As the situation overwhelms us, our anxiety takes on a life of its own, sometimes going so far as to cause a panic attack. This situation is particularly unpleasant for the person experiencing it, with significant physical and psychological symptoms. But this feeling is not irreparable, and there are a few tips for managing your anxiety attack in the emergency the situation. It is also possible to reduce the risk of panic attack in the longer term by adopting certain strategies.

1. What is an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack, which is also called a panic attack, is considered an anxiety disorder. It can also be thought of as a functional disruption where the body goes on full alert, ready to face a serious imminent danger.

Because of this, it manifests as an intense, sudden, brief fear that triggers physical reactions and associated distressing thoughts. It occurs suddenly and intensely, without always warning and lasts a few (long) minutes, and can last up to about half an hour.

This anxiety occurs when no real danger is perceived. Moreover, it is sometimes difficult for the sufferer to understand the reason for his or her anxiety. Indeed, there is not always a particular reason : these crises can happen at any time and provide the person experiencing them with a feeling of imminent danger, an intense fear of loss of control about the situation orexcessive anxiety about the idea of death in this situation. While all of these ideas are associated with physical sensations, the end of the anxiety attack usually causes exhaustion both physically and morally latent. 

The anxiety attack usually leads to entering a vicious cycle, since one will be faced with anticipation of the anxiety attack. La personne a donc peur qu’une attaque de panique surgisse à tout moment dans une situation similaire.


2. What are the symptoms of an anxiety attack?

Symptoms are specific to a person and an experience. They are therefore variable and difficult to list in a strict manner. From then on, the manifestation of his symptoms during the crisis passes in a few minutes, or lasts up to a half hour. Although, always unique to individuals, its sensations always seem to be powerful, unbearable and uncontrollable.

    • Hyperventilation

One of the symptoms found in almost all anxiety attacks is hyperventilation. Indeed, hyperventilation is when one’s breathing accelerates to the point of becoming particularly rapid, with a need for abundant air and still having the sensation of lacking oxygen. The body is looking for oxygen to fight the stress and escape the anxiety-provoking situation as quickly as possible.

Thus, associated with hyperventilation, there are regular sensations of choking where regaining breath is complicated. The heart speeds up, beats fast and causes heat waves that are complicated to manage.

    • Other physical symptoms

Many other physical symptoms may be associated with it such as severetranspiration: you sweat especially hard all at once. This is usually accompanied by strong hot flashes or hot sensations that are unpleasant to you. 

On the other hand, heat can also be accompanied or not bychills. Vous avez la sensation que votre corps ne régule plus sa température et que vous le subissez. 

You may also experience tremors, muscle tension or tingling in various limbs. It can also be accompanied by dizziness, lightheadedness, wobbly legs, headaches… Some parts of your body may also feel engorged.

Finally, you may experience nausea, stomach pain, the feeling ofnumbness or a sore throat.

    • Psychological symptoms of an anxiety attack

While we often think of the symptoms of the body, it is not uncommon to regularly find psychological symptoms in the anxiety attack. 

In this category, we find the feeling of unreality and loss of control. This feeling is the sensation of being detached from oneself, of being a spectator of one’s life. It gives the feeling of not having control of one’s life or of becoming crazy.

All these ideas are usually accompanied by catastrophic thoughts. These thoughts are associated with the situation and always considered by the worst possible outcome. For example, if I have an exam and I have prepared it, I will always imagine that my alarm clock will not ring, that I will arrive late, that they will ask me questions without me having the answer, that I will fail this exam, and that it will condition all the rest of my academic and professional career. Anyway, more generally, his catastrophic thoughts will bring the fear of dying particularly important. We imagine that the anxiety attack will lead us to death, which is particularly frightening.

    • Other symptoms of anxiety attacks that may be related to culture

The symptoms of an anxiety attack can be different from one person to another but also from one culture to another. Indeed, it is possible to observe certain pains (neck pain, arm pain…) or certain physical reactions (tinnitus, dizziness…) etc.

3. Who is most affected by anxiety attacks ?

An anxiety attack can be experienced by everyone and at any age. We estimate that more than 20% of the population has experienced or will experience at least one anxiety attack in their lifetime. On the other hand, some people are more likely to experience one.

In fact, initially, women are twice as likely to experience a panic attack as men. Moreover, younger people, with a peak of attacks between the end of adolescence and the small forties are more prone to the risks of panic attacks. Moreover, for older people, acute panic attacks sometimes feel like a heart attack. This is why it is sometimes more difficult to consider the attack as such when over 40 years old.

Finally, people who are anxious by nature are more likely to have a panic attack. It is true that it is possible that, when they were younger, anxious people suffered from separation anxiety or early trauma. This has created in them a particularly sensitive alert system with difficulties in managing emotions.


4. What are the reasons for the panic attack?

There is no single, universal reason for a panic attack. The factors are variable and multiple. They may be situational, they may come from past history, they may come from current difficulties or they may come from the consumption of certain products.

  • Origine from a specific situation

It is possible to experience a panic attack every time you are confronted with the same situation. This is the case with phobias for example (height, social phobia, spiders, etc.). It is true that if we are in a situation that is uncomfortable, unpleasant and anxiety-provoking, our alert system is triggered and causes an anxiety attack. On the other hand, the origin of these anxiety attacks in a specific situation can come from a trauma, education, genetics etc.

  • Origine drawn from past experience

Our past shapes us, and it sometimes causes anxiety and makes us more vulnerable to panic attacks.

Indeed, the parents were themselves perhaps of anxious nature, they inculcated the value of “attention”. Always being on the alert, forges a hypersensitivity, and an important alert system. It is thus the environment of life, in particular on the first years, which could generate a vulnerability to the attack of panic.

It is also possible that, as a child, we have experienced stress or trauma and that these situations have caused our body to develop a defense and vigilance system in the face of various situations, similar to those experienced, or not.

Moreover, when a first anxiety attack is experienced, there is a greater chance that another one will occur. Our body remembers its feelings when it was in a situation where it experienced an anxiety attack, and it will anticipate the possible recurrence of this attack. This will generate additional anxiety, and a higher risk of panic attack.


  • An anxiety attack as an alert for our body

Living a stressful period, being overworked at work, at school or in your personal life, having financial or relational difficulties, etc. are all situations that can lead to anxiety attacks. Indeed, your body and your mind are in pain. You mobilize all your thoughts and energy to try to manage the anxiety, all the emotions and all the sensations that come to you. You have surely already noticed that an anxiety attack makes you very tired, and that accumulated to all the pressure you already have, your energy is in great decline.

  • Some substances cause anxiety attacks

The consumption of certain substances such as alcohol or drugs (cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, ecstasy…) can be the cause of certain anxiety attacks.  The panic attack can be triggered immediately after the consumption of these substances, but also several days later. Even in the short term, the use of some of these substances can aggravate or trigger panic attacks.

5. What are the consequences of an anxiety attack?

Following a first or several anxiety attacks, many consequences can be triggered.

At first, a panic attack usually triggers a continuous apprehension that a new anxiety attack will be triggered. In our heads, there is a constant anticipation of the panic attack. From then on, a change in behavior in front of certain situations causing panic becomes known. Indeed, we will behave in an inappropriate way, which will only consolidate our anxiety in front of the situation, like the avoidance of certain actions or certain situations.

Then, this anxiety and avoidance will tend to generate other forms of phobias or anguish such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia. Similarly, we can consider that if a state of panic persists over time (beyond 6 months), it would seem to be a panic disorder.

6. How to manage anxiety attacks ?

It is important to take charge of your anxiety attacks and to take the time to take care of yourself in order to learn how to control them and not let them overwhelm you.

There is therefore the possibility of doing some small exercises to manage the panic attack.

  • Evaluate his anxiety attack

Take the time to evaluate the intensity of your anxiety attack. Is it unbearable and would you give it a 10/10? Does it seem rather temporary and manageable?

To evaluate one’s anxiety attack is to become aware of what our body is experiencing and wants to transmit to us. Trying to attenuate it at all costs, and worrying about its arrival will only accentuate its intensity and duration.

  • Regulate its breathing

Learning to manage your breathing is one of the first steps when you feel an anxiety attack coming on. You must learn to breathe slowly and consciously. There are several techniques for this.

The breathing in a square

This technique will be used in an “emergency”. You feel an anxiety attack coming on, your breathing and your heart are accelerating, and you feel like you can’t handle what’s going on inside you. Then follow these few steps.

Breathe in for 4 seconds through your nose. Feel the fresh air entering your lungs, let in all the emotions that want to go a long way with you. Make room in your rib cage for the air you are letting in.

Then hold your breath for 4 seconds. Let all your emotions flow inside you. Visualize your air flowing through your body.

Then exhale, for 4 seconds, through your mouth. Take the time to let your air leave your body and let go of all the emotions that want to leave you.

To finish, block your breath again for 4 seconds. Always letting your body deal with the emotions that come into it.

Do this exercise 4 or 5 times. If you do more than that, you may feel a little dizzy. The most important thing in this exercise is to settle your breathing so that your heart rate also calms down.

The cardiac coherence

This method allows us to regulate our heart rate according to our emotions. It therefore puts forward the idea of controlled breathing which will allow the heart rate to be tuned to the rhythm of the breath. Cardiac coherence aims to calm anxiety very quickly. It can be practiced “in an emergency”, but also on a regular basis in order to reduce anxiety in the longer term. The effects are felt immediately after the practice and up to 6 hours later.

Simply breathe in for 5 seconds through your nose and out for 5 seconds through your mouth, 6 times.

  • Doing relaxation

When you feel anxious, you can relax or meditate for a while.

You can do Jacobson’s muscle relaxation, which is really becoming aware of your body. Or close your eyes, and put on a relaxation audio. Imagine being in a place that soothes you, that you love, that relaxes you. Feel good. Listen carefully to the instructions, and let yourself be guided.

  • Find the resources within yourself to reassure yourself

You find yourself in a difficult situation, a panic attack seems to be coming. So, clench your fists, concentrate on the present moment, on the environment that surrounds you by taking into account all the little details of elements that you like. Always have in mind small reassuring sentences, small soothing sentences. Imagine that you are reassuring someone else, and be kind to yourself. These phrases can be “It’s going to be okay,” “You can do it,” “I’m strong. You can also recall phrases that a loved one may have said to you that made you feel better.

  • 5-4-3-2-1 method

The idea of this technique is to divert attention from your panic attack while remaining focused on your body and senses. This allows you to refocus on the present moment despite the difficulties encountered. We will thus, here, use all our senses.

So we start with the view. Identify, around you, 5 visual elements. In the environment become fully aware of 5 things you see. Look closely at their color, their consistency, their size etc. Peel back all the visual information you have on them.

Then pay attention to 4 sounds around you. Listen to the small sounds, their nuances, their noise, how pleasant or not it can be. If you are in a particularly quiet environment, where 4 sounds are difficult to distinguish, recall a familiar and reassuring sound (for example: the purr of your cat, the voice of a loved one, the melody of a music you like, the soft sound of a piano…).

Next, use your touch. Become aware of or touch 3 elements in your environment. You can feel the ground under your feet, take the time to bring your hands close to an object. Feel the texture of the object, feel the temperature, the softness or hardness… become fully aware of what your body is touching.

Continue with the sense of smell: smell 2 smells around you. Imagine the path of this odor in your nostrils, what it feels like, if this odor seems sweet or not, if it tickles your nostrils etc. If you don’t smell anything in the environment you are in, imagine smells, reassuring, that you like. That you have assimilated as being soothing.

Finally, taste is the last sense we will use. Either, you can drink a drink, eat something and think about the taste. If you don’t have access to these things, become aware of the taste of your saliva in your mouth.

This technique should stabilize your condition and decrease signs of anxiety.

  • Pay attention to your physical sensations

Always be aware of the physical sensations you are experiencing. When you are having your anxiety attack, try to pay attention to all the physical sensations that are associated with it. Is your heart beating faster, are you breathing, are your legs shaking, are your hands clammy, etc.?

Remember that a sensation is only physical. What makes the sensation unpleasant is the thought you associate with it. So try to think of a pleasant environment and associate those physical sensations you feel with it.

7. How to prevent anxiety attacks ?

Anxiety attacks usually occur spontaneously. However, there are a few tricks to prevent and avoid frequent anxiety attacks in order to get out of the vicious circle.

First, try to identify your anxiety. Ask yourself what is the cause of your anxiety but in detail. If your panic attack occurred when you were in a specific place, ask yourself what specifically is worrying you in that place.

Then, don’t forget that a healthy lifestyle is particularly important to reduce the frequency of an anxiety attack. Try to respect the different hygienic and dietary rules. These are the practice of a regular sports activity (2 to 3 times a week for 20 to 30 minutes), pay attention to your diet while indulging yourself (eat sweets if it makes you happy, but avoid excitants such as drugs and alcohol), expose yourself to the sun (vitamin D is an essential component!), get enough sleep and adopt an adapted sleep rhythm and finally, maintain your friendships and love relationships

Also, rationalize your anxiety. To do this, make a chart with your anxieties and make two columns with the “pros” (describing the reasons for your anxiety, which gives credence to your anxieties) and the “cons” (the ideas that go against the reasons for your anxiety). In this way, give credence to what you think is against. When your anxiety arrives, remind yourself of the elements you put forward in this exercise. This idea is in line with Beck’s cognitive model used in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Finally, consider creating a relaxation, meditation or yoga routine. Do it regularly (without it becoming a constraint for you). Indeed, working on letting go, mindfulness, self-confidence during a relaxation session will considerably reduce your stress in the long term.

8. What are the solutions for managing anxiety attacks over the long term? ?

Taking care of yourself as soon as the first symptoms or the first panic attack appear is fundamental. Indeed, it will allow to understand the anxiety, and to be able to reduce its appearances, and to avoid that they generalize to new situations.

In addition to the techniques mentioned above, such as cardiac coherence, breathing techniques, relaxation, etc., cognitive-behavioral treatment is appropriate. Indeed, this therapy will allow to understand the origin of the anxiety while acting on it through exercises and alternative strategies to palliate this anxiety. In this way, it will be possible to make gradual exposures adapted to the anxiety-provoking situation or to the situation that generates panic attacks.

Therefore, Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies (VRET), which are part of cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT), are all the more appropriate as the exposures are done in a gradual, adapted manner, saving time for the user and the therapist. Moreover, relaxation in virtual reality allows for a rapid and total immersion that drastically reduces anxiety very quickly.