Anxiety attacks or sudden episodes of intense panic and fear can be deeply distressing. Heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and ruminative thoughts of impending doom are all common symptoms that can make anxiety attacks feel unbearable at the moment.
Learning constructive ways to self-soothe and bring your body back to equilibrium is key to reducing anxiety severity. When equipped with effective coping techniques, you can better endure the uncomfortable symptoms knowing that the intensity will soon subside.
Below we cover 5 evidence-based strategies to calm anxiety attack distress until the acute feelings pass. With mindful practice, you can get through the worst mental and physical manifestations using these tools for centered grounding. Over time as resilience strengthens, attacks tend to decrease in frequency and duration as well.
Identifying Anxiety Attack Symptoms
Anxiety attacks often seem to strike suddenly and intensely, but there are usually several early signs and symptoms that start emerging leading up to full-blown panic. Recognizing the initial clues that an attack is brewing allows quicker use of coping techniques before it reaches peak intensity.
Common initial symptoms include:
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Sweating and chills
- Muscle tension, especially in the shoulders/neck
- Intrusive worries something catastrophic is imminent
As the attack intensifies, additional symptoms usually pile on like:
- Chest tightness or sharp pains
- Tingling and numbness in fingers or toes
- Trembling, shaking, or feeling dizzy
- Nausea, abdominal cramping or loose stools
- Headaches, hot flashes, or chills
- Hyperventilating and gasping for air
- Feeling detached from reality or fearful of losing control
Noticing the early signs like agitation, faster pulse, or stomach tightening provides critical minutes to start using coping techniques even before symptoms crescendo into full panic mode. Over time, identifying your personal patterns helps anticipate attacks before they disrupt work, school, or relationships.
If anxiety symptoms persist despite self-help efforts, seeking professional anxiety treatment from a therapist or psychiatrist often provides needed relief through counseling, medications or brain-based treatments. Over time, effective anxiety management leads to fewer and shorter attacks.
5 Ways to Calm Anxiety Attack
Focused Deep Breathing
When anxiety overwhelms us, breath often becomes rapid and shallow escalating fearful thoughts and sensations. Deliberately slowing down your breath signals safety to the brain and eases the nervous system back to balance.
Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Inhale gently through your nose envisioning cool air flowing in, causing your belly to expand out while keeping your shoulders relaxed. Silently count 4 seconds. Exhale slowly for 6 seconds through slightly pursed lips, feeling your stomach sinking back in. Repeat for a few minutes until breathing normalizes and panic sensations start subsiding.
You can count slower or quicker based on personal comfort. This pattern of breathing into the belly calms the body efficiently until temporary crisis mode shuts off. Apps like Breathwrk provide great visual guidance. With consistent practice, deep breathing becomes second nature whenever anxiety rears up.
Grounding Using the 5 Senses
Tuning into sensory details in the present brings anxious brains back to reality, helping ride out overwhelming ‘fight or flight’ reactions. Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Describe each sensory experience out loud or silently to yourself in detail.
For example: “I see a wooden bookshelf filled with colorful books. I feel my toes touching the soft carpet and the watchband brushing my wrist. I hear the AC humming and a siren far away. I smell the orange-scented candle burning and coffee brewing. I taste peppermint gum in my mouth.”
Engaging multiple senses interrupts the brain’s catastrophic narrative with objective data about your safety in the here and now. Anxiety levels drop their hold as you grow more present in your actual surroundings.
Press Feet Firmly Into The Floor
A super simple but effective physical self-soothing tactic involves standing with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, then pressing your weight strongly down through your feet so they root firmly to the floor without actually moving your body. Simultaneously, clench then release fists a few times briskly. Feel the tension release sharply up your arms.
These actions trigger subtle neurological signals that danger has passed, allowing muscles to start unwinding anxiety’s chronic tightness due to ‘fight or flight’ hormones. Repeat a minute whenever anxiety flares up unexpectedly – in line at stores, before meetings, during family events, etc. to rapidly ride the intensity. As an added bonus, this standing posture also aids mental focus and confidence indirectly too!
Hold Ice Cubes
If anxiety manifests strongly physically through chest tightness and tingling numbness in fingers or toes from hyperventilating, firmly holding an ice cube or splashing very cold water on one’s face/hands helps short-circuit the stress response temporarily through mild shock until internal equilibrium returns.
The sudden chill focuses attention instantly away from the panic attack to regain control inwardly. The cube also gives hands something constructive to hold, rather than fidget uncontrollably. Alternate between 10 seconds holding ice tightly in each palm until the urgent crisis feelings peak then fade away. This sensory input shift works fast to reduce attack duration.
54321 Grounding Method
When troubling thoughts and panic flare without evident external triggers, this Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) inspired method helps refocus racing minds through purposeful sensory observation underscored by mindful slow breathing from the belly:
- Name 5 things you see in the environment
- Identify 4 things you can physically feel (clothes touching skin, feet on the floor, etc.)
- Listen for 3 distinct ambient sounds around you (AC humming, vehicles honking, etc.)
- Say 2 specific smells you notice (coffee, grass, etc.)
- State 1 specific taste sensation present (chewing gum, lunch remnants, etc.)
Like tai chi slowing movements down, this gradual external tuning drops anxiety levels proportionally so your transition from trembling distress to steadier composure. Lifting eyes outward reduces self-focused rumination while factual sensations occupy worrisome thoughts with calmer observations.
Mastering portable, discreet techniques you can practice privately anywhere builds confidence and resilience. Anxiety need not overpower daily functioning when you know constructive ways to mitigate unpleasant symptoms skillfully at the moment while they run their course. Over time, frequent panic attacks tend to diminish and lose intensity as well.
Anxiety is deeply personal, making coping tactics also highly individual. Having a diverse toolkit to pull from is invaluable since particular techniques may suit certain episodes better based on available privacy, social setting, attack triggers, and predominant physical/mental symptoms.
The core aim is to interrupt panic by channeling the mind and body from turbulent reactions to calmer responses that signal safety until the acute feelings pass. With caring consistency helping yourself through terrifying episodes via the above strategies or related ones, anxiety loses its overwhelming grip gradually.
While medication can sometimes help prevent chronic anxiety too, self-soothing skills give you ultimate freedom and confidence to endure the rocky phases. Adaptively navigating challenges bolsters self-trust to break detrimental avoidance habits once and for all. You’ve got this!