Up until recently I did not know there was a difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. Since starting therapy last summer, I’ve learned a lot about both (which I’m sharing below). Today I’m also sharing how to calm down from an anxiety attack.
A little background story…
The first time I had a panic attack I thought I was dying. It was during my freshman year of college when I suddenly found myself dizzy and hyperventilating after lunch one afternoon. I remember putting my head between my legs (like I’d seen in a movie) to try to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. After an appointment with the school mental health counselor, I learned I experienced my first panic attack.
Fast forward 17 years (wow it’s been awhile), I have now experienced a handful of panic attacks. They’re always spontaneous, coming on as quickly as they go away. Sometimes I can feel one coming – even stop it before it starts – but other times the panic attack will take me by surprise.
I experience anxiety attacks in addition to the once in a blue moon panic attack. Anxiety attacks are less sneaky as they are long lasting. When my anxiety lingers like an annoying summer cold I know I’m having an anxiety attack. It’s never a good time, rarely going away on it’s own, and especially terrible during pregnancy.
Since I began weekly therapy sessions last summer I’m learning how to calm down during an anxiety attack. I have found success by using these 10 Ways to Stop an Anxiety Attack.
How to Calm Down During an Anxiety Attack
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol – neither has any sort of positive effect on anxiety. Try a calming tea instead.
- Focus on eating healthy – added sugars will send your blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ending in a crash. These foods can actually make anxiety worse.
- Relax your muscles and release any tension you may be holding in your body. Think about the muscles in your body, starting at your face, and consciously work to relax each muscle group slowly.
- Get some fresh air and/or light exercise (if you can).
- Allow yourself to FEEL all the feelings – set a timer and let out a good cry. When the timer goes off, wash your face and do something good for yourself.
- It’s okay to verbalize your anxious thoughts out loud, as it helps to fact check yourself. There is always a good chance what you’re thinking is not true or possible.
- Write it down – journaling is a great way to process the thoughts racing through your head.
- Tell someone. You should never hesitate to seek professional help. Therapy has changed my life in the best way possible.
- Don’t fear anxiety medication. I have emergency Ativan for anxiety attacks (when I’m not pregnant) and in the past I took Zoloft for Depression/Anxiety.
- Repeat: THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Anxiety attacks do not last forever.
The best thing you can do is have the ability to recognize the physical and mental symptoms of an attack. If you know what to look for, you can begin to calm yourself down before it escalates. It also helps to learn your personal triggers so you can avoid them or reduce the frequency of anxiety attacks.
Learn the Difference: Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack
What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack? An anxiety attack generally intensifies over a period of time and is highly correlated with excessive worry about some potential danger—whether real or perceived. If the anticipation of something builds up and the high amount of stress reaches a level where it becomes overwhelming, it may feel like an “attack” (source). A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause (source).
READ MORE: Ways to Quiet Your Anxiety