A few years back a therapist of mine came with a suggestion that sounds weird: to break out of the more debilitating anxiety attacks — drink a spoonful of tabasco.
She had been using this with self-harm patients, as a way to get the release that comes with cutting, without actually causing yourself harm.
Since then, I have been drinking tabasco whenever my mood crashes out too hard to handle. And it is effective.
Exemplia gratia: yesterday, after a full but very pleasant day, a bunch of things conspired against me. A panhandler intimidated me. Then various things kept my edge high, and eventually S brought up a high priority family task and suggested I do it today. I teach all day today, and don't have much in the way of slack, and ended up working up a real panic about how to fit this additional thing in, and about whether delaying until Tuesday would work.
All in all, as I went to brush my teeth, I went from quiet, sad, upset, on the verge of crashing to sitting on the bathroom floor, rocking and crying quietly. Once I finished brushing, I asked S (I had to try twice for her to hear me, each time taking a real effort to get any sound out at all) to fetch me some tabasco.
To really, really show how effective it was, let me paint the scene before and after in even more detail:
Before: I'm sitting on the bathroom floor. Rocking back and forth. Crying. Not able to get any words out. Standing up is completely out of the question. I panic, hard, when S tries to ask me which of our hot sauces I want. It's an effort to even reach up and accept the spoon S has filled with hot sauce.
After: I have barely even swallowed the spoonful of tabasco when my crying stops, a wry smile slowly creeps in. I stand right up, step over to the sink and rinse out my toothbrush, then go to bed.
It doesn't even take a second, but swallowing a spoonful of tabasco will stop — dead in its tracks — my ongoing paralyzing anxiety attacks, return me back to a reasonably good humor and quite capable of taking care of myself and functioning in my surroundings. I have yet to find anything, at all, that is quite as effective at managing my moods: the one obstacle I face is to remember that this is in my toolbox when I need it.