What should I do when anxiety attacks?

Let’s say something bad happens, i instantly get hot all over and frustrated, sad and ready to cry. Followed by unable to breathe and tons of negative thoughts.
Asked by Hoang

Dear Hoang,

I am so glad that you are asking for help with this emotional distress in your life.  It has to be so frustrating and it takes over your life when you are feeling this depth of emotion in your life.  It makes sense that you want to move away from these intense emotions.  And it is so good to reach out and ask questions and seek out the help and support that you need to move towards more emotional health and wellness.  

I am going to provide a few things today in this answer.  I hope that this information is helpful and gives you a few steps to take forward towards health and healing in this season and leading into the next season of your life.

First of all, I want to validate that anxiety is a very physical feeling.  Anxiety is most often described as a physical feeling that is shown and felt in the body.  So when you describe your anxiety in the struggle physically, it makes sense that that is your experience.  And because of that, we are going to talk, a bit later in this answer, that we need to address the physical healing and moving forward for you to move forward.  I want you to know that anxiety is very physical and you will need to learn and utilize some physical calming actions to help with the emotions connected to anxiety.  

Secondly, our anxiety comes from somewhere.  I wonder if you have any idea why you have a strong reaction when bad things happen.  When we have bad things happen in our lives and they are still wounds that we carry, our body will often then have deep emotional reactions to other bad things that happen in life.  I wonder what bad things have happened in your life that still bring about emotions when you think about them?  What experiences still bring up emotions, pain, struggle, and challenge in your mind and body?  As you think about those things, it is going to be very important that you honestly talk about these parts of your story that bring about struggle.  This is a very important part of the healing and forward movement.  Who in your life can you talk with honestly about the hard experiences from the past?  Some people don't feel safe or that they want to talk with their friends or family about their past wounds, so they find great solace in turning to a therapist to help them navigate the realities of their past wounds and present emotional struggles.  I encourage you to seek out and open up honestly about what things in the past are still emotional reactions in the present day.  Seek to talk about your story and be honest about the experience and emotions then and now.  Seek to be heard and seen amid your story.  

Third, one part of dealing well with anxiety is knowing that it will happen again.  Sometimes we try to avoid anxiety by mentally tricking ourselves into believing that it won't happen or just avoiding the reality that we will have to deal with it again.  So I want to encourage you to be honest with yourself that you will have this anxiety again.  Be honest with those around you that you will get hit with this emotion again.  And because of that, you need to talk about and build coping and calming skills that will help you to move through the emotions for the next time and the next time and the next time ... 

And that leads to building coping and calming skills.  I wonder, what do you do now when you get hit with these emotions and body sensations when something bad happen?  What do you say?  What do you do?  And do these things help you move through these times?  Do these things make it harder for you to move forward?  I want you to think about this and see what you come up with.  It is important to see what you are doing now and then seek to move towards building skills that work well for your emotions and thoughts.  So take some time to write about and talk about what you are doing right now when you get hit with this emotion.  Do you say anything to yourself?  Do you say anything to others?  What do you do in action?  What do you not do in action?  And what of those things are helpful or not?

Next we are going to talk about what you can do to help yourself.  As I referred at the beginning of this answer, we need to talk about and build coping skills that are going to target calming the body.  Anxiety is felt in the body and so calming skills have to be based on calming the body.  

Have you ever heard about or preacticed deep breathing?  Deep breathing is something that is taught for anxiety because it tells our body to calm itself down.  I encourage you to catch when you are moving into this anxiety, then seek to take deep breaths.  Make sure that you breathe in a way that moves your belly outwards.  When your belly is moving outwards, then it is also moving inwards and hitting the nerve on the inside of your spinal column and that sends a signal to your brain to calm down.  That is very important part of deep breathing.  You had written that you feel you are unable to breathe.  I would encourage you to notice what it is that is happening in your body that makes it feel like you can't breathe.  What is happening in your breath, in your lungs, in your body that makes it feel like you can't breathe?  Notice that and seek to give yourself as much breathe as you can in that moment. 

I also would encourage you to seek to spend time crying when you are not anxious.  Many folks that I work with that struggle with anxiety, do not allow themselves to cry on a regular basis, and then when they are anxious, then their bodies are very quick to cry.  I wonder if it would be wise to make space to cry about things that are emotional in your life in the past or present.  

Another skill that you can apply in the moment is pressure points.  Here is an article that talks about pressure points that are connected to anxiety.  See which ones feel like they work the best for you. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/6-pressure-points-for-anxiety#pressure-points-for-anxiety

Another skill that I want you to try is to leave the situation and allow yourself to cry and express whatever it is that is going on for you.  Seek to allow yourself to feel what is going on for you in that moment.  Communicate this with someone safe and be really honest about what is going on for you.  

Another skill that can be helpful for anxiety is moving our bodies.  This can look like taking a brisk walk, stretching our bodies, seek to move in a way that is connected to the energy in your body.  This can be in the moment but it is also been found that people who have anxiety, seeking to be consistent with movement is helpful for anxiety overall. 

Lastly, I want to say one more thing.  It is important to know that those reactions in your body are because your body is trying to tell you something.  And many times we have to dig into the past in order to move through the present.  So know that you can build many good skills and feel very good about moving through these anxious times and it may be very important to go to what bad thing(s) that have happened for you that has brought about these feelings too.  Know that you can build very helpful and calming actions for yourself and that it is also important to get to the root of what is going on too.  

I wish you the best of luck!