The other day I woke up at 3:30 AM with a full-blown anxiety attack. 3...frickin'...30 AM with overwhelming panic, heart palpitations, and feeling as though I would pass out at any minute.
I had multiple, unsubstantiated worries of dread racing through my mind keeping me from my beauty sleep. Thoughts of school, business, health, worrying about my child going outside and getting snatched up, cooking dinner... just everything from one end of the spectrum to the next the entire day. 😫
But if you know anything about me, you know I'm going to do all I can to knock out my daily goals. I pushed through the day by incorporating anxiety management skills I've learned over the years. It took me longer than normal to get through my day but ya girl made it and the anxiety subsided!
Whew, when I say you never know what lies behind someone's smile. That's the truth! The chaos is closer than we think if we're not mindful of how to be proactive and cope with mental health issues.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
According to the Mayo Clinic, experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the United States. It is the most common group of mental illnesses in the country. However, only 36.9 percent of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
That means nearly 15 million people are living life with an untreated and undiagnosed anxiety disorder, with women being twice as likely to be affected. Why is this such a big deal? Because most of these disorders begin in childhood. That's shocking and more of a reason why to learning anxiety management is essential to your mental health wellness.
I don't know your status (diagnosed vs. undiagnosed, medicate vs. non-medicated, therapy vs. no therapy) but knowing how to manage your anxiety will make your days better and more productive.
Here are my four favorite coping skills that I use to bring my anxiety attacks under control so I can still have a productive day.
1. BREATHE. One of the things we often forget to control when we are anxious or having an anxiety attack is how to effectively control our breathing. Let me hip you to game real quick about your breathing. Breathing is a natural detoxing mechanism for our body as well as being central to how our nervous system will respond. There are TWO types of response our nervous system engages in: fight or flight or rest and digest. Can you guess which response is activated when you're anxious? You guessed... the fight or flight response. This type of response naturally increases our breathing, our blood pressure, and our body prepares to deal with the challenge.
Side Note: Isn't that amazing? Your body automatically prepares you for the "fight." So even when you're not ready for the challenge, you're ready for the challenge.
But during these anxiety attacks, we're not trying to fight, so to deactivate that response we must activate the second response of our nervous system which is called the 'rest and digest' response; this will help us to CALM down. By using slow and methodical EXHALES, this practice sends a signal back to our brain that everything has calmed down and is more peaceful (even if the environment says otherwise). In return, our brain shifts our nervous system from fight or flight to rest and digest.
Contrary to belief, a slow inhale, hold your breath and slow exhale does NOT shift your nervous system from fight or flight to rest and digest. It extends the fight and flight response because you are essentially restricting your breathing in the same manner as it would naturally do with rapid breathing caused by anxiety.
SO how can you de-escalate your anxiety attack? Try this quick breathing exercise:
Take one FAST and deep breath in through your nose and immediately exhale out your mouth SLOWLY while counting to eight (8). As you inhale deeply you should concentrate on feeling the air pass down your trachea and into your lungs. By the fourth (4th) breath you will notice your breathing will naturally start to slow down and become more fluid as the body relaxes.
Now DON'T MISS THIS. FAST breath in through the nose and then a SLOW breath out through the mouth.
QUICK TIP: Anxiety attack or not, I do my breathing techniques every day. In the morning and at night.
2. Take a Break. Yes. Stop what you're doing, get up and change your surroundings for the moment. One thing I'm heavy on is protecting my peace, and sometimes that means changing my environment to do so. Now let's be practical, a permanent change may not always be an option for most but finding a way to be at peace is always a possibility for all.
Take a break, physically and mentally. Get up and go for a walk during your break. Clear your headspace and allow your body the opportunity to move and to push out the negative energy.
3. Go get THE TEA...real Tea. I love sipping on Chamomile tea specifically when I am experiencing anxiety. Chamomile is a natural herb with medicinal properties that have been used to soothe multiple ailments within the body. In tea form, it is frequently used as a mild sedative to calm nerves and reduce anxiety. In normal circumstances, chamomile does make you sleepy. From my personal experience, it has never made me sleepy while having an anxiety attack. It gently reduces my anxiety, so I can continue with my day. Now outside of an anxiety attack, it makes me sleepy!
4. Identify the stressor & Elevate your thoughts with positivity. Experiencing an anxiety attack not only overloads our sensory system, but our minds are also overwhelmed with dreadful thoughts coming at us from all angles. Some of these thoughts are rational but most exaggerated and irrational when put in context.
So how do you weed out which thoughts are valid or invalid?
Identify the last issue or situation that caused you to worry or invoked fear right before your attack. What did it entail? Then work backwards from there to out the irrational thought and work through the rational thoughts with optimism coupled with positive action.
Listen Sis, you got this! Anxiety can spiral out of control quick fast and in a hurry, but the moment you realize what is going on you can start taking back control of your emotions, your thoughts, and your actions.
Apply these four simple ways to cope with anxiety throughout the day and let me know in the comments which one helped you the most.
About the Author
Danielle Parks is a freelance writer, published author, and speaker who enjoys advocating for Mental Health Awareness & Wellness among Black and Brown women, Period Poverty Awareness, and being a mom to her amazing daughter and cat.
Let's Connect! Follow me on:
Gupta, Sanjay. “Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine of the Past with a Bright Future (Review).” Molecular Medicine Reports 3, no. 6 (September 28, 2010). https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Anxiety Disorders - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic. , May 4, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961.
Neese, Ashley. HOW to BREATHE : 25 Breathwork Practices for Connection, Joy, and Resilience. Ten Speed Press, 2019.