Dealing with anxiety and panic attacks

As anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack knows, they can be extremely frightening. Symptoms like a racing heartbeat, chest pains and hyperventilating can make you feel as if you are really ill. It’s not uncommon for people with panic attacks to end up in A&E, worried they are having a heart attack or 'going crazy', only to be told it’s anxiety-related. 

If you suffer from anxiety and have experienced panic attacks in the past, remember that although they are extremely unpleasant, they are not physically harmful in any way. If you do feel another attack building, remind yourself of this – it can be helpful to write something like, ‘This is just anxiety, which cannot harm me. It may not feel very pleasant, but it won’t last long and I will soon feel better’ on a piece of card, so you can read it and reassure yourself when your thoughts are racing.

Hyperventilation - when you 'over-breathe', which makes you feel dizzy, nauseous and light-headed - is common in both anxiety and panic attacks. To counter this, breathe for a slow count of 1, 2, 3 in and out until you feel calmer (this can also really help whenever you feel anxious or upset). You may feel like you’re not getting enough air, but when you hyperventilate you’re actually getting too much oxygen, making you feel dizzy and lightheaded. Slow, deep breathing through the nose is the answer. And focus intently on something like the second hand on your watch, or count something like tins in a cupboard or fruit in a bowl – this will distract you from the anxious thoughts and feelings until they quieten down. 

If you are struggling with anxiety for any reason, it's also important to get some help and support. Don’t put on a brave face – sharing your concerns can really help. You may also need to talk to a counsellor or a life coach specialising in health and wellbeing, or get some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which is the most effective talking therapy for anxiety. Talk to your GP, who will be able to help. 

You should also cut out caffeine completely for a while, avoid fizzy drinks and sugary foods and drink alcohol in moderation. Regular cardiovascular exercise like jogging, cycling, spin classes or Zumba will all help you feel less anxious. Find relaxing exercise you enjoy such as yoga, tai chi or swimming and pamper yourself with massage, aromatherapy or other soothing treatments – these all stimulate the ‘relaxation response’, which will make you feel calmer and less anxious. 

Finally,remember that anxiety is extremely common (along with depression, it's the most common form of mental distress), so don’t feel embarrassed about asking for help. Be kind to yourself, use these simple strategies to reduce your anxiety and take it one step at a time – you should start to feel better very soon.

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