How do I know if I’m having an anxiety attack?

It is common to experience anxiety in several everyday situations. Anxiety is a natural response from our body to alert us that we are in danger. However, when this becomes frequent to the point of impacting in different areas of the subject’s life, anxiety ceases to be a characteristic to become a disorder.

Generally, those who have a history of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Syndrome experience anxiety attacks, feel an uncontrollable and intense fear within minutes, accompanied by a series of physical symptoms, such as:

  • Accelerated heart,
  • Shortness of breathe,
  • Dizziness,
  • Body tremors.

What is frightening in an Anxiety crisis is not knowing what to do about body sensations, because the feeling of insecurity and that something bad can happen causes the release of hormones such as norepinephrine and adrenaline, in response to the stress caused.

At this point, the two hormones trigger a series of reactions throughout the body, such as

  • Constriction of blood vessels,
  • Panting,
  • Heart beats,
  • Increase of pupils.

The function of all this, although frightening, is only to stimulate the body, so that it can react more quickly to the situation.

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms are:

  • Muscle tension or pain;
  • Feeling like your nerves are on edge;
  • Tiredness;
  • Insomnia;

Cognitive symptoms 

Cognitive symptoms are:

  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Intrusive thoughts and excessive worries;
  • Difficulty with decision making;
  • Behavioral symptoms;
  • Impulsivity;
  • Fast speech;

Emotional symptoms

  • Nervousness;
  • Sadness;

Before thinking about any symptom that is part of anxiety, we always need to rule out other medical causes that may cause these symptoms. However, if you are very anxious, chances are they are caused by anxiety.

4 skills you can develop to deal with anxiety

  1. Recognize anxious thoughts. When you are feeling anxious, stop and watch what thoughts have left you in that state.
  2. Learn to talk to your mind. After identifying the thought, do not take it as an absolute truth, talk to your mind about that thought. Is it a true thought? Is it a thought that helps me? Is it a thought about something I have control over?
  3. Learn to “let go” of those thoughts that increase anxiety. If it’s a thought that doesn’t fit with reality or that doesn’t help you make a decision, just let it go. Thank your mind, ask it to stop these thoughts and be distracted by something.
  4. Have patience and practice. Dealing with anxiety is a job that needs to be continuous, learning techniques and exercises in Cognitive-behavioral Therapyis an option. Just as in the gym we train looking for a physical result, in therapy we seek to practice learning how to deal with anxiety every day.

How to deal with an anxiety attack in 4 steps

Step 1: Accept your anxiety

It seems strange at first, but the more you are anxious to be anxious, the more you will despair about bodily symptoms, and this causes them to increase. Simply notice what reactions you are feeling. Understand that it is temporary and that at some point it will pass. Trust your mind and body. Follow the next steps.

Step 2: Sharpening the 5 senses

We interpret the world and perceive it through our 5 senses (touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing). Therefore, they are excellent allies at this time. Take the focus off the inside and focus on the outside. Look at the things around you and start naming them out loud. Hear the sounds. Identify smells. Drink water to stimulate the taste. Touch something and feel its texture. This is an exercise in mindfulness , because when we experience anxiety we can hardly keep our attention in the present moment .

Step 3: Perform diaphragmatic breathing

Breathe through the abdomen, inhaling the air through the nose counting to 4, holding the air in your lungs counting to 2 and releasing the air through the mouth counting to 6. This breathing activates the body’s relaxation system, reducing body sensations . Repeat until you feel your breath is no longer wheezing. It is essential that this practice also occurs on a daily basis, to prevent possible Anxiety crises caused by shortness of breath.

Step 4: Question your thoughts

Identify what thoughts are going through your head that may be increasing your anxiety. For example: “I’m going to have a heart attack”, “I’m going to go crazy”, “What are people thinking about me?” Question these thoughts, that is, see if they are true or not according to the facts of reality . If you have anxiety attacks it is important that you have cardiac exams, if you are healthy know that you will not have a heart attack because of a crisis, this is a myth.

3 steps to help someone in an anxiety crisis

  • Step 1 – Comfort the person. Stay close to her and say phrases like: “I’m here with you”, “I know that the sensations are uncomfortable but they are not dangerous”, “nothing serious will happen to you”, “I know it is difficult now but you will get through this and I will be here together ” .
  • Step 2 – Help her to look around. In a crisis the person is concentrated and terrified by his bodily sensations. Help her to look around and see other things. This helps to take the focus off bodily sensations and frightening thoughts.
  • Step 3 – Be kind during all these steps. Don’t judge the person because he feels this way, just help him calm down. Just offer your presence.

I tell my patients that after they learn to control bodily symptoms, then the deeper work begins. We need to identify where this anxiety is coming from, we need to make a transformation through cognitive restructuring.

Anxiety did not come into your life by accident. Something was not going well, you felt threatened physically or morally and the anxiety manifested itself. So stop and reflect, what is not cool in your life that is causing your anxiety to increase and this is causing your bodily symptoms?


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