By William Schroeder, LPC
When I talk to clients about anxiety, I often hear stories of people feeling like they are drowning in anxiety. When you feel this way, it’s hard not to want to never feel this way again but anxiety is actually a healthy thing. Kevin Fall, PhD, once described anxiety being like fire for when you are cooking. A little is good but too much and it burns things quickly. Below is an interesting short video on the science behind what happens in our body when people get nervous.
What’s the difference between being nervous and having anxiety?
Nervousness is a normal state that affects all of us when something threatens our system. This could be a job interview, performing on stage, or giving a speech. When your nervousness becomes irrational, feels overpowering, and possibly even prevents you from participating in everyday life situations, then you may be experiencing anxiety.
What to do when you feel anxious?
One of the most important parts of nervous anxiety is to try and understand the sources. The analogy I will use is one of a two liter Coke on a car ride home. If you open up your Coke when you get home and it spews over, you would likely think about the pothole you hit on the way home, the sudden stops, etc. Our body can be very similar to this as we pressurize too from different events that jolt us over the day. In the moment, they may not seem like much, but that pressure can build. This varies a lot from person to person but there tend to be micro and macro triggers behind our stressors and the first step tends to be identifying them if we haven’t already. Journaling, tools like Optimism Online, and even an Apple Watch (keeping track of your pulse) can help you with this process.
The second step involves a process of grounding yourself as anxiety comes up. Breathing exercises can be very helpful and so can exercise. Below are a few that might be helpful to you:
- 5-2-5 Count: Using your stomach, inhale for a count of 5 seconds. Then, at your maximal point of inhalation (the point where you feel you can’t breathe in any more) hold your breath for a count of 2 seconds. Then, exhale all the built up air over another count of 5 seconds. This cycle should be repeated twice, followed by 5 cycles of breathing normally. The overall point of this exercise, and why it’s proven to be effective as panic attack treatment, is because it focuses the person on breathing – and the process that pertains to it –instead of focusing on the intense fear and anxiety caused by the panic attack.
- Physical Exercise: Although this isn’t directly a breathing exercise, it is one of the best methods of panic attack treatment. Doctors suggest working out 30 minutes a day will reduce the onset of panic attacks. It’s more of a natural habit (like sleeping and eating healthy) that tends to lead to a healthier and more ordered mind.
Counseling can get into the deeper underlying issues. I see this a lot with people going through stress, PTSD, and transition in their lives. This could be do to a divorce or things that they aren’t even aware of on a conscious level like being unhappy with a job not realizing it till they have symptoms of the stress manifesting through things like panic attacks. Counseling can dig deeper down into these issues and help lead to insights which will reduce stain and implement improved coping mechanisms. If you choose to try counseling, I suggest you sample several counselors and see who feels like the right fit for you. If you don’t feel like it is the right fit, you aren’t going to do good work.
Medication can be a piece of the puzzle for successful treatment but many times it will only treat the symptom and not the problem. Many doctors will prescribe things like Xanax for panic attacks but people can become addicted to drugs in the class very easily and it is very short acting. For anyone struggling with panic attacks I would suggest they consult with a well reviewed psychiatrist for a medical evaluation. General practitioners like your family doctor are not as experienced in issues like this and may miss things or misdiagnose what may be obvious to a psychiatrist.
If you have any specific questions that we may be able to help with, don’t hesitate to let us know! You can contact us to make a counseling appointment and check out anxiety counseling for more information. Want to read more about anxiety? Read some of our articles on how to manage anxiety and stress:
- Stewart Smalley Had it Right All Along. Positive Thinking is Power
- Don’t Let the Future Hold You Back From The Your Moment
- Back to School Blues and Stress Relief for Adults
- The Beauty of Self Acceptance
- Quit Camping in Your Comfort Zone: 30 Days to Shake Things Up
- The Courage to Be Imperfect-Part I: The Relationship Between Fear and Perfectionism