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What is an Anxiety Attack and How Do You Stop One?

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Anxiety disorders impact approximately 40 million Americans, as they are the most prevalent mental illness in the country. Ranging from generalized anxiety disorder and social phobia to obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder, anxiety disorders can create significant chaos in one’s life if left untreated. Regardless of which type of anxiety disorder a person may have, anxiety attacks are something that most all with this type of disorder experience at some point or another. Unfortunately, anxiety attacks can be difficult to manage and leave individuals feelings completely out of control. So, what is an anxiety attack? 

What is an Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack is a physical and psychological response that occurs when an individual feels sudden overwhelming fear or panic. This response can happen without notice or as a result of being triggered by something or someone. Technically, when an anxiety attack occurs, it means that certain areas of the brain are becoming hyperactive. Studies show that the amygdala, in particular, goes into overdrive during an anxiety attack. This part of the brain is home to the fight-or-flight response, so when it is overdrive, individuals can experience intense fear and panic, or an anxiety attack. According to Scientific American, researchers have found that an area of the brain known as the periaqueductal gray, which helps manage the body’s defense response, is also triggered during an anxiety attack. With both of these areas not functioning correctly, anxiety attacks can happen and they can feel completely and entirely overwhelming and real to the person who is experiencing it. 

What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

Onlookers often have a difficult time understanding why someone who is having an anxiety attack is behaving in the manner that they are, especially if they do not have any experience with this particular mental illness. Someone who is having an anxiety attack may appear to be out of control and irrational to the naked eye, but the anxiety attack itself can feel like the end of the world. 

So, what is an anxiety attack and what does it feel like? Up to 11% of Americans have anxiety attacks each year, and many of them experience the following symptoms and effects during these attacks:

  • Sweating
  • Racing heart beat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trembling
  • Tingling feeling in fingers 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache

During an anxiety attack, individuals also usually experience a sense of impending doom and/or a feeling of losing control/being out of control. These attacks, depending on the individual, usually last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Learning how to manage an anxiety attack when it occurs can be the best line of defense for those who struggle with this troubling problem.

Can You Stop an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks typically come out of nowhere, but that does not mean they cannot be stopped or at least mitigated. When individuals who suffer from anxiety attacks are able to employ coping skills in the midst of an attack or even prior, the end results can be much more favorable. Some of these skills include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Practice breathing exercises – Someone who is having an anxiety attack can benefit from learning some breathing exercises to help when they feel an attack coming on or when they are in the middle of one. Taking deep breaths and exhaling fully sends signals to the brain that it is okay to relax. This is extremely helpful because by sending this message to the brain, symptoms of the anxiety attack like shortness of breath and panic become smaller and more manageable. 
  • Identify your feelings as an anxiety attack – It can be easy to get caught up in an anxiety attack and lose the forethought that what may be happening is not a truly catastrophic experience, but instead an effect of an anxiety disorder. Remind yourself that you may be experiencing a physical and psychological response due to the presence of an anxiety disorder, rather than having an anxiety attack because there is a real threat occurring. 
  • Use the 3-3-3 rule – The 3-3-3 rule helps ground you during an anxiety attack. First, look around your environment and find three things that are there. Next, identify three things that you can hear. Last, make note of 3 things that you can touch. This practice helps keep you connected to your real surroundings rather than the fears that you may be experiencing at that moment.

At first, stopping an anxiety attack from happening might not be achievable. However, implementing these and other skills can help you reduce the intensity of your anxiety attacks and eventually help prevent them from developing.

Anxiety Treatment in St. Augustine, FL

If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get professional help. At Pearl of the Sea Retreat, we offer several treatment options that can help you learn how to manage your anxiety in a safe, effective way. Call us right now to learn more about how we can help you.