Unexpected Anxiety Attacks

By Chris Hammond, MS

I was in the dentist office watching my daughter have some work done on her teeth when all of a sudden I became aware of my heart pounding in my chest and then racing very fast. My daughter was fine, she was not in any pain, the dentist and assistant were very polite, and the environment was extremely friendly but I felt like I was losing it. Shortly afterwards my stomach felt like it was in my throat, my palms became sweaty, I felt light-headed, my breath became shallow and my thoughts began to race. I am physically healthy as I have very low blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels so this was clearly not a heart attack. Rather, it was an anxiety attack.

Perhaps this has happened to you recently. You run into someone unexpectedly, you walk into a hospital room, you are watching something on TV, you are in the middle of a conversation, or you are eating dinner out and all of a sudden for no particular reason you find yourself in the middle of an anxiety attack. At the moment, it seems as if the attack comes out of nowhere and you realize that trying to analyze the problem in the moment is futile. Instead, the need is to find a quick solution to calm down and later evaluate the potential cause.

Mental Solution. I began with looking for a distraction around the room to see if the intensity of the attack could be minimized. Sometimes just focusing my thoughts on something else other then how I feel can be helpful. There was a picture hanging on the wall opposite my chair that caught my attention. It seemed a bit out of place and overly simplistic yet the image of the fish was very colorful and strangely enough the fish seemed to be smiling. This odd distraction helped to reduce the intensity but it was not enough to remove all of the anxiety.

Physical Solution. The next idea was to focus on my breathing and take not so obvious deep breaths so as to unnerve the dentist or my daughter. I breathed in for a count of five, held it for another count of five and breathed out for a count of seven. This breathing was done four times while becoming aware of the tension in my face, shoulders, hands and even toes. I used these breaths to help bring relaxation those tense areas. This reduced the anxiety even more but it still sadly was not enough.

Emotional Solution. Then I resorted to remembering my happy place which is on the beach, a place of serenity and calm. Despite the drilling sound, I tried to imagine the crashing of the waves, the birds singing in the air, the smell of the sea, the soft cold sand in between my toes and the warmth of the sun. A feeling of peace began to peek through the anxiety but the drilling sound was far too distracting for it to last long enough to have the proper affect. So I moved onto the next solution.

Spiritual Solution. Finally I recalled a passage in Scripture that reminds us to have no anxiety but instead with thanksgiving make your request known to God (Phil. 4:4-6). So I prayed thinking of all the things I had to be thankful for, of the blessings in my life, of the peace that God brings to our life and suddenly without even asking for the anxiety to be removed, it was gone. I was able to spend the rest of the visit focusing on my daughter’s needs instead of fearing that I would pass out.

Several hours later, upon reflection as to the real cause behind the anxiety attack, I discovered that my fear was really about not having any control over the potential pain my daughter maybe in during the visit. Although she reported no pain, as a mother I was still concerned for her and wanted the visit to go well. My fear caused the anxiety attack but in the moment all I could think about was how to manage the attack not the fear itself.

So the next time you have an anxiety attack, try the solutions above and don’t forget to spend some time later discovering the real cause behind the attack. Knowing your real causes and addressing them quickly can keep the attacks to a minimum and help you to focus on what really matters.


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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2011), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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