Just breathe: How to control an anxiety attack

Anxiety attacks are scary, but you can control them with some simple steps.

Just breathe: How to control an anxiety attack

Anxiety attacks are scary, but you can control them with some simple steps.
  • If you have ever had an anxiety attack, you know how scary they can be. The rapid heartbeat, shaking, the cold rush of impending doom settling over you, and the adrenaline coursing through your body is enough to send you over the edge. The fear of having another one can actually trigger the anxiety cycle.

  • When I was diagnosed with my first panic attack, my daughter was 3 months old. It was a scary time in my life. My first thoughts were that I would die and my daughter would be left without a mother. I worried incessantly about my health, knowing it was slowly taking over my life. I had to do something and that something came in the form of an angel who overheard me talking to my chiropractor in the lobby. This person mentioned a wonderful source to help with my anxiety, called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, along with the program, Attacking Anxiety, by Lucinda Bassett. These two tools were paramount to my healing and included these steps to overcoming anxiety.

  • Self Talk

  • When you start to feel the anxiety rising, the best thing you can do is talk to yourself. In your mind, tell yourself this is just anxiety and it can't hurt you. Sometimes, chanting a verse, such as "Peace...calm," a number of times, helps the brain rewire its thinking. Also, ask yourself what might have triggered the attack. If you're stressed out or dealing with scary issues, these are clues to help you understand why you're having the attack.

  • Breathe deeply

  • Doing this helps stave off hyperventilation (when too shallow of breathing decreases oxygen to the brain). Deep breathing for a few minutes can calm down the nervous system and regulate your heartbeat, which brings your system back into balance again. Inhale through your nose, while puffing out your lower abdomen as if you were blowing up a balloon. Count to five, then breathe out deeply through your mouth. Doing this three times can instantly decrease your anxiety levels. (Source:

  • Don't fight it

  • If you can let the sensations come, and you can go with it, the brain tells the body that it's OK and it prevents a full-blown panic attack. When I get anxious, I let my body go through the motions, knowing that the sensations won't hurt me. I allow my heart rate to spike and other uncomfortable emotions to build up. In other words, I allow the fight or flight response to take over — but I neither fight it nor flee from it. Having the power to let it come means I'm in control of the fear. this is empowering and can really help calm you down.

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  • Try Meditation

  • If you meditate for a few minutes a day, it can lower your stress levels. Find a quiet place, if possible, close your eyes and think of your favorite place. Imagine the emotions it stirs up in you, the smell, the touch, the environment. Let the experience relax and rejuvenate you. Relax your muscles and breathe deeply. If you're at work or school, go into the restroom and practice a few deep breaths, and mentally go to that favorite place.

  • Distract yourself

  • This is the best way for me to control an anxiety attack. Try physical activity, such as running, walking, watching your favorite movie or writing down your feelings. Distracting your brain tells the anxiety it can't or won't take center stage. When the brain knows you're not going to react, it will calm the nervous system. It's only when the anxiety is allowed to escalate and turn into full-blown panic that the brain gets conditioned to that response. You can redirect your thinking to stave off an anxiety attack.

  • Medication, if necessary

  • Sometimes, an anxiety attack leads to full-blown panic, especially if a traumatic event triggered it. In these times, it might be best to use a small dose of anti-anxiety medication to bring the panic down. If your anxiety is tied to depression, as is sometimes the case, an anti-depressant can help.

  • Talk to someone

  • Having someone there to help you process your emotions can bring a different perspective, in terms of controlling an anxiety attack. Whether it is a therapist, family member or friend who can support you and help you understand your attacks, they can be a great tool in recovering from anxiety.

  • Since using these coping skills, I have been able to help me and my kids conquer their anxiety issues and take back control of their life. Anxiety attacks can be controlled, and better yet, be conquered. Learning these simple techniques can relax you and enable you to better cope with subsequent attacks.

Julia Nielsen is currently parenting three kids with pitfalls and pleasures. She co-authored two published books in "The Crystal Locket" series, and graduated from the Institute of Children's Literature in 2005. Check out her blog:

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