I was in the dentist office watching my daughter have some work done on her teeth when my heart began pounding and racing. My daughter was fine. She was not in any pain as 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 took it’s turn. It 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 with 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, walk into a hospital room, watch something on TV, or eating dinner out and all of a sudden, for no particular reason, you have an anxiety attack. At the moment, it seems as if the attack comes out of nowhere. You realize that analyzing the problem in the moment is futile. So instead, you need a quick solution to settle down immediately and then later evaluate the potential cause.
Mental Solution. During my anxiety attack, I looked for a distraction in the room to minimize the intensity. Sometimes, just focusing your thoughts on something else other than how you feel can be helpful. There was a picture hanging on the wall that caught my attention. It seemed a bit out-of-place and overly simplistic yet the image of the fish was very colorful and the fish seemed to be smiling. This odd distraction reduced the intensity but it was not enough to remove all of the anxiety.
Physical Solution. Next, I focused on my breathing taking not so obvious deep breaths. There was no need to alarm the dentist or my daughter about my anxiety. I breathed in for a count of four, held it for another count of four and breathed out for a count of four. Repeating this four times while simultaneously becoming aware of the tension in my face, shoulders, hands and even toes. These breaths brought relaxation to tense areas, reducing the anxiety even more.
Needing more help, I remembered my “happy place” on the beach, a place of serenity and calm. Despite the drilling sound, I imagined 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. 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. Thought about all the things I had to be thankful for and the many blessings in my life. That worked, the anxiety disappeared. The rest of the visit was spent focusing on my daughter’s needs instead of fearing that I would pass out.
Several hours later, I reflected on the real cause behind the anxiety attack. 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.
The next time you have an anxiety attack, try some of the solutions above including spending time later to discover the real cause behind the attack. Knowing your real cause and addressing it quickly can keep the attacks to a minimum and help you to focus on what really matters.
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