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How to keep your anxiety from spiraling out of control

Panic attacks can happen to anyone, and recognizing their symptoms is the first step

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably stressed. Never fear: We’ve dug through the evidence to reveal what science really says about finding zen—and holding onto it through tough times. Want to try meditation? Take better baths? Stop anxiety in its tracks? Welcome to Calm Month.

For reasons we’d rather not dwell on, a lot of people have been feeling extremely anxious lately. In June 2020, four times as many people reported symptoms of anxiety disorder as the same period in 2019. Older folks and people of color have been especially hard hit. And this spike hits at a time when anxiety rates have already been trending quite high—in 2017, nearly one in five adults in the US had symptoms of anxiety.

Elevated stress levels can push your relationship with anxiety from an occasional nuisance to a constant struggle. . The best thing you can do is to go see a mental health professional—a therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist—and talk to them about how to handle these newfound feelings.

But if you can’t afford to go see someone, can’t do so safely during the pandemic, or simply feel that you’re not ready to seek treatment, here are some scientifically-sound suggestions for how to keep yourself from spiraling. Many of these are pulled from scientific research on panic attacks specifically, but the same principles apply to preventing general bouts of anxiety—and more long-term spirals into stressful thinking patterns.

Recognize that you’re anxious

This probably sounds obvious, but pretty much every resource on preventing anxiety attacks will give you the same advice for a reason: it’s surprisingly hard to recognize anxiety in the moment.

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