Handling anxiety attacks | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 16, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 16, 2019

Handling anxiety attacks

Anxiety attacks can be a frightening experience which can leave a person frantic and terrified. It could be triggered by numerous reasons, unique to each person and their own lifestyles and worries, but the one thing that remains constant is the fear that one experiences when it hits. In order to handle these attacks, one has to properly diagnose it first, which means we have to find out what the symptoms can be.

Now, these symptoms are a vague description of what can be happening to a person since everyone feels a different version of it and on different scales. However, they give us a rough idea of when we can term a behaviour as an anxiety or panic attack. Both physical and emotional symptoms can occur simultaneously during an attack, leaving a person even more frightened.

Physical symptoms include:

• Palpitations, increased heart rate, chest pain or discomfort in your chest.

• Excessive sweating

• Experiencing shortness of breath

• Shaking or trembling, feeling disoriented.

• Nausea and dizziness, leading to near fainting in extreme cases.

• Experiencing sudden temperature changes in the body such as heat sensations or a chill.

Emotional symptoms include:

• Worrying too much

• Fear of losing control, going crazy or dying.

Panic attacks do not normally last for more than a few minutes, but in some cases, it can last up to half an hour.


Once you can recognise your own symptoms, you are in control. The first step to confrontation is acceptance. Reminding yourself that the breathlessness is not a disease, but a temporary attack which will eventually pass lets you steer your emotions your way, and lets you know that you will be OK. Focus on your past attacks and remember how they simply passed by without inflicting harm. The easier you see it, the quicker it will pass, and eventually, will stop showing up all together.


One of the common occurrences during a panic attack is irregular breathing, which elevates one’s anxiety further. Practicing a few breathing exercises can help one get over and cope with this issue during an attack. The idea is to breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose so the lungs fill up slow and steady, and breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through the mouth. Counting and keeping the eyes closed while breathing is also helpful and lets you calm down faster.

Panic attacks are always uncalled for, so if you happen to be in a busy environment which feeds your anxiety, close your eyes to block out all outside stimuli, and then practice your breathing exercises.


Focusing on a single object during an attack can sometimes help one calm down. Try to pick out a single object around you, and start to note all the details about it. From the different fonts on a book cover to its thickness, the torn corners, or how the clock ticks, the details on the back, how the hands are structured. Focus on the colours, shapes, sizes and every minute detail as this channels your energy onto the object and draws it away from your anxiety.


Muscle relaxation helps to control the body’s response to an extent, in turn, controlling panic attack symptoms. Focus on relaxing one muscle at a time consciously. It can be the tip of the fingers, followed by the forearm, the shoulders and so on. This however requires a lot of practice for you to implement during an attack. If you are prone to attacks, practice this before bed every night, since it also allows better sleep.


This is a common sentence that you have probably heard a hundred times. But the reason why it is so talked about is because it works. Picturing your happy place is like your mind telling you that you are okay, which, slowly but surely, stops a panic attack.

Think of the most relaxing and calm atmosphere you can think of which makes you happy; be it a serene bamboo forest, a sunny beach with your toes inside the warm sand, a cabin amongst the clouds on a mountaintop or a waterfall with the breath-taking sounds of water crashing down. Focus on the sounds, the temperature, the scents and the atmosphere, everything you can allow your mind to do. These help the mind relax, and aids in controlling and eliminating your panic attacks.


When you exercise, hormones called endorphins are released into the bloodstream, which are responsible for body relaxation and a better mood. The endorphins help to keep the blood pumping, which improves our mood and decreases chances of panic attacks with time. For starters, light exercise can be walking or swimming.

Brain exercises also help one cope when they are facing an anxiety attack. These include a lot of different actions, but simple and easy ones can also help when done in a step by step process.

First, look at five different objects and spend some time thinking about each. Second, listen to four different sounds, they can be faint bird noises in the background, or clear ones or both. Examine them as well. Thirdly, touch three different objects and feel the distinct textures and temperatures. Then try to identify two distinct scents around you, and see if they can trigger any memories. Lastly, taste one object. It is a good idea to keep some sort of food on you, be it candy or gum. These make use of almost all your senses, and lets you concentrate on numerous things, which help to calm the mind.


Lavender is widely known for its stress relieving properties. Having some lavender essential oil always on hand is a good idea for those who often get panic attacks. Rub some on your wrists or forearms and breathe in the scent when you feel like you might be experiencing an anxiety attack. When not in a rush, drinking chamomile or lavender tea have the same effects. Lavender however should not be combined with other medicines or balms, since some contain chemicals which can lead to unwanted reactions.


Anxiety attacks are sometimes a result of some specific triggers such as crowds or enclosed spaces or particular topics which make you worry like financial issues. Identifying these triggers, managing them, and finally learning to move past them is necessary. Although it is easier said than done, practice will make you better.

Limiting your stimuli is where you can start. Eliminate stimuli such as noises, sights or scents which make you uncomfortable. If you feel panicked in a crowd, go to a corner or face a wall, but overtime, try to overcome it because one cannot let go of the fear without facing it. Have friends accompany you to crowded or secluded areas, whichever makes you uneasy, so you will know that you have someone to help in case you feel anxious. After some practice, you will not feel the need for company anymore.


Having your own mantra ensures that you will be fine, even after an anxiety attack. Have your own phrase of encouragement, even if it is as simple as “This will pass” or “I am stronger,” and repeating it on a loop internally relaxes and reassures you of your strength and lets a panic attack subside.


Practice all the exercises, be it breathing, physical or mental, on a regular basis. Exercises like aerobics really help to relieve tension and stress, and boosts overall confidence. Plan a proper balanced diet which will stabilise the blood sugar levels, and do not miss your meals. Reduce and avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking, which tend to make panic attacks worse.


As a family member, friend or even bystander, if you see someone around you experiencing an anxiety attack, small actions like giving them space and remaining calm can help. You can help the person by suggesting or showing them the way to a quiet area. You can remind the person that attacks always go away and it will pass. Help them with control and count their breathing. However, avoid asking too many questions, do not get them more anxious or state any negative comments or tell them to calm down. If they insist on being alone, give them space, but make sure they are within an eyeshot.


Sometimes, panic attacks can escalate or occur too frequently, which can leave a person very disoriented. If an attack lasts more than half an hour, or if the symptoms are getting worse, or if it is inhibiting the person socially, one should seek medical help.

Panic or anxiety attacks can occur for numerous reasons, but the main point is that it will always pass, no matter how hard it gets during an attack. So be mindful, exercise and consult with your peers and doctors, because with the right actions, panic attacks will go away for good.


Photo: Collected

Disclaimer — People experience panic attacks in varied degrees. Anxiety disorder is among the most disabling mental illnesses. If someone is having recurring panic attack, s/he should immediately seek professional help.

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