Common Signs of a Severe Anxiety Attack and What to Do When it Happens

Posted August 22nd, 2018 in Anxiety, Featured, Individual Counseling, Men’s Issues, Women’s Issues by

A severe anxiety attack can take on many forms. Christian counselors tend to use the term panic attack to indicate that the momentary anxiety attack can last for a few minutes while the effects are felt for hours.

Panic anxiety disorder indicates a longer-term condition where panic attacks happen on a consistent basis for an individual.

Common Signs of a Severe Anxiety Attack

According to the Mayo Clinic and my observations, the most common signs of a severe anxiety attacks include:

  • Flushes or chills
  • Chest pain
  • A headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • A sense of detachment and/or feelings of being outside of reality
  • Tingling and/or a feeling of numbness in one or more parts of the body
  • Stomach pains, cramps, and stomach upset
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Shortness of breath/tightness in the throat/hyperventilation
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • The sense of doom, destruction, or danger
  • Weakness all over
  • Confusion
  • Feeling out of control
  • Sped up thoughts that are terrifying or disorienting
  • Feelings that give you the sense you are dying
  • Intense pain
  • Feeling like you are falling off a cliff
  • Tightness all over the body
  • Feeling like you can run 100 miles per hour
  • Lack of ability to focus on anything mentally or visually

Treatment options for overcoming a severe anxiety attack

According to renowned psychologist, Dr. Archibald Hart, 12 steps will bring you recovery from a severe anxiety attack. I agree with Dr. Hart and add my take on his principles.

  • Find strength in Christ. Take ownership of God’s promises found in His eternal Word.
  • Feel the power Christ gives you. Experience the works of the Almighty God in your life. Live out the power of the Holy Spirit internally and externally.
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to subdue fear. The person who has recovered from severe anxiety understands that victory is possible through inviting God into strongholds of fear.
  • Drop the “what ifs” in your life. Have a mindset of “so what?’ to defeat severe worry, stress, and anxiety. “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31b; NIV).
  • Defeat internal apathy and passivity. Do not believe the lie that anxiety is taking away control; believe that you are surrendering control. Surrender control to the Lord and seek wise counsel from a Christian Counselor. A Christian Counselor has an in-depth understanding of severe anxiety attacks and will tailor a way to help you overcome the attack.
  • Power up by finding out all you can about your disorder. Knowledge and understanding are your friends. This is true of medications too. Use your knowledge of your own body to help you find solutions. You need to be the expert on your severe anxiety attacks to communicate your needs to people that you will be partnering with to overcome these severe anxiety attacks.
  • Do not be demoralized by helplessness. Adopt a learning perspective to move up and out of severe anxiety.
  • Be compassionate toward yourself. Do not self-accuse and give the enemy a foothold. You are not of any less worth to the Lord because you suffer from severe anxiety attacks as much as someone who suffers from cancer is to blame for their illness.
  • Do not let your problem dominate your life. The severe anxiety attacks are to be taken seriously enough to seek treatment but these attacks do not define you.
  • Take caution with regard to throwing a pity party for yourself. Take leadership by asking yourself ‘what can I do about it’?
  • Find a good support group. Godly peers can lift you up and prevent feelings of despair from setting in. Isolation is never the answer when working through severe anxiety attacks.
  • Never, never, never give up on God, yourself, supportive family, friends, and church community during a crisis.

When experiencing a severe anxiety attack remember these points:

  • Face your fears and do not run from your symptoms. If you run from your panic attack symptoms it is likely to lead to aggravating the symptoms because you kick in a flight, freeze, or fight response that is reactionary/impulsive which may work things worse. Have a plan to square off when a severe anxiety attack hits.
  • Be okay with what your body is telling you and doing during a severe anxiety attack. Have confidence that these severe symptoms will pass in a few minutes and you will be able to regain control over your mind and body again. Don’t create more fear. In many ways, this pain is an indication that something is still wrong and that you need to work harder to alleviate stressors in your life.
  • Give the severe anxiety attack plenty of room to going through you so you do not magnify the negative physical and psychological feelings you are experiencing. Use breathing/relaxation techniques during a severe anxiety attack as much as possible.

Breathing Techniques to Manage a Severe Anxiety Attack

There are two types of prayer/meditation that have been practiced by Christians for almost two millennia:

The first type of prayer involves concentrative meditation where one reflects on an object or thoughts, which forms deeper thoughts. Restriction of the senses is the key to practicing concentrative prayer/meditation. I enjoy concentration on God’s words from Scripture, words planted in one’s heart, increasing focus on God’s specific purpose for today, this week, this month, and this year.

The second type of meditation/prayer is listening to God’s word in the external environment. This can be nature, listening to prophecies, current events analysis, historical analysis, biblical archeological analysis, Scriptural analysis through the lens of culture and history to name a few examples.

Mindfulness is a form of Christian meditation that focuses on understanding God’s works within our external world. This is more a listening prayer rather than petitioning prayer with the Lord.

It is important for Christians to understand that there is nothing un-Christian about breathing exercises that can bring about serenity and calmness. One of my favorite techniques to incorporate with breathing exercises is a focus on the goodness of Christ through prayer while practicing these breathing exercises.

The ancient texts of Ayuryoga and Ayurveda have shown that methods of breathing and meditation are effective in curing many mental health and physical ailments. A lot of detail and ancient science has gone into developing these techniques.

Four Ancient Indian Breathing Techniques to Practice

1. Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing Technique)

Sama means equal. Vritti means the state of being. Right now, our bodies are accustomed to the practice of shallow breathing. Keep the goal in mind: this technique can calm the nervous system, increase focus, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Method: This step is great for the beginner who wants to relax. A count of 10 breaths would be a great way to stop and rejuvenate your busy day.

To start sama vritti, inhale for a count of 4.

Then exhale for a count of 4.

As you advance, aim for 6 to 8 counts per breath.

Tips: Remember to breathe through your nose. This adds a natural resistance to the breath and is a basis of pranayama breathing.

When: Sama vritti can be done anytime, any place. This is one technique that is especially effective when you catch yourself creating unlimited thoughts. In other words, if you’re having a hard time falling asleep, this breath can help slow your mind and reduce racing thoughts and help you bring your focus and concentration to the present situation.

2. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This breathing technique is used to balance and unite the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This is also known as a silent breathing technique.

Method: Starting in a comfortable seated pose, hold your right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.

This is great for a beginner to start focusing on following his or her breath. It is allowed throughout pregnancy and can be beneficial in relaxing, cleansing, and improving blood circulation.

At the peak of inhalation, pause to close off the left nostril with your ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril.

Continue this pattern, inhaling through the right nostril and closing it off with the right thumb and exhaling through the left nostril.

Tips: Slowing the pace of your breath is the key to optimize the results of this silent breathing technique. Concentrate on keeping the breath quiet while focusing on feeling the coldness in your inhale and the warmth of your exhale.

When: Nadi shodhana works best during crunch time or anytime you find it challenging to focus or energize, such as prior to meetings in the mid-afternoon. Nadi shodhana is said to “clear the channels and meridians in our body and make people feel more relaxed if done with control. At a slower pace, this is a great sleep inducer.” It’s almost like a cup of warm milk before you fall asleep!

3. Sohum Meditation (Abdominal Breathing / Ocean Wave)

Anyone can enjoy this ocean wave of breathing. Also great for a beginner, just imagine an ocean wave splashing on the shore and retracting.

Method: With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs.

Pause 2–3 seconds after inhalation and exhalation.

Tips: It is great for pregnant goddesses to nurture their growing little one, as this ensures improving oxygen absorption and detoxes your whole body.

Do a round of 8–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for a minimum of 5 minutes each day to get lower blood pressure and a tension-free lifestyle. This breathing technique is also very helpful in increasing lung capacity and improving digestion. It also aids in regulating the natural rhythm of your heart.

When: This breathing technique works great before tests, interviews, or any stressful event. Though it can seem slightly hard, in the beginning, to control the breath, be patient and the body and mind will help train the breath control.

4. Anuloma Viloma (Intermediate Level Of Nadi Shodhana)

This breathing technique is very similar to alternate nostril breathing. Here, the air is forced in, instead of in a controlled slow-paced breathing. Let your breathing be heard loud.

According to ancient texts, this heals all forms of internal disease without medication. Many great benefits can be seen when anuloma viloma is practiced regularly.

Method: To begin, we start with a comfortable seated posture.

Before you start, use a tissue to blow your nose to remove excess mucus.

Begin with closing your right nostril using your right thumb and lifting your right elbow in line with the right shoulder, parallel to the floor.

Now, as you force inhale through your left nostril, a gush of a noisy breath is pushed in immediately.

Close your left nostril with your ring finger to exhale out of your right nostril, then followed by an inhale.

This is a fast-paced nadi shodhana. In this technique, your breath is pushed to clean and clear your lungs as this increases your heart rate.

Tips: This breathing exercise is great to begin your day! But beware, as this is an intermediate level of breathing, this technique can make you feel lightheaded.

When: Anuloma viloma should be done on an empty stomach, preferably early in the morning or mid-afternoon before you reach for that cup of caffeine! This is right breathing technique to give you energy that will sustain you throughout the day.

Research suggests that breathing exercises are effective during a severe anxiety attack. It is advisable that breathing techniques be used for preventive care during periods without a severe anxiety attack.

The integration of Christian prayer and contemplation make these breathing exercises much more life-giving. Listening to the God is just as important whether He speaks to you directly, or through people, or through life circumstances.

Seek a professional Christian Counselor if you are currently suffering from anxiety attacks. If your symptoms are severe and frequent a Psychiatrist would be your first resource yet it is also important to seek a Christian Counselor to be part of your team in working toward healing and wholeness.

References

Hart, A. D. (2001). The anxiety cure: You can find emotional tranquillity and wholeness. Nashville: Word Pub.

Panic attacks and panic disorder. (2018, May 04). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021

Saunders, V. (2018, March 07). 4 Breathing Exercises For Beginners: Air Out Your Stress. Retrieved from https://www.curejoy.com/content/4-breathing-exercises-for-beginners-anytime-anywhere/

Photos:

“Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Mubariz Mehdizadeh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mondaze”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Good News Is Coming”, Courtesy of Jon Tyson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “You Got This!”, Courtesy of Sydney Rae, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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Nitish Matthew

Nitish Matthew, MA, MA (I/O), LMHC

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