5 Ways to Recover After an Anxiety Attack or Nightmare
Anxiety attacks, nightmares and trauma flashbacks. These intense emotional experiences where a person suddenly feels a lot of anxiety and may not even feel connected to the present moment. After an anxiety attack or flashback has passed or the moment you wake up from a disturbing nightmare, your heart is still racing, your mind is going in a million directions and you are generally alert. Bottom line: your fight, flight or freeze response has been triggered and it’s hard to calm down. Here are some ideas for how you can help calm your mind so that you may either go back to sleep or return to your day:
- Try deep breathing. There are many different deep breathing techniques you can try and I often teach my clients several to see what works best. Here is one article that briefly describes several different techniques: https://greatist.com/happiness/breathing-exercises-relax
- Mindfully and slowly rub lotion into your hands. Notice the color and shape of the lotion as it spreads. Notice the smell. Notice how your hands feel before, during and after using the lotion. The main purpose here is to draw your attention to something calming. Alternatives to lotion could be smelling an essential oil, mindfully chewing a piece of gum or even smelling your favorite spice from your cabinet at home.
- Make a list of things you are grateful for. Challenge yourself to think of as many positive details, even if they are very small, to focus on. Often, our brain gets stuck focusing on the negative. However, it’s possible to train your brain to seek out the positives. Some people have actually found they prefer to think of “joyful moments” they had in their day instead of listing gratitude. Regardless, the purpose is to help your brain begin to focus on positive, calming things to reduce the overall anxiety in your body.
- Call a friend, loved one or confidant to talk over the experience. It can be scary to be vulnerable, but many people feel a relief and feel less “stuck” after opening up to caring person from their support network. In the case of a nightmare, you may need to wait until morning unless you have a supportive partner you feel comfortable waking after a particularly difficult nightmare.
- Accumulate positive experiences. If you can’t do something positive immediately, plan to do something fun soon. Go for a walk. Paint a picture. Play the guitar. Think about an upcoming vacation. Try to do something that you enjoy or do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment just to help you regain your equilibrium and begin to feel “normal” again.
The bottom line is that after these intensely emotional, anxious and exhausting experiences, go easy on yourself and focus on self care. Plan to take it easy for a couple hours if possible and make taking care of yourself a priority.
Begin Counseling for Anxiety
If you regularly experience anxiety attacks or nightmares, it’s important to know that counseling can help. Sleep is incredibly important and nightmares can make it difficult for you to even want to go to sleep because you’re afraid of waking up in a panic again. Similarly, if you have panic attacks often you may find yourself so focused on avoiding the next panic attack that you miss out on important parts of your life. However, you don’t have to live this way. A trained mental health therapist can help.
If you live in the Mid Missouri area, consider contacting Aspire Counseling today using the form on this page or calling by 573-328-2288. You don’t have to live in fear of a panic attack or with nightmares constantly interrupting your sleep. We have a team of well trained, caring therapists here to help.
About the Author
Jessica Tappana MSW, LCSW is the founder, director and a full time therapist at Aspire Counseling. She created Aspire Counseling, a Mid Missouri counseling clinic, to help individuals find healing from trauma, grief, anxiety and stress. Jessica believes in the power of effective counseling to change lives is a big proponent of self care. She believes with the right help, everyone can live a fulfilling life!