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How to Get a Sudden Spike in Anxiety Under Control


In my clinical work, I see sudden spikes in anxiety and help people cope with them all the time.

A sudden onset of anxiety can be caused by anything you perceive as a potential threat in your environment.

When you perceive danger, your mind and body go into flight, fight or freeze mode to help keep you safe.

As human beings we are constantly scanning our environment on a subconscious level, looking for danger or threats to our current state of being.

In centuries past, this environment scanning and being on high alert for danger was adaptive; it helped our species survive actual threats from living in the wild. Now in everyday society, we are still scanning our environments, but the threat level isn't nearly as life-threatening. Our reptilian brain continues to scan and be on alert, but has adapted to reacting to much more benign threats.

Your anxiety spikes because you feel you are unsafe in some way or your current state of being is threatened.

It is possible to suddenly develop a sense of panic or experience anxiety, even if you've never experienced it before. You are specifically prone to spikes in anxiety if there is a hereditary component from a family member or if there are increased bio-psycho-social stressors.

The fastest way to calm your anxiety is to take a few deep breaths. Breathing during an anxiety experience becomes shallow, mimicking and adding to the feeling of being in danger. Breathing deep expands your lungs and ribcage to stimulate the vagus nerve running in your spine to your brain stem. It sends the signal to your brain that you are safe. There is also an intervention called grounding. One can ground themselves in the present moment by being present. Focusing on the 5 senses is the easiest way to do it: ask yourself, what do I smell? taste? see? hear? feel? This quick cognitive intervention will ground your sense of the present and away from the perceived threat.

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