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8 Ways to Cope with an Anxiety Attack

Odds are you know someone with anxiety, or you have anxiety yourself. Anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of adults and are the most common mental illness in the United States. The prevalence of anxiety is partly a reflection of our society and its structures. We are conditioned to believe we need to work our lives away to feel like adequate human beings (a belief that is silly and untrue). This has significant implications on one’s mentality, especially for a college student. College can very easily trigger anxiety. A survey of college students recorded that 80 percent of students reported frequent or daily stress.

All of this stress can build up, and when it goes unaddressed or is suppressed, it can manifest in an anxiety attack. An anxiety attack looks different depending on who’s having it but the person usually experiences some of the following symptoms: palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, and many others. It is so important to know how to help yourself or a friend who is experiencing an anxiety attack. Here is a list of things to do that could help get you or a friend through an attack.

1. Do a breathing exercise.

There are many variations of breathing exercises, but here’s an easy one: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 5 counts, exhale for 7 counts, and repeat. Make sure to breathe deep in your stomach, not shallow in your chest. You can also look up guided breathing or meditation on YouTube, with an app or do it to a song. It is extremely important to keep your breathing under control and it is helpful to focus on the mechanics of breathing to bring your mind back to a calm place. Try to stay aware of your heart rate and take note if it picks up or your breath shortens. These are signals that you need to stop what you’re doing and regain yourself by focusing on deep breathing.

2. Take a walk.

Sometimes just getting outside in nature can help get you out of your head. If walking and moving helps, then find somewhere peaceful like a trail, or a sidewalk if you like busy surroundings. If it’s nighttime, maybe find a quiet place to lay down and look at the stars. Remind yourself that the world is full of beauty: sometimes it takes changing our perspective or taking a step back to remember that this is all a part of your journey.

3. Write.

Try writing out all the things that are bothering or stressing you out. Then organize the list into things you can and cannot control. Cross out the things you can’t control and when you’re ready, come up with a realistic plan to conquer the things you can control. Or you can simply try writing out your feelings. Sometimes the physical act of dispensing your thoughts on paper and maybe even ripping it up afterwards and throwing it away can help mentally release the negative energy the anxiety is creating.

4. Listen to music.

Lay on the floor, turn the lights off, and turn up the music. Close your eyes and fully engage in the story the song is singing. Imagine you are a character in the song, imagine the song is about you, or imagine you’re at the concert. Elaborate upon your imagination so you get lost in something that will detach you from your anxiety.

5. Cry.

Sob. Scream. Yell. Do whatever you have to (as long as it’s not destructive) to get through an anxiety attack. Crying can be a great release of pent-up anxiety. Let it out. Then let it be. Let it pass over you, then regain your strength and rise again.

6. Talk to someone.

A friend, a family member, a mentor, anyone who you believe would be beneficial or someone who would be willing to lend an ear if you need to vent. Sometimes it even helps if they just talk to distract you. Ask them to talk about beautiful things, or their favorite things about life. Listen to their words to get your mind off your anxiety. Or let yourself vent. Either way, having someone there so you don’t have to be alone with your pain can be comforting. Just knowing you’re not alone can remind you that you’re going to be okay and there are people in your life that will make sure of that.

7. Read quotes.

Quotes are like little pieces of wisdom from scholars, heroic figures or random people that capture a valuable lesson they have learned through their experiences. They are simple, but they speak volumes. Here are some of my favorites that are relevant to anxiety attacks.

“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” —Winston Churchill

“Let every feeling happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

“I know it’s an experience that I need to have if God’s putting me through it.” —Lil Wayne

“In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” —Buddha

“Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” —Bruce Lee

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” —Unknown

“The nice thing about rain is that it always stops. Eventually.” —Eeyore

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Change your thoughts, change your life.” —Lao Tzu

8. Surrender to your emotions. Then conquer them.

It is okay to hurt. Accept the pain. Let it rush over you. Let it run its course. Allow these feelings to flow through your mind, let them come, and then let them go. It is completely okay to be upset and it is so important to validate how you feel. It is necessary to let these feelings exist, but do not let them linger. Let them come, then set them free. The point of embracing your emotions is so you can validate them and then conquer them. You don’t need to carry them with you. They are here to visit, to teach you, to help you grow, not to consume you. So learn and let go. Set yourself free.

Not everything works for everyone, but everyone can find something that works for them. Find that something that works for you and utilize it. Take care of yourself and know that you are worth it. Seek help if you need it and surround yourself with things that foster positive energy. Life is tough, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. You got this, keep going. You’re needed here.

Seek professional help:

Find a Therapist

Umass On-Campus Support:

Center for Counseling and Psychological Health

Center for Women & Community

Phone apps for anxiety:

Headspace, Acupressure: Heal Yourself, Anxiety Free, MindShift and many more

BuzzFeed’s list of “14 Amazing Apps for Anyone Living With Anxiety

Helpful Websites/Facebook pages:

The Mighty 

The Mindful Life


Images: 1, 2, 3

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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Olivia Laughlin

U Mass Amherst

Hello! My name is Olivia Laughlin and I am a sophomore college student majoring in Communication and minoring in Education. I absolutely love to write, especially poetry. I am also a runner, vegan, artist, singer, sock addict, camp counselor and in love with my dog! I think the world is a spectacular, terrifying, and beautiful place that I love talking about and I hope you enjoy my perspective.
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