Anxiety affects everyone at some point. Life is full of stressful situations that can cause anxiety, but many people struggle with seemingly uncontrollable and overwhelming feelings of anxiety that affect them on a regular basis. Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 5 adults in the U.S., making them the most common type of mental illness. However, anxiety disorders and occasional feelings of anxiety are highly treatable.
If you have ever felt an anxiety attack or intense feelings of anxiety that interfere with your daily life, you know how uncomfortable and even scary it can be.
Here, we’ll provide you with tactics you can use to calm an anxiety attack. Plus, we’ll explain how to help someone with anxiety if you have a loved one who is struggling.
What is an Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attack is a term used to describe an increase in the intensity of feelings of anxiety. This can result in a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and inability to focus. These are just a few signs of an anxiety attack. Other physical symptoms include nausea, stomachache, hot flashes, and dizziness.
The term “anxiety attack,” however, isn’t a clinical term, but rather a way people who have anxiety describe their symptoms. As worry over a particular situation rises, anxiety can worsen, and feel like an attack. People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are particularly prone to have intense feelings of anxiety, such as this, that interfere with daily life. However, anyone can experience a bout of anxiety that feels like an attack.
Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack
Anxiety attacks differ from panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or a sense of losing control even when there is no clear danger or trigger. The symptoms of a panic attack can be quite similar to those of an anxiety attack, though, which can make it difficult to tell them apart. These symptoms include a racing heart, sweating, trembling or tingling, and chest pain.
However, a panic attack also is commonly associated with a feeling of impending doom. Panic attacks tend to come on more quickly than anxiety attacks and when there is no real danger. Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, tend to come on slowly, last for much longer and be related to a feeling of intense worry over a real situation.
How Long Do Anxiety Attacks Last
While panic attacks can last a few minutes to an hour, there’s no specified amount of time that anxiety attacks can last. Anecdotally, an anxiety attack can last around 30 minutes, a few hours, or a few days. Because they come on gradually, it can be difficult to identify when anxiety attacks start or stop. But you can prevent an attack from lingering by acknowledging it and using established practices to alter your mindset.
How To Calm an Anxiety Attack
There are lifestyle interventions you can practice that can help you calm down from an anxiety attack when anxiety builds up and interrupts your daily life. Here are 5 ways to stop an anxiety attack you can try:
1. Practice Breathing Exercises
Because an anxiety attack can feel like your mind and heart are racing, the first step to attempt to calm down is to take a few deep breaths. Bring your attention to your breathing and count slowly from 1 to 5 as you breathe in. Then count from 1 to 5 again as you breathe out. Continue this pattern for at least a few minutes until your breath and heart rate begin to slow down.
2. Challenge Negative Thoughts
Once you have taken a few minutes to slow down, try jotting down your thoughts. If you have a journal, write down what you’re feeling and challenge those negative thoughts with positive ones. If a thought is irrational, counter it with what you know is real and true. Another way to reframe your thoughts is to practice gratitude. Writing down things you are grateful for can take you out of a negative mindset and help calm feelings of anxiety.
If you’re in a quiet place and you can take 5 minutes to meditate, do so. Numerous studies have found that meditation can reduce psychological stress. It does so by improving mindfulness and our ability to regulate our emotions. While a consistent meditation practice is best for reducing anxiety, meditating when you are experiencing an anxiety attack can help you reframe your mindset and dispel the destructive thoughts you’re having.
4. Avoid Caffeine
If you’re feeling anxious or have an anxiety disorder, caffeine can make your symptoms worse. A review of multiple studies found that caffeine could not only induce panic attacks in patients with panic disorder (a type of anxiety disorder) but also increase anxiety in healthy adults. Thus, to reduce your risk of worsening your anxiety symptoms, it’s best to avoid caffeine or reduce your intake.
5. Connect with a Support System
Whether it be your therapist, a support group, or a family member or friend you can confide in, support is critical in dealing with any mental health problems. When you experience intense feelings of anxiety, reach out to your support system for encouragement. If you have a therapist, try to implement the tactics they have taught you. Many therapists also offer on-demand services for when you’re in the midst of an anxiety attack and need help. If you don’t have a therapist, consider a visit to your primary healthcare provider to ask for a referral.
How To Help Someone with an Anxiety Attack
If someone you love is experiencing anxiety or having an anxiety attack, there are ways you can help. When seeking to help someone with any mental illness, whether anxiety or depression, it’s important to educate yourself on the condition first to better understand what they are going through.
It can be incredibly difficult for people experiencing anxiety to open up, so if your loved one expresses ways they are struggling, it shows that they trust you. The best thing you can do is communicate your support. If you notice that their symptoms are worsening or impacting their daily life, encourage them to seek help.