Anxiety may be an emotional response to a perceived threat but since our minds, emotions and bodies are so closely intertwined, these emotional upsets can cause physical symptoms as well like a numb feeling in your hands, arms, chest or head.
Even though many people refer to an anxiety attack, the technically correct name for the intense experience of fear is called a panic attack. Most people will have a panic attack at least a few times in their lives as a result of stressful life experiences, but when panic attacks start to occur frequently without a known cause it may give rise to panic disorder.
When you suffer from a panic attack you experience all types of unpleasant symptoms including, but not limited to, a rapidly beating heart and increased breathing, also called hyperventilation. Your body is preparing to fight of the threat you are being confronted with and wants to supply your body with enough blood and oxygen to either fight or run to safety. Unfortunately, too much oxygen in your blood can cause the pH value of your blood to become more alkaline. As a result the nerves of your limbs and head are affected, causing them to feel numb. Other unpleasant symptoms of anxiety caused by this rise in your blood’s pH value include dizziness, confusion, abdominal cramps and fainting if your blood pressure should fall as a result.
Fortunately it is not difficult to fix the pH level of your blood. Breathing into a paper bag, or into your cupped hands will help you to inhale more carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has an acidic pH and will balance out the alkalinity in your blood caused by too much oxygen. If you know that you frequently suffer from panic attacks, you should also be able to identify the onset of another attack by its symptoms. Breathing into your hands or a paper bag, if you can find one, will not only treat the symptoms caused by a panic attack but it can also help to prevent these symptoms.
Now of course you won’t always want to breathe into your hands while you may be in public places surrounded by people. The long term solution for the feelings of numbness would be to treat your anxiety, of which panic attacks or panic disorder is just a sub condition. Cognitive behavioral therapy is widely considered to be the most effective way of treating anxiety. The aim of this type of treatment is to teach you new ways of thinking about people, places or situations that may trigger your anxiety or a panic attack.
Breathing exercises such as those done during yoga or meditation sessions may not only balance your blood’s pH value, but may also help you to relax. If you like being active, exercise can be very beneficial to rid your body of all the different types of stress hormones and during exercise your body uses oxygen. It is of course not always practical to go for a jog when you feel a panic attack approaching, but it may be helpful in using up the excess oxygen.
The last thing that you should do is to allow the symptoms of anxiety to make you even more anxious. Anxiety can be overcome and there are many people just like you who have managed to overcome it.
“Respiratory Alkalosis.” The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. 2008. Merckmanuals.com. (October 16, 2012) http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/endocrine_and_metabolic_disorders/acid-base_regulation_and_disorders/respiratory_alkalosis.html