When an anxiety attack strikes, it can feel like your whole world is spiralling out of control. Coping with an attack isn’t as simple as trying not to panic. We take a look at what an anxiety attack is and what top strategies you can try when an anxiety attack kicks in to get you back on track.

Why do anxiety attacks happen?

That feeling we get on a Sunday night? The one that makes us sigh and wish the weekend was three days instead of two? It’s a common feeling of dread that prevents us from enjoying our evening to the fullest. According to Reed, 2 out of 3 Brits suffer from ‘Sunday night fear'. It causes feelings of anxiety and tension as Monday morning looms ever closer.

Feelings of anxiety, like on a Sunday evening, are common. When we are aware of our anxiousness, we can take steps to prevent or ease it. But when these feelings keep building up and don’t go away, it could be the start of an anxiety attack.

What’s the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

Anxiety and panic attacks share similarities, but they are not the same. Anxiety attacks are often related to the anticipation of an event or situation. For example, if you have a driving test booked, your anxious feelings can massively build up as the date gets closer. 

Some symptoms include:

  • Apprehension

  • Worry

  • Irritability

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Diarrhoea

  • Feeling tense

These symptoms will vary as people experience anxiety attacks differently. ‘Anxiety attack’ is not an official diagnostic term. This means it can describe a range of anxiety-related responses. 

A panic attack is different in that they occur all of a sudden and for no apparent reason. They are characterised by feelings of intense fear and sheer terror. If you experience a lot of panic attacks, it could be a sign of panic disorder.

Panic attacks can make you feel like you are literally having a heart attack or even dying. The intense fear is associated with physical sensations that can feel absolutely terrifying. Some of the symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Feeling like you are losing control or going crazy

  • Believing it’s a heart attack or you might die

  • Feeling detached from the yourself

  • Shaking and sweating

  • Palpitations and a racing heart

  • Feeling dizzy or faint

Panic attacks usually ease within 10 to 20 minutes. Anxiety attacks can last longer than this as they tend to build up and increase in intensity.

What does an anxiety attack feel like?

Anxiety attacks can feel terrifying. The overwhelming need to escape from wherever you are. Racing heart and palpitations, sheer panic coursing through your whole body. Feeling faint or the fear that you are going to faint. Imagining that you are going to die right then and there. It can be an utterly terrifying situation and most of the time other people are completely unaware you are experiencing it. As suddenly as it appears, it is gone. And you are left wondering why on earth it happened. 

What causes an anxiety attack?

The exact cause of anxiety attacks is unknown. They happen when your body shifts into fight or flight mode. It is likely that a combination of factors is responsible. Some of the potential causes are:

  • An anxiety disorder such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), OCD or panic disorder.

  • Anticipation of threat. For example, feeling scared when walking alone at night or hearing a strange noise. In this case the anxiety helps prepare us to escape the danger.

  • Situations such as a new job, getting married, speaking in front of an audience, an audition or taking an exam. Anxiety attacks in these situations can prevent us from performing at our best. 

Most anxiety attacks are normal responses to situations that cause us to feel anxious. Anxiety can build up for hours or even days before an actual attack kicks in. When the stressful situation is over, the uncomfortable feelings start to ease off. But what can you do when you feel an attack coming on? Is there anything you can do to cope with an anxiety attack?

What to do when an anxiety attack kicks in

The good news is there are a few techniques and top tricks that can be a lifesaver when an anxiety attack kicks in. Because anyone can experience an anxiety attack at some point during their life, it’s important to have a few tips on hand. Although it might not stop an attack from happening altogether, these tactics can definitely help to ease the symptoms.

Walk around

The American actress Elizabeth Olsen experienced anxiety and panic attacks in her 20s. One of the techniques she used is a ‘brain game’. She would name the things she sees as she walks down the street. This occupied her brain so it didn't go deeper into panic mode. Using this technique helps you to stay in the present and not get carried away with worries that can totally spiral out of control. So when an anxiety attack kicks in, get on your feet and move around. Notice things, read posters, count steps, anything you can do to prevent your mind replaying upsetting and negative thoughts.

Focus on breathing

Focusing on breathing is a great tool for preventing anxiety attacks. It works by directing your mind towards something other than your worries. If an anxiety attack has kicked in already, it can give you something to focus on whilst you wait for your symptoms to ease. Meditation is also recommended for anxiety sufferers. It helps to ease those racing thoughts and reduces overall stress levels. This can help prevent anxiety attacks from happening, or reduce their severity, in the future.

Distract yourself

According to the mental health therapist Haley Neidich, “distraction is the number 1 tool for managing an anxiety attack once it has gotten started.” Distraction can be any form you choose. It’s useful to have a number of options in your mental health toolkit so you can select one fast. 

Some useful distraction ideas include:

  • Watch a film

  • Listen to music

  • Call a friend

  • Take a walk

  • Play with a pet

  • Do some coloring

  • Take a puff on your ripple+

The big benefit of using your ripple+ diffuser is the essential oils we use. Aromatherapy can help with anxiety and lots of ripple+ fam users have talked about the amazing calming and soothing effects their ripple+ gives them. But anything that takes your mind off it will work. One thing to avoid as a distraction technique is social media. This can actually have the opposite effect as social media use can make anxiety symptoms worse.

Understand your triggers

Not everyone will be able to identify their triggers at first. It takes time to recognise what might be leading up to an anxiety attack. Another issue is that these triggers can change over time. Anxiety likes to keep us on our toes! However, one common symptom is ‘what if’ thinking. So if your mind starts playing through every potential scenario imaginable - we’ve all been there! - start becoming aware of it. 

Know it will end

Although it won’t feel like it at the time, anxiety attacks will end. Symptoms tend to subside and ease off within half an hour. So your heart rate, racing thoughts and uncomfortable feelings will eventually disappear. Remind yourself of this fact at the time. This helps you focus your mind on the positive fact that it will soon be over. 

What to do after an anxiety attack

Self-care after an anxiety attack is super important! Anxiety attacks can be physically and mentally exhausting. Take some time to soothe yourself and feel safe. Doing some grounding activities can really help. Some ideas are yoga, getting out into nature or even just having a nice cup of tea (the ultimate cure-all for Brits!). These simple activities help you reconnect with your body and make you feel more at peace.