Sometimes patients come to me because they want to know how to deal with an anxiety attack. However, the symptoms they’re describing are technically those of a panic attack—a burst of fear or worry with intense physical manifestations.

A panic attack hits you all of a sudden: one minute you’re fine and the next minute your heart is pounding, you can’t catch your breath, you’re sweating like crazy and you feel a bit dizzy.

It can feel so extreme that you think you’re dying – or going insane. Thoughts like that, of course, make the whole thing worse by providing you with something else to be really anxious about.

Many people have bouts of anxious feelings that don’t amount to full blown panic but are nonetheless distressing. This is what most people describe as an anxiety attack.

If this is your situation, you may have some of the same symptoms of panic attacks but to a lesser degree, or maybe not as many symptoms at once. However, if left unmanaged, recurrent panic and anxiety attacks can lead to an anxiety disorder.

Whichever version you experience, the way to help stop anxiety is the same. In fact, I give this advice to people facing any emotional storm, not just those looking for ways to relieve anxiety.

The best place to begin is by changing what is happening in your body. Calming the symptoms of anxiety attacks doesn’t mean the emotion goes away, but it can lessen the intensity of the experience and help you overcome it. With the immediate chaos quieted, you will be much more able to access Wise Mind Living strategies.

Here’s a 2-point plan for overcoming an anxiety attack:

Slow your breathing. Breathe in through your nose – this avoids the tendency to gulp air or hyperventilate when you’re worked up – and out through your mouth, counting slowly to five as you exhale.

Relax your muscles. The best way to encourage a bit of relaxation while your body is in the midst of an emotional response is simply to think about releasing tensed muscles. Each time you exhale, imagine your muscles softening. Target the areas where you know you tend to hold tension – jaw, neck and shoulders are common culprits. You can try using my relaxation practice.

Physical responses to emotion, like what happens in an anxiety attack, are automatic. You don’t have a lot of say in whether or not your heart races, or you get the shakes, or you feel nauseous or faint. Breathing is the one thing you can really control in the middle of it all.

If you can slow your breathing, you can interrupt the cascade of negative effects emotion is having on your body – and create a cascade of positive changes.

Purposefully slowing your breathing will slow your heartbeat, normalize the rush of hormones created by intense emotion, release muscle tension, and more. Anxiety flipped the “On” switch; your breath is the “Off” switch – as long you know how to work it.

These simple techniques can provide immediate panic and anxiety attack relief, right in the midst of the storm. But the more you practice them when you’re not in turmoil, the easier it will be to call on them when you need them most.

Please leave a message in the comment section below and let me know if you found these tips to be helpful.