As a preface: This is advice for coping with symptoms of anxiety and depression-if you are struggling with mental illness you need to see a doctor or look into therapy. These are just tips and tools.

Anxiety. Probably one of the worst feelings imaginable that a person could feel. The sinking feeling in the chest, the quick breathing, nauseous stomach, and a myriad of other symptoms that everyone experiences differently. A panic attack, to which the central nervous system becomes overloaded and floods your body with adrenaline for no particular reason (pardon my biology major nerdiness). The central nervous system, or CNS, is the connection between the spinal cord and the brain and helps us interpret our environment around us. This controls the “fight or flight” mechanism and creates the rush of adrenaline and physical evolutionary symptoms we feel with anxiety attacks, or the feeling of anxiety all together. However, if you’ve ever had an anxiety attack, it seems as if it should be “fight or flight or remain frozen in the same spot trying to breathe and hold yourself together”. Anxiety attacks are when the body goes into a “fight or flight” mechanism, increasing blood rate and heartbeat, slowing metabolism, and increasing levels of adrenaline while soothing levels of serotonin go down. But why should you care? In treating anxiety, you first have to look at the biological causes to treat the mental and physical symptoms, how can you treat a cold if you don’t know what it is? I’ve lived with an anxiety and panic disorder for a few years now, (you could call me a lexaPRO:D ok I’m done) and have created some tips and tools in helping with the debilitating symptoms of anxiety.

How to stop a panic attack:

Read aloud

The brain is working in overdrive trying to calm itself down, or ramping itself up without control—anyway this uses a severe amount of mental energy. Reading out loud not only occupies visual senses, its working on language interpretation and speech production (prefrontal left lobe of the brain). Interpretation of our surroundings are linked directly to the CNS system, so instead of “fight or flight”, it knows it’s reading and speaking time. The brain simply does not have enough energy to occupy all of those functions, so occupying a few will help bring you down from an attack.

Counting out of order

The same mechanisms that are put into place for reading aloud are also applied to      counting out of order. It takes more brain energy than you would think to count out of order (3, 17, 9, 245, 37,..etc). The main objective during an anxiety attack is to calm down the central nervous system, you can’t accomplish anything with a short breath and the intense overwhelming feeling to survive.

Chew gum

This has more of an evolutionary approach to the CNS, slowing it down through tricking the body into thinking it’s eating. If you can, go ahead and have a snack, it’ll do the same thing and snacks are fun. Think about this, it’s 8.000 B.C, you’re being chased by a predator, it’s not snack time. Your body knows this, people are only going to eat if there’s no chance of being…well, eaten (from a very archaic perspective). The body shows this through the “fight and flight” mechanism, which is put into place when there’s a sense of danger—and ultimately slowing down metabolism (creating that lovely nauseous feeling that anxiety brought to the party). These same reasons can be applied to even throwing up during intense feelings of anxiety, the body is trying to make itself as light as possible to run faster from danger. In modern day times though, it’s usually just scary and gross—but there is comfort in knowing that it’s the body’s natural reaction to fear.

Personal tricks I use: Weighted blankets actually help a lot for me, especially when anxiety is keeping me from sleeping. The only way I can describe the feeling is anxiety is a fire, and a weighted blanket is a…blanket. It can sometimes help put out the fire. I also have a lot of friends who have them because of how much they’ve helped with being as comfortable as possible during anxiety attacks. For those who don’t know what a weighted blanket is, it’s a soft blanket filled with beads or sand that you can get under to help with sensory overload. The weights are correlated with height (ex. I’m 5’8” and have a 15 lbs. blanket). Another thing I’ve found that helps with everyday anxiety is journaling. Journaling has actually been clinically proven to help lower average rates of anxiety by taking worries in your head and materializing them onto paper. It’s almost like a transfer of worrying, you’re not the only one holding your burden anymore—some paper is helping too. 

Anxiety is terrifying—that’s its purpose and there’s almost no way around that. It’s a very serious ailment that can truly debilitate lives and compromise your quality of living. These small tips and tricks (along with their boring drawn out explanations) are meant to be used as coping skills for the panic attacks that simply can’t be helped. Although many people experience panic attacks, the ailment shouldn’t be so standardized you ignore it or take it lightly. If you’re experiencing panic attacks or feeling anxious, always seek help or reach out.