4 ways to stop an anxiety attack

I’ve had a particularly interesting internal debate – well, interesting to me, anyway – about which is worse, depression or anxiety.  I’ve repeatedly come to the conclusion that, at least with the way I have both, I’d rather have depression than anxiety.  Don’t get me wrong – both suck something fierce.  That being said, with depression, if it isn’t too severe, you can still function.  Anxiety, and particularly anxiety attacks makes doing basic tasks next to impossible.

College was the worst for me in that regards.  I would have periodic anxiety attacks, usually brought on by a particular situation.  I developed fears of set events – travelling in buses or planes, for example – that caused me to avoid travelling in general.  Therapy and medication helped get me through, but I still remember how traumatic those events were.  I remember not being able to travel on a bus with my coworkers because I was so, so scared of having an anxiety attack.  Or having a major one while traveling for work that almost caused me to run off of a plane.

Learning how to control my anxiety is what got me through those dark times, and learning how to stop an anxiety attack before it started – or at least how to stop one once it was underway – was immeasurably helpful.  Learning these skills gave me the confidence that I needed to believe that I could survive the worst anxiety attack, and that taught me how to live again.

With that, here’s a few techniques that I’ve successfully used in order to try and head off an anxiety attack before it started, and cool one down when it began.

Oh, and standard disclaimer: I’m not a Doctor or professional. I’m a guy with a blog.  Don’t let my random thoughts stop you from seeking professional, medical advice!

1) Pick a number.  Count to seven.  And keep going.  One of the things I found when I was at my worst was that the brain desperately needed a distraction.  I believe it was a therapist who first made this suggestion to me: Pick a task and run with it.  Pick a random number – 136.  Add 7.  And keep going.  This will, hopefully, distract your brain enough to stop the anxiety attack in its tracks.

2) Breathing Exercises.  There are a ton of variations on this, and there is also ample evidence that anxiety and depression can be ameliorated in the long run with proper breathing techniques.  When I was younger, I found this to be particularly effective, particularly when I first started suffering from anxiety attacks.  I would literally sit there in 8th grade homeroom and say to myself, “There is nothing else but your breath.  Take a deep breath.  Fill your chest as much as possible.  In through your nose and out through your mouth.”

For a more formal exercise, click here.

3) Pick an object.  Any object.  This is related to the first technique.  Getting yourself out of an anxiety attack often means changing the way that you are thinking in order to stop yourself from cycling through panic.  To that end, find an object.  It can be simple or complex.  Stare at that object.  Get lost in it’s texture and colors.  How does it look?  What does it do?  Is it moving?  What are it’s colors?  Rough or smooth? Ask yourself simple questions, and then allow those questions to become more complex.  Remember, the goal here is to get your mind to concentrate on anything other than the panic.

For me, when I was at my worst, the challenge with this was trying to get myself to concentrate on an object, because starting too long at something could make me feel worse.  If that’s the case for you, no problem!  If one object doesn’t work, try picking a different one.  Or, allow yourself to look away for a moment before coming back to the object in question, and starting the cycle over.

4) Call someone.  I found that conversations with others – people I trusted, who wouldn’t judge – could be helpful.  If you allow yourself to get lost in your own mind, you can get yourself into trouble.  To that end, talk to someone you trust and love.  Talk about the anxiety attack.  Talk about the weather.  Do whatever works for you, but just make sure that you can get out of your own head.

As always, these are just suggestions, just my thoughts.  Have better ones?  Let us know in the comments!

Things you CAN do to fight depression and anxiety

I think that one of the worst things that I’ve found in dealing with depression is the hopelessness that comes with it.  One minute you’re fine, and the next, you’re…not.  Medication and therapy help, but depression is a chronic condition.  It comes back.  And while you can limit it, manage it…it still comes back, and sometimes worse than others.

I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: Professional guidance, and a controlled regimen of therapy and medication, can make all the difference in the world.  When it comes to chronic mental illness, the evidence is clear: Treatment works.

But, treatment doesn’t just mean that you rely on medication and/or therapy to get better.  To some extent, and I’ve certainly found this in my own life, you have to take control of your own illness.  Yes, you may be a victim of a bad roll of the dice, but no one need be depression’s victim.  There are things you can do, on your own, to help keep depression away (again, please note, NOT advocating any of the below in place of therapy, medication or any other professional advice that a licensed medical professional gives you…can’t emphasize that enough).  Here are a few tips that worked for me, and can hopefully work for you.

Exercise

Here’s a good one with a ton of benefits: Exercise can make a huge, positive difference when it comes to depression.  According to the Mayo Clinic, it does so by releasing “feel-good” chemicals, reducing immune system chemicals that can make depression worse and by increasing your body temperature.  Better yet, any physical activity can be helpful, so fear not!  You don’t have to launch yourself into a massive weight lifting program.

On a personal level, I’ve found the gym to be a savior.  Not only does it help you get in shape, feel better and look better, but it makes you feel like you are accomplishing something.  All too often, when you are depressed, you want to just lie around and Netflix & Sad.  You become depression’s bitch, and that is exactly the time to get up and force yourself to move around.  It takes a lot of hard work to overcome this natural inclination to slug-out on the couch, but it is well, well worth it.

Meditation

The evidence is clear: Meditation can help to ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.  It doesn’t have to be long – the article I link to says 2.5 hours a week – but, a bit of meditation goes a long way.  What I found somewhat interesting here was that most articles relating to depression and meditation don’t just discuss meditation, but a specific type of meditation – mindfullness meditation.  This specific type of meditation is defined as “a technique of meditation in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but are rather acknowledged and observed nonjudgmentally as they arise to create a detachment from them and gain insight and awareness.”

What is remarkable is that at least one study found that meditation “helped prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication did.”

Okay, I’ve resisted this all my life.  Not “resisted,” really…just, haven’t allowed myself to do it. I’ve come up with excuses, I’ve done it for a few days, I’ve stopped and started and just haven’t been able to sit down and meditate.  This blog entry has convinced me…again…of how important meditation can be for depression!  Must.  Do.  It.

Also, try the app Headspace.  I’ve used it a couple of times and it seems interesting.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene?  It’s exactly what it sounds like – using healthy practices to help you get some real rest.  Sleep and depression have a complex relationship – a lack of sleep can lead to depression, and depression can lead to a lack of sleep, which makes getting a good night’s sleep all the more important.  Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Limiting naps.
  • Not drinking caffeine too close to bed.
  • Limiting screen time too close to bed.
  • Having enough exposure to natural light (huh, didn’t know that).
  • Having a set sleep and wake-up routine.

During some of the particularly rough periods of my depression, I had a REAL hard time sleeping.  It was the canary in the coal mine of my symptoms – I couldn’t sleep, and suddenly, there I was again.  Sleep hygiene – particularly the routine and screen time part (which I still really need to work on!) – is vitally important, at least to me.

Video Games

I discussed this the other day, but felt it was worth repeating: Video games can help with depression.  First, the basics: There are studies which show that MMORPG and other social games can help reduce social anxiety, while puzzlers can reduce stress and anxiety levels.  Other apps and video games have also been found to reduce levels of depression.

Of course, video games can have serious negative drawbacks.  There is, unfortunately, ample evidence that some are not working and are instead playing video games, and there are real fears that mental health plays a role in this.  Video games provide an immersive escape, where there is no judgement, no consequences, and no real failure that cannot be eradicated by reloading the last save file.  This, of course, is dangerous when it comes to entering and remaining in the real world.

As I said earlier in the week, I’m a believer that video games can be great – if used in moderation.  They provide a nice retreat when necessary and can recharge your batteries – getting you ready to relaunch into the real world.

Anything you want to add?  What works best for you?  Let us know in the comments!

Depression and resilience

This is a topic that is near and dear to me: The concept on resilience and mental health.

One of the things that I try to talk with people about when it comes to mental health is the concept that you cannot just “power your way through” it.  I mean, when you’re depressed, you can’t just “man up” or “pray it away,” right?  If you are depressed, and you cross that magical clinical threshold, you need professional help.  This is part of the mantra of countless professionals and experts in this arena – go get help if you need it, and don’t be stupid and think that you can defeat depression on your own.

And yet….

Most estimates say that 1 in 5 Americans experienced a “mental health condition” over the past year.  That number is very high – I’d argue higher than most Americans realize.  But, as high as it is – it still means that 4 in 5 Americans don’t have a mental health condition.  That, obviously, begs this question: Why?

That’s a broader topic than a layman like me can tackle in a 750 word blog entry.  There are, of course, countless reasons, including genetics, living situations, access to health care and more.  But, for now, there’s one topic I want to explore: The concept of resilience and mental health.

Resilience, as it pertains to mental health, is defined by the American Psychological Association as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” The APA website I link to contains a variety of information on the concept on resilience, including how to build it.

Why do I mention it now?  Well, being resilient, as it pertains to mental health, seems an awful lot like “powering through” a difficulty.  If someone is resilient, doesn’t that mean that they have the ability to get through a mental health challenge?  Is it then possible to “tough it out” and avoid professional help?  And, conversely, is someone who just isn’t resilient enough just lacking a fundamental trait?

I think the above paragraph is pretty thought provoking, mainly because it sort of flies in the face of everything that those of us who are on anti-stigma campaigns preach.  We tell people to not allow the depression to win – if you are suffering, seek professional help.  And yet, if you can just be “resilient” enough, is it possible to get through your mental illness without needing help?

Interestingly, the APA website provides a perfect answer for that question.

The rest of the page has some subheaders, such as “Staying flexible,” “Learning from your past,” and “10 ways to build resilience.”  In other words…how to learn it.

Resilience, or the process of basically facing down’s life challenges, is vital to keeping yourself from being overwhelmed and slipping into depression, anxiety or addiction.  There’s also this amazing metaphor:

To help summarize several of the main points in this brochure, think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.

On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.

In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.

The river is life, and resilience is the boat.  Sometimes, the river can be so strong that it can overwhelm the strongest craft.  Other times, the boat can be leaky or fail to float for any number of reasons.

Here’s the crux of my entry: Resilience is unquestionably important when it comes to mental health.  But, it can’t be viewed as some magical skill that just exists or doesn’t, and that’s it.  It should be viewed as a critical component to any coping strategy, and a skill that can be both taught and learned.  With resilience, someone can get through life.  And someone can be taught the resilience to get through life and a mental health challenge…with therapy.

Does this make any sense?  I sure hope so.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment below and tlel me if you think I am dead on or have lost my mind – more than usual!