: the people walking, a tree, a bench, the window …

Just look at that object and keep breathing. You can also simply focus on your breathing.

5. Don’t magnify the symptoms

Although anxiety attacks are often experienced as something that can harm us, and before them, we develop catastrophic thoughts or even death, the truth is that you cannot die from an anxiety attack.

So try not to magnify the symptoms; think that they are the same symptoms that you would experience, for example, in an exam, or in a public exhibition.

Thus, although you may experience them as more intense, the truth is that they are symptoms that are not dangerous by themselves, and above all, remember that the attack will disappear sooner or later.

6. Normalize the situation

According to experts, during the onset of the anxiety attack, many people fear that the symptoms are observable by others. Therefore, he tries to normalize the situation; Whether they are observing you or not, try to assess this fact accurately, and above all, find a quiet and safe place if you feel too exposed.

Keep in mind that normalizing the situation does not mean downplaying or invalidating your symptoms; it is clear that in an anxiety attack you suffer a lot. But relativizing the situation can help you in relation to how to act if you have an anxiety attack.

If you ever experience an anxiety attack, try applying the guidelines outlined. The most important thing is that you are clear that a panic or anxiety attack is not something dangerous, even if it is very distressing.

And, above all, remember that it is important to seek professional help to identify the possible causes of these attacks and prevent them. Especially if the attacks are repeated over time.

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