I'm a web developer, Internet marketer, and a recovering anxiety sufferer. I write about mental health/wellness issues and technology.
Sitting paralyzed in the middle of an anxiety attack has got be the worst feeling in the world—I know from personal experience. To those who don't suffer from anxiety disorder, you should count yourself lucky.
For those who aren't so fortunate, here are five things you can do to "snap yourself" out of a paralyzing attack of anxiety and get moving again. These techniques work for me, and I hope they will for you, too.
The Good News About Paralyzing Anxiety Attacks
The good news about anxiety is that it's mostly a state of brain chemistry, and extreme brain states are relatively easy to change—IF you can take that first step to get moving!
1. Distract Yourself
Rumination is a core feature of anxiety—going over and over something without making any progress. It's like a car spinning its wheels on ice. Thinking too much during an attack of anxiety almost always makes it worse! Get your mind off it by:
- Watching a very emotional movie or TV show.
- Playing an absorbing video game.
- Mindlessly surfing the Internet. Sometimes the ritual of clicking through lots of websites is soothing for me.
- Reading a really good book. Anything that gets me out of my head and into someone else's is usually helpful.
2. Change Your Physical Body
A bad anxiety attack is a paralyzing feedback loop between the brain and the body's "fight or flight" response that's flashing "DANGER!" DANGER!" "DANGER!" There's no real danger, so switch off that response by:
- Dunking your face into ice cold water. This is my go-to technique when things are really bad. I fill up the kitchen sink with ice, add water, then dunk my whole head in and hold it there for 20 to 30 seconds. It sounds extreme, but it's amazing how well this works!
- Listening to very, VERY loud music. You can interrupt your brain's danger response via the auditory nerve. Put on your favorite music and turn it up, as loud as you can! I mean until the house shakes! 3 minutes of ear-splitting noise breaks anxiety paralysis incredibly well.
- Drinking something really nasty-tasting. You can probably tell this strategy shocks your nervous system via your physical senses. Sometimes a really horrible taste will break an anxiety attack for me when nothing else is working. Things I've tried include a cup of straight vinegar, a big gulp of lemon juice or a shot of very cheap vodka. Note: I do NOT advocate drinking as a solution to anxiety!
3. Take Opposite Action
Opposite action is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) technique that basically means making yourself do the opposite of what you feel like doing. The idea is if you do the opposite of how you feel, your emotions will shift towards the opposite. This is an action step. Don't over-think this one!
- Go to the store. Suffering from agoraphobia? Make yourself drive to the store and spend 1 minute browsing the shelves as if you aren't anxious. Do it even if you're completely terrified. Leave after 1 minute and go get your favorite snack as a reward for your courage.
- Go for a walk. Depressed and anxious? Don't want to get off the couch, ever again? Go for a 20 minute walk, anywhere. I don't care if you live in the worst ghetto neighborhood. Go anyway and prepare to be amazed at how much better you feel 20 minutes later.
- Stay on task—for 15 minutes. I'm self-employed, so work paralysis is often a problem for me. If you feel stuck in anxiety, concentrate on any task—but only for 15 minutes! Even a short period of productivity makes you feel better about yourself because you got something done, or at least started it.
I know, I know! Smiling is the last thing you want to do in the middle of paralyzing anxiety! But do it anyway, because it changes the neurotransmitters in your brain. I'm not kidding! Use the DBT half-smile, even though it'll feel totally fake. That's okay!
5. Practice Mindfulness
Almost all chronic anxiety is future-oriented—fear about what "might" happen. The problem is things we're afraid might happen almost never actually happen! And even if they do, our experience of them is never like what we imagine.
Mindfulness is simply a way to focus our attention on the present moment. It gets us out of worrying about the future and brings our minds into the present.
I find these five techniques always help me when I'm suffering from a paralyzing attack of anxiety. I hope they help you too! The hardest part is taking that first step to get moving, but I've found that once I take it, anxiety's horrible, hypnotic spell is soon broken.
As Tiger Woods would say, "just do it!"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
E on May 09, 2018:
This helped me today, thankyou
A. on November 25, 2017:
Danii on November 01, 2017:
Im 20 and I've been dealing with what i think is anxiety for most of my life , i havent spoken to my doctor about it as im afraid she'll laugh at me. Since i was maybe 7 or 8 i remember laying in bed and becoming scared and panicked over a loud sound, i would hide under my blanket over heating and quietly crying until i fell asleep. For the last year or two it happens when i go to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I find myself picturing someone outside the door waiting for me and i just freeze , panick and overheat. Tonight was the first night in years where i began to shake and cry . I know this fear is completely irrational but its like my brain wont listen to me. There are too often times when i cant bring myself to open the bathroom door to go back to bed and i end up standing there frozen for 20 minutes or more. I Would really appreciate any advice or anything really.
LYNN HOLLAND on October 30, 2017:
Well it’s took me 20 years to find anyone who has had the same experience as me and now I’ve found a whole community of people. Amazing.
The attack I had came while I waited to go in to see an osteopath for treatment on my back.
Now when I get a pain in my back I automatically get full blown anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle pain in back - anxiety - tension- back pain and so it goes on.
I’m going to re read your article now.
It’s a comfort to know I’m not in my own in this
Teresa on December 03, 2016:
I have had such a paralizing attacks, that i lose all movement in my body, except moving my eyes. all my limbs where all cramped up and couldnt move,. even lost bowel and bladder. so how can i watch something or really do anything when im in that condition?
AkuaNiSiya on March 16, 2015:
Hello there, just wanted these aweful experience with panic attack. I was going to school when I suddenly feel irritated, then anxious and suddenly my body became numb and I can't move. I started screaming because I think I was dying, I had difficulty breating and the other passenger helped me by massaging my feet and arms. My control came back later and I was rushed to a hospital. The doctor then said it was just a hyperventilation syndrome but I don't believe him. I was put to rest and later, discharged. Hours passed, when I am eating with my parents, I started to feel shaky again. Then suddenly I became really anxious for no apparent reason and then rushed to another hospital. There, the paralysis and numbness happened again, which feared me to death. I literally thinking that I am dying! I started to be hysterical, though I can't move. The doctor referred me to a much larger hospital, there I was diagnosed with hypokalemia, hypocalcemia and an anxiety disorder by a neurologist. I was then taking medication with clonezapam a quarter of a 2mg tablet. The whole experience is really frightening and I think I developed something they agoraphobia where I avoid places that I think an attack can happen... especially riding alone again!
Breanne Ginsburg on December 21, 2014:
You have some excellent suggestions for getting through panic attacks! Did you draw the picture? It's amazing and describes anxiety so well! I too find it helpful to distract myself while anxious. I think watching TV is a GREAT way to think about something other than our fears. Anxiety can be hard but with practice, we can get through it!
Greg Weber (author) from Montana on November 27, 2013:
Good luck Richard!
Richard on November 23, 2013:
I recently stumbled upon the realization that if I froze my face with an ice cube my anxiety would lower so I cannot wait to try a whole sink load of ice cubes my results with a single Ice Cube a remarkable I can't wait to see what happens with many wish me luck
Greg Weber (author) from Montana on May 18, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by and reading.
John David from Middle America on May 18, 2013:
Great, and helpful Hub!!
Greg Weber (author) from Montana on May 17, 2013:
Yeah, sometimes just snapping myself out of an anxious state feels like hitting the "reset" button, you know?
Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on May 17, 2013:
Interesting hub. I can reinforce the use of mindfulness and doing an opposite task. Some of your other suggestions are a bit unconventional but hey, if they work for you, great - the ice water and ear-piercing noise are probably powerful forms of distraction.
Greg Weber (author) from Montana on May 10, 2013:
Thanks Crystal! You're right...paralysis does lead to depression...and then more paralysis.
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on May 05, 2013:
This is a great hub. I'm very familiar with paralyzing anxiety. Paralysis then leads to depression and more anxiety, because, of course, nothing is getting done and that leads to feeling more overwhelmed. Your tips are very practical, although I don't think I'll be dunking my head in ice water any time soon :) I'm voting up and sharing this one.
Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on July 30, 2012:
Very helpful hub. Thanks for sharing these insightful techniques. Voted up.