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If you’re a person with anxiety, an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder, you’ve likely felt those anxious feelings coming on strong in the past. Often, it can feel like anxiety comes on at the most inconvenient times, leaving us wondering helplessly how to reduce anxiety in the moment — often, while we’re already in the moment.
Reducing anxiety while it’s happening is a major challenge even for the most learned and experienced anxiety sufferers, and it takes practice and time to come close to mastering. But mastering it is possible with the right tools and techniques at hand.
Whether you found your way to this page in the midst of an anxiety attack or you’ve simply had it with good times being ruined by that tightness in your chest, you’ve taken the hard first step of starting to look for help.
We can help you learn how to kneecap that pesky panicked feeling when it’s hitting, but in order to give you the tools you need, first, you need the most powerful tool of all: knowledge.
It’s important to know thy enemy, and since your enemy is anxiety itself, let’s start with some basics about why your anxiety flares up.
Anxiety is a mental health disorder most simply characterized as a fear response to uncertainty or unclear dangers in the future. Worry is normal from time to time, and fear (like the kind you experience when a car almost hits you crossing a street) is healthy and useful for our survival.
But when anxiety becomes disordered, it begins to disproportionately take your time, attention and energy. And in doing so, it can reduce your happiness and quality of life. When that happens, the switch flips from “normal” anxiety to an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can make us feel a lot of things — from a tight chest and rapid heartbeat, to fatigue, and can make it hard for us to sleep, focus or relax.
As any person with anxiety will tell you, some days are better than others, and some hours are better than others.
Anxiety can spike or subside, increase or stabilize, and while external factors like caffeine intake or that upcoming deadline can affect how anxious you are, sometimes, anxiety spikes for no reason.
After all, anxiety isn’t really based on a real threat — it’s a response to an imagined, perceived or theoretical threat that may or may not become a reality.
Anxiety can absolutely be reduced in the moment and, at least, in the case of more severe attacks, you should prepare to do just that.
Research shows that letting panic attacks go can be dangerous to your cardiovascular system (we’re talking heart palpitations here) and can be even more serious for people with asthma and hypertension.
In other words, while the danger you perceive while panicking probably isn’t real, the danger of being in a panic attack can cause serious risks to your health.
Research has shown that breathing techniques can reduce those dangers and also the panic systems, but in our opinion, you’re best armed with more than deep breathing techniques to master your anxiety when it pops up.
So what should you do when you’re feeling increased anxiety? If your anxiety spikes or panic sets in, there are some things experts recommend you try to remember that can help get you out of your anxiety loop more quickly.
Having a calming phrase to repeat to yourself can be beneficial in reminding you that you’re safe and everything is okay. Here’s something convenient: the mantra can be as simple as “you are okay” and do what you need it to.
We mentioned breathing already, but when your breathing speeds up during panic, focusing your body on continuing breathing and breathing regularly can remind your central nervous system that you are not, in fact, in danger, and snap you out of your panic loop more quickly.
Anxiety and panic can seem like they dominate your mind, so it might be a surprise to hear one way of reducing anxiety is to simply try and forget about it.
Some music, a walk or run, talking with a friend or watching TV can all help re-regulate you.
Relaxation techniques don’t always need to involve mantras or breathing.
A little “you time” with your favorite hobby or relaxing in your preferred way can do the same for your mind that it does for your body: lower stress levels.
We know that “stop doing it,” is a terrible way to respond to someone’s anxiety, but have you ever just, like, tried to stop?
Taking control of the spiral and questioning whether it’s necessary may not lead to a full reduction in anxiety, but most of the time, your panic is overblown and even realizing that it’s possible you’re overreacting can stop the whole production mid-scene.
Treating anxiety may immediately be about snapping out of an anxious spiral, but chances are that you’d like a way to reduce the number of spirals altogether, right? We figured.
Anxiety is best treated by one or two of three things, or a combination of them: medication, therapy and lifestyle changes.
This can look very different from person to person, in part because everyone is different (and everyone’s anxiety is different, for that matter).
Therapy.Therapy might look like cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a type of therapy designed to help people change their previous thinking patterns about certain anxiety-provoking situations into more appropriate behaviors and responses. Therapy and medication are used together in some circumstances and have been proven very effective.
Medication. Medication can also be a solo endeavor. These days, the go-to medications for anxiety are antidepressants, which work on neurotransmitter supplies to help even out your moods. They’re used for depression, of course, but many antidepressant medications have also proven effective for anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder.
Lifestyle. Lifestyle choices like cutting down on caffeine, getting better sleep, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise beyond those breathing and mindfulness exercises. Therapy may help the mind and medication may help the brain, but you have a lot of other body parts left that can and will contribute to mental health issues if they’re neglected.
Questions? We’re guessing so. That’s why the first treatment step is always the same, for everyone: get help.
Treating anxiety in the moment is an essential goal if an anxiety disorder has reduced your quality of life. If the spikes in anxiety you’re experiencing have gotten worse or more frequent, it means that you’re in need of help to get them back under control.
Make no mistake: the first step in your treatment journey is finding a professional you can trust, who can help you tailor a unique treatment plan to your needs and symptoms of anxiety.
If you’re not sure where to start the search for this mental health professional. Consider starting with us. We have resources on how to find the right therapist, but we also offer online therapy through our mental health platform. It might be a convenient and simple way for you to talk to a mental health care provider quickly.
Whether you go with us or another provider, take the steps today not just to reduce your anxiety, but to begin banishing it from your daily life entirely — for this moment and the rest to come.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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