Anxiety attacks can be awful, frightening, intense, and seem like you are out of control. Symptoms of an anxiety attack can include: overwhelming fear, feel like going crazy, feel like losing control, a surge of doom and gloom, urgency to escape, dizziness, heart palpitations, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, pounding or racing heart, butterflies in your stomach, and other unpleasant sensations.


Anxiety attacks and their symptoms are episodes of high degree stress response accompanied or precipitated by high degree of fear and anxiety. They can last from a few moments to many hours. The length is usually related how intense the attack is and how the person reacts to the attack. Simply put, the greater the reaction the longer the attack.


Dealing with an anxiety attack is never an easy task. In other words, I am going to describe a simple method that will help you to survive and recover from an attack, but implementing it is never easy.


Generally, when someone meets with me that is struggling with debilitating stress or anxiety attacks I teach them a 5×2 diaphragmatic breathing technique. The purpose of this technique is to get more oxygen into your body and to blow off waste products such as carbon dioxide. Brain cells require oxygen and die off within minutes of lack of oxygen. In other words, slight changes in oxygen content in your brain results in changes in how you think, feel, and behave.


During an anxiety attack, your breathing changes dramatically resulting in a lack of oxygen getting to your brain. The body then sets off a dramatic freak out reaction (stress response) because the body is in dire need of increasing the oxygen. Learning to let your breath relax you is vital.


Sit in a chair, get comfortable, put your hands on your chest and stomach, and then for several minutes, notice how your breathing. Do you breathe mostly in your chest? In your stomach? The way you breathe has a huge impact on how you feel. Have you ever watched a puppy or baby sleep? They breathe almost exclusively with their stomachs. Yet most adults breathe almost totally from their chest which is a much shallower breath and incorrect.


To practice using Diaphragmatic breathing, lie on your back and place a small book on your stomach. Breathe in for 5 seconds making the book go up, then pause for 2 seconds, then breathe out making the book go down for another 5 seconds, and then pause for 2 seconds before repeating the 5x2x5x2 pattern. Shifting the center of your breathing lower in your body will help you feel more relaxed and better in control of yourself.


This has been one of the most helpful exercises for me personally. When I first began using diaphragmatic breathing I noticed I mostly breathed with my chest and wondered why I never felt totally relaxed. Now after many hours of practice I can begin to feel a larger calm come over me. I use this before sessions, meetings, speaking engagements, watching close stressful ball games, and whenever I need to feel under control. I have even taught this method to my kids. My son uses it before shooting free throws and when he is pitching in high stress situations.

If you are struggling with anxiety attacks or strong stress symptoms, give the breathing exercise a chance. This is only one method and there are many more methods to help. Many of the people who come to meet with me for counseling learn several methods and begin to feel more in control after a few sessions. It never hurts to ask for help rather than go at this battle alone.



Chris Swenson is a licensed therapist who helps people overcome and face life’s most treacherous challenges. His office is located in Sterling, CO. For an appointment please call Chris at (970) 522-0796.

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