Stopping Anxiety And Panic Attacks In Their Tracks

Stopping Anxiety And Panic Attacks In Their Tracks

Stopping Anxiety And Panic Attacks In Their Tracks

Everyone experiences anxiety, especially in stressful situations, but it usually goes away once an issue is resolved. However, chronic worrying and fear can worsen over time and lead to an anxiety disorder that interferes with a person’s daily living activities. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults ages 18 and older every year.

People have good reasons to feel anxious, according to Rene Gonzalez, a licensed psychotherapist in New York.

“There are a lot of things going on in the world and a lot of things going on in our backyards that are pretty scary,” Gonzalez explained on HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast. “So, I think some of the anxiety that’s been coming up makes a lot of sense and is very reasonable.”

One especially debilitating symptom of anxiety is catastrophizing, also known as spinning out of control. This crippling symptom of anxiety causes people to instantly assume the worst-case scenario will occur, even though they have no strong evidence to support or validate their belief.

On the podcast, Gonzalez described the approach he takes with his clients to help them with their catastrophic thinking. Gonzalez said he asks his clients, “What is the worst-case scenario in your mind?” because “sometimes just talking about it can desensitize people.” Gonzalez then asks, “Is that worst-case scenario actually the thing that’s going to happen?’” “Most of the time it’s not,” he said.

Gonzalez goes further and asks his clients to imagine what if their worst-case scenario happens.

“They might go into specifics about what that looks like, and then I would ask, ‘A week after this, how do you think you’re going to feel?’ and they’ll maybe say, ‘I’ll still feel pretty nervous.’ And then I’ll ask, ‘What about in a month? Or three months? Or six months? Or even a year?’ The vast majority of the time we get to a year and they say, ‘I won’t even be thinking about it at that point.’ I think it helps people understand this is something they’re going to pass through and that they’re going to survive, and that can deescalate people.”

Acute and Chronic Anxiety Symptoms

There are different types of anxiety and mental health professionals point to acute anxiety and chronic anxiety as the most common types. Acute anxiety, also known as a panic attack, can be caused by stress, a traumatic event, or intense fear that comes on suddenly. Some of the symptoms of acute anxiety, such as chest pain, tingly or numb hands, and rapid heart rate, can resemble a heart attack. Other physical symptoms that might occur include:

  • Chills
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Weakness or dizziness

Acute anxiety usually goes away when the situation that caused it goes away. Chronic anxiety, on the other hand, is a persistent feeling of anxiety, dread, or worry about a variety of everyday situations. This type of anxiety, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is a long-term problem that can interfere with personal relationships, work, school, and other daily activities.

Gonzalez said people diagnosed with GAD excessively worry over everyday, mundane things like, “How are my kids doing in school?” “Am I going to be able to handle this commute?” “Is there going to be lots of traffic? Am I going to be late for work?”

A GAD diagnosis is usually given when a person has symptoms for at least six months, Gonzalez said.

The Mayo Clinic reports that GAD symptoms vary and may include:

  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank.”

How To Manage or Stop Anxiety Attacks

Health professionals say there are different strategies available for managing anxiety attacks, including prescribing medication. But Gonzalez says that doctors must be careful with medication because “taking a substance can be a recipe for addiction.”

One TikTok user said her therapist told her to eat a Warhead, a brand of intensely sour candy, when she feels a panic attack coming on. Catherine Del Toro, a licensed mental health counselor in Florida, said there is “definitely truth and science” behind eating sour or spicy candy to ease anxiety and panic attacks.

“It’s a wonderful ‘therapy hack’ that is practical because you can carry a sour candy with you anywhere,” Del Toro told USA Today.

In a separate TikTok video that garnered 1.3 million views, user @giveintolove explained that sour candy distracts the brain by giving it something else to focus on since the brain can “only handle one emergency at a time.” Del Toro agreed, saying she keeps a jar of Warheads in her office for clients who feel a panic attack coming on.

“Panic ensues when our amygdala triggers the flight or fight response,” Del Toro told USA Today. “When eating something sour or spicy, you are promoting a grounding technique that encourages you to focus on the present moment, stops the spiral of fear and communicates to your brain that you are not in real danger, thereby allowing the panic attack to slow in intensity and eventually stop altogether.”

The Mayo Clinic reports that certain lifestyle changes can help with anxiety disorders. Some of these changes include:

  • Staying physically active to improve and maintain health
  • Using stress management and relaxation techniques, such as visualization, meditation, and yoga
  • Eating healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish which studies have linked to reducing anxiety
  • Making sleep a priority

The HuffPost podcasters also made a list of 282 “pleasurable activities,” available that can help reduce or eliminate stress and anxiety. Some of the activities include:

  • Doing housework or laundry
  • Doing volunteer work, working on community service projects
  • Gardening, landscaping, or doing yard work
  • Going on a picnic
  • Having lunch with friends and associates
  • Laughing
  • Listening to the sounds of nature
  • Making a new friend
  • Playing with pets
  • Singing in a group
  • Taking a long weekend
  • Talking about sports
  • Working with others as a team

While sour candy, lifestyle changes, positive activities, and self-care are effective strategies to stop anxiety, some people will require therapy from a qualified mental health professional, according to Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, a psychotherapist based in Tampa, Florida, with over 20 years of experience specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and narcissistic abuse.

“The issue is that that’s a good temporary treatment, but it’s important that the underlying cause of the panic attack is treated, whether that’s through therapy or medication or a combination of both,” Sarkis told USA Today.

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