Throughout my years as a therapist I have come to realize that aside from genetics, depression and anxiety are at the root of most mental health diagnosis. We all live with certain levels of depression and anxiety and we all have different tolerances to these symptoms. It is only when the symptoms go beyond what we can tolerate and cause problems in our day to day functioning that it is technically diagnosable. Regardless of whether or not your symptoms warrant a diagnosis is really irrelevant when you are thinking about treating them. I have found that the best way to treat almost any symptoms is to get ahead of them. Do not wait until your next anxiety attack to get help or start working on your anxiety. Be proactive and it will pay off the next time you are confronted by a huge deliverable, final exams or tax season.
In order to treat anxiety attack symptoms, you must know what these symptoms are and how they will manifest. According to DSM-5, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:
Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
A feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
Fear of losing control or going crazy
Fear of dying
Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
Chills or hot flushes
The presence of fewer than four of the above symptoms may be considered a limited-symptom panic attack.
Panic attacks are actually symptoms of an underlying Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder based primarily on the occurrence of panic attacks, which are recurrent and often unexpected.
In addition, at least one attack is followed by one month or more of the person fearing that they will have more attacks. This causes them to change their behavior, which often includes avoiding situations that might induce an attack.
It's important to note that a panic disorder diagnosis must rule out other potential causes for the panic attack or what feels like one.
The attacks are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as drug use or a medication) or a general medical condition.
The attacks are not better accounted for by another mental disorder. These may include a social phobia or another specific phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or separation anxiety disorder.
Now that you know what anxiety attack symptoms are and where they come from hopefully you have a better understanding as to what you are going through and that it is more common than you think. At least 6 million Americans suffer from Panic Attack and Panic Disorder. Panic disorder typically affects individuals when they’re in their 20s but is also seen in young children, adolescents, and older adults.
Here, some strategies that you may want to practice on a regular basis and if you feel anxiety attack symptoms coming on:
1) Deep breathing: Relaxing your body can help sidestep a panic attack. Practice breathing in through your nose for a count of five, hold it for five and then breathe out through mouth for a count of five. Or take a class in meditation and breathing technique.
2) If you suddenly feel your heart pounding or experience other physical clues that a panic attack is barreling for you, try using distraction. One technique is to start counting backward from 100 by 3s. The act of counting at random intervals helps you to focus and override the anxious thoughts that are trying to sneak into your psyche. Another strategy is to keep loose change in your pocket. Add a dime to a nickel, then add two pennies and so on. By controlling your thoughts and focusing on something outside yourself you will being to feel calmer.
3) Grounding yourself is another helpful technique. Tune yourself into 4 things around you that you can see, 3 things you can touch, 2 that you smell and 1 you can taste. Again, forcing your mind to consider something outside yourself helps.
4) Using tactile distractors, such as holding an ice cube (or multiple ice cubes) can also be effective. You would hold an ice cube(s) in your hand for as long as you can. Then, place it in the other hand. This helps to divert attention away from your anxiety attack symptoms and focuses your mind on the discomfort, de-escalating your symptoms.
5) A lot of clients find dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) helpful. DBT places an emphasis on mindfulness and other strategies to help clients manage their emotional states. Mindfulness practices are especially helpful when it comes to anxiety. They tend to focus on staying in the moment which works well for anxiety because most anxiety is based on unknown and uncontrollable factors.