Anxiety affects 6 million Americans daily. It can be crippling, unpredictable and frightening. Many times, an anxiety attack closely mimics many other serious medical conditions which even further exacerbates a panic attack. So what is anxiety and what can you do when it becomes present? Fortunately there are many ways to combat an anxiety attack but the first step is recognizing one. It is important to look at the context of your signs and symptoms in order to recognize a panic attack, but even then it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek emergency medical treatment.
Anxiety can manifest in many forms but typically, those suffering present with feelings of uneasiness or “impending doom”, feeling as though they may pass out, blurred vision or tunnel vision, tremors, racing heart and heart palpitations, the need to void their bowels or urinate, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue or restlessness. These are the most common symptoms, however, they can vary from individual to individual.
So, you’ve recognized your signs and symptoms of anxiety. Now what can you do about it? Fortunately there are many ways to relieve anxiety attacks. Let’s start with a simple technique: breathing.
How can breathing beat an anxiety attack?
To understand this, let’s take a look at a little pathophysiology of an anxiety attack. During a panic attack, your heart rate increases as well as your breathing rate. Because you are breathing too quickly, your body is giving off excess CO2 (carbon dioxide) and is also not taking in enough oxygen due to the low tidal volume (how much air you are moving in and out.) This triggers a response in your body due to the interruption of homeostasis, the body’s state of “balance” (heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure, etc.) Your body is equipped with survival mechanisms to keep that balance. Increasing the heart rate sends more blood to your vital organs and therefore more oxygen. When your heart rate increases, your blood pressure increases. Your body is also breathing faster to take in more oxygen, but breathing too quickly only let’s you take in so much. Therefore, an effective way to fight an anxiety attack is to slow your breathing manually by taking in long deep breaths. Slower, deeper intake means more oxygen, and therefore a slower heart rate (because your body won’t have to compensate.)
Breathe in through your nose for about 10 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 10 seconds. Repeat this for a minute or so and you will begin to feel some relief.
Simple enough, right? Another great technique for relieving anxiety is exercise. There are many benefits to exercising but the two main ones are relieving muscle tension, and releasing endorphins. What better way to relieve tense muscles than wear them out? Go for a brisk walk or a run, turn on some music and get in the zone. Not only are you distracting yourself, but you’re burning calories, relieving stress and you may even get a better night’s sleep (more)!