If You Suffer From Anxiety Attacks, Scientists Say This Trick May Help You

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As you’re going about your daily business, an unusual feeling suddenly washes over you, causing your body to shake. Before you know it, you’re struggling to breathe as well, which indicates that you’re in the grip of an anxiety attack. To help battle those symptoms, a group of scientists went on to unveil a simple trick in 2019.

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While it’s vital for us to maintain our physical health, our emotional well-being is just as important. After all, the brain is like any other organ in our body, so we have to look after it. But in recent times, some eye-opening statistics have come to light regarding the number of people with mental health issues.

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For instance, it’s believed that around 40 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder, which can cause problems like panic attacks. Unsurprisingly, that makes it one of the country’s biggest mental health issues. Furthermore, the global numbers are even more concerning, as we’re about to find out.

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The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation claimed that over 790 million individuals around the world had a mental health condition in 2017. To break things down even further, the organization reported that more than 280 million of those people had anxiety issues. So given how widespread the problem is, experts shared a tip that could help ease the symptoms of an anxiety attack.

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Unfortunately, there will be times when an anxiety attack is hard to avoid. Whether it’s due to a test at school or a presentation at work, it’s quite natural to have those nerves. However, if the anxiety continues to persist for a longer period, there might be a bigger issue at play.

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Anxiety disorders can turn a person’s world upside down, as they find themselves at odds with their own mind. These conditions can trigger issues such as panic attacks, heart palpitations and a number of other worrying problems. It’s a mental illness that can affect people in different ways, depending on their situation.

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Indeed, post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise referred to as PTSD, is an anxiety issue. This mental ailment can leave the sufferer in a horrible place, as the event that sparked it will linger in their minds long after they experienced it. Meanwhile, social anxiety disorder also comes under the same umbrella.

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Although social anxiety disorder isn’t as harrowing as PTSD can be, it is still a problematic mental condition. As the name suggests, it causes the person to worry about certain communal interactions, and how they’re being perceived by those around them. On that note, simple activities can become very difficult.

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Away from that, generalized anxiety disorder is one other issue to consider when discussing this topic. Unlike the previously mentioned conditions, this mental ailment is incredibly broad, leading the sufferer to worry about things for no real reason. That can, understandably, take its toll on a person in the long term.

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In many cases, the internal factors behind these debilitating conditions are fairly clear. To explain more, the Harvard Health website broke down what happens in your brain if you have an anxiety disorder. According to the medical post, it ties into what’s known as the “fight or flight response.”

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The post read, “When someone confronts a dangerous situation, two brain circuits become active and relay sensory information about the danger ‒ such as the sight and smell of fire ‒ to different parts of the brain. One circuit extends to the cerebral cortex. The other circuit involves a deeper structure called the amygdala, that is central to emotional processing.”

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“The amygdala monitors the body’s reactions to the environment,” the Harvard Health post continued. “[It also] evaluates an event’s emotional significance, and organizes responses that a person may or may not be conscious of.” At that stage, another interesting fact about the brain circuit came to light on the medical website.

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As the post previously mentioned, the amygdala has many important responsibilities, but one of those jobs really stands out. This circuit transmits information to an area of the brain called the hypothalamus when we’re faced with a dangerous situation. Thanks to that, our body tenses up and our heart starts to beat faster.

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After laying the groundwork, the website then delved into the internal intricacies of anxiety, and how it works. “The amygdala also works with other brain structures to store emotional memories,” the Harvard Health post revealed. “[This includes] memories of frightening events. In people with anxiety disorders, however, this can become a problem.”

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The post added, “The amygdala may be so sensitive that it overreacts to situations that aren’t really threatening, inadvertently triggering the brain circuits that provoke an emergency stress response. Over time, anxiety becomes attached to situations, thoughts and memories unrelated to genuine sources of danger. In this sense, the brain may inadvertently create its own fears.”

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With that in mind, it might not be surprising that certain people can suffer from anxiety attacks. After all, not everyone is able to control the overwhelming feelings of dread and fear that suddenly crop up. For those unfortunate individuals, though, there are techniques out there that can help them cope.

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And one of those techniques suggests that the stricken individual should focus on their breathing. As we mentioned earlier, anxiety attacks can leave a person short of breath, adding to their overall state of panic. This method advises them to take deep breaths every few seconds, to help them calm down.

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Deep, controlled breathing also ties into an additional technique, as we’re about to discover. Due to the intense symptoms that can sometimes arise in an anxiety attack, the sufferer might mistake their condition for something else. For instance, they could believe they’re having a heart attack if they start to experience chest palpitations.

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However, if the person can get their breathing under control, they can then take stock of what’s happening. For you see, once the sufferer knows that they’re experiencing an anxiety attack, it quells the previous worries. The symptoms subsequently ease off as a result, all thanks to a simple change of mindset.

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Meanwhile, the Healthline website shared another tip via its article on anxiety disorders. The post read, “Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you’re in a fast-paced environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack. To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can make it easier to focus on your breathing.”

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In a similar vein to the breathing tip, there’s a also method that advises you to relax your muscles during a panic attack. As we stated earlier, our bodies tense up in times of concern, thanks to the amygdala. Yet for people with anxiety, this can happen whenever one of the aforementioned episodes kicks in.

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To help ease the tension, then, sufferers are advised to loosen up certain muscles, one after the other. For example, they could relax their fingers to begin with, before focusing on some of their bigger extremities. It’s a simple technique, and can do wonders for people in the throes of an anxiety attack.

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Given that anxiety attacks stem from the brain, our mindset can prove to be vital when the time comes to calm down. We touched upon this with one of the earlier techniques, but there’s an additional method that can be just as helpful. Referred to as “mindfulness,” this trick requires you to concentrate on the things in your vicinity.

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From touching the material of your clothes to feeling the carpet beneath you, these simple actions can help pull you back into normality. Some anxiety attacks have the power to cause mental “detachment,” so this tip might solve that particular problem going forward. And the techniques don’t end there.

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During times of great stress, then some people like to imagine themselves in a different location altogether. In fact, many people have a “happy place” that they like to visit in their minds, as it can prove quite soothing. And, believe it or not, this idea can help combat the effects of an anxiety attack.

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By placing all of your focus on your happy place, it can relieve some of the tension that comes with an attack. For the technique to work, though, it’s suggested that you don’t visualize a bustling location. Instead, quiet areas and picturesque locales are more likely to ease your anxious feelings.

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Furthermore, Healthline suggested that exercise could aid the fight against anxiety attacks as well. “It can help flood our body with endorphins, which can improve our mood,” the medical website explained. “Because you’re stressed, choose light exercise that’s gentle on the body, like walking or swimming. The exception to this is if you’re hyperventilating or struggling to breathe.”

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Alongside that, one more method might be helpful for anxiety sufferers in the future. While we’ve mentioned exercise and finding your happy place, you could also physically remove yourself from the room or building that you find yourself in. By doing that, you can release some of the tension in your body, instead of letting it get on top of you.

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However, in December 2019 a group of experts unveiled a new technique to the world. Their method was revealed in a study for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. And much like some of the other suggestions that we’ve shared thus far, it’s a fairly straightforward idea.

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If someone suffers with severe anxiety issues, they could undergo specific forms of medical treatment to help them. Whether it’s medicine or cognitive behavioral therapy, there are several ways to keep the disorders under control. Unfortunately, they don’t work for everyone, so the aforementioned scientists came up with an alternative.

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After conducting some research into the matter, the scientists claimed that “safety signals” could help quell the feelings of an anxiety attack. As for what that actually means, one of the study’s authors, Yale University’s Paola Odriozola, gave a couple of examples when discussing the signals in a press statement.

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Odriozola said, “A safety signal could be a musical piece, a person, or even an item like a stuffed animal that represents the absence of threat.” The researchers came to this conclusion at the end of their study, following tests on both humans and mice. And the experiment itself was fascinating.

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When dealing with the human test subjects, the scientists kicked things off by giving them a shape to look at. This first object was meant to represent a “threatening outcome” to the individual. At that point, the participants were then shown a second shape, which correlated with a “non-threatening outcome.”

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That second shape was soon referred to as the safety signal, as the researchers plotted their next move. After the human subjects saw the first object, they went on to look at the two shapes at the same time. While they did that, participants’ brains were scanned to see if the test was working.

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From there, Odriozola and her colleagues made an interesting discovery, as they looked at their findings. It seems that when the test subjects stared at the safety signal, it dampened the growing anxiety that was sparked by the first shape. Not only that, but the scan results also highlighted a significant scientific breakthrough.

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Alongside the treatments we mentioned earlier, exposure therapy is a technique that is also used to fight anxiety For those who take part in that particular method, a certain “neural network” in their brain comes to life. Incredibly, though, the safety signal technique saw the activation of an alternative pathway, suggesting that it worked.

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Reflecting on the results, assistant psychology professor Dylan Gee spoke with the Yale News website in December 2019. Much like Odriozola, she was one of the researchers behind this intriguing study. In Gee’s mind, the safety signal could be a better form of anxiety treatment going forward, especially when compared to exposure therapy.

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“Exposure-based therapy relies on fear extinction,” Gee told the website. “And although a safety memory is formed during therapy, it is always competing with the previous threat memory. This competition makes current therapies subject to the relapse of fear ‒ but there is never a threat memory associated with safety signals.”

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So with that in mind, the safety signals technique could be seen as a viable option in the future, joining the other established medical methods. Gee is certainly hopeful of that, because she’s not too sure about a couple of the aforementioned treatments. And her thoughts on the matter didn’t end there.

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To conclude the interview with Yale News, Gee admitted that she was looking at the bigger picture regarding anxiety treatment. She added, “Both cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants can be highly effective. But a substantial part of the population does not benefit sufficiently, or the benefits they experience don’t hold up in the longer term.” Meaning safety signals could be a treatment of the future this group of disorders.

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