Anxiety Attacks: How They Happen And How to Deal With Them

Anxiety disorders are mental health disorders characterized by excessive and persistent fear and apprehension about everyday situations. When these feelings of worry, fear, and tension start to disrupt your normal functioning, anxiety becomes a problem.

Anxiety disorders are a common medical condition faced by several people. They are highly treatable, but to do so, you need to educate yourself and others about what anxiety is and how everyone can play their part to help patients with this mental health disorder cure it. Therefore, it is important to know what happens when one suffers from an anxiety or panic attack, its potential causes, various symptoms, the different types of anxiety disorders, coping strategies at home, and when to seek professional help.

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What is an Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack is an incident of strong feelings of fear and apprehension. These feelings are often accompanied by physical symptoms and can disrupt your daily functioning. Anxiety attacks can be a one-time occurrence or an ongoing event. If someone starts to experience these twice a month or more, they can be diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorder.

Diagnosis: Separating the Good From the Bad

Anxiety is a normal, extreme reaction when we feel threatened or under pressure because of something. In moderation, it even helps us stay alert and focused, giving the incentive to solve our problems and can also be referred to as ‘good’ or ‘normal’ anxiety. But it is when anxiety becomes overwhelming and constant, often interrupting your daily functioning, that you have likely stepped into the territory of an anxiety disorder or ‘bad’ anxiety in simple terms.

Imagine a situation where you experience symptoms like pounding heart, shaking, and shortness of breath, and these intense feelings of fear and worry don’t seem to leave you when you’re met with challenges or feel threatened. In that case, you are likely to have an anxiety disorder.

Causes of Anxiety Attacks

Caregivers do not know for sure what causes anxiety disorders. The symptoms vary from person to person. One can suffer from intense anxiety attacks without warning, while some others live in a constant state of fear and apprehension about anything and everything. Some people’s anxiety is triggered by facing threatening or stressful situations, while others experience anxiety attacks because of specific problems or triggers.

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Photo from energepic.com/Pexels

Anxiety disorders are likely to manifest if you suffer from other mental health disorders like depression(constantly feeling sad or low). Anxiety disorders can also develop for no reason and to anyone regardless of age or gender. Talking about medical causes, certain medical conditions and medicines can also cause anxiety or panic attacks. You are also likely to have anxiety disorders if someone else in the family has them too.

Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

The main symptom of anxiety is the persistent feeling of fear or apprehension. This feeling is also often accompanied by several other signs and symptoms listed as emotional and physical, varying from person to person. These include:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and lightheadedness
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Feelings of fear and worry
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Losing control
  • Feeling irritable and tense
  • Wanting to avoid things or situations that trigger anxiety
  • Feeling exhausted or weak
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling nervous and restless

Types of Anxiety Disorders

The diagnostic and statistical manual(DSM-5), a standardized and centralized guide by mental health professionals to classify and build actionable direction concerning mental health disorders published by the American psychiatric association, lists the following types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder consists of prolonged, vague, unexplained, and intense fears attached to any object. It is marked by hypervigilance and motor tension. As a result, the person is unable to relax and is visibly shaky and tense.

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of self-consciousness, embarrassment, and concern of being viewed negatively by others.

Substance/Medication Induced Anxiety Disorder

This refers to anxiety disorders characterized by symptoms caused by withdrawal from or misuse of drugs, alcohol intake, medications, or other toxic substances.

Anxiety disorder due to another Medical Condition

This includes anxiety disorders caused directly due to other physical health problems faced by the individual.

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Separation anxiety disorder refers to the developmentally intense feeling of fear or anxiety of separation from those to whom the individual is attached.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is seen in children and refers to the consistent failure to speak in social situations, such as school or at home with close family members. This can interfere with normal development and social functioning.

Specific Phobia

Specific phobias are the most commonly occurring type of phobia, which includes irrational fears of certain things, animals, or situations, that are intense and incapacitating.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder consists of recurrent anxiety attacks in which the person experiences intense terror. It consists of an abrupt surge of extreme anxiety rising to a peak when thoughts of particular stimuli are present. These thoughts occur unpredictably. The clinical features include trouble breathing, dizziness, trembling, choking, nausea, chest pain or discomfort, fear of losing control or dying.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the term for when people develop a fear of entering unfamiliar situations. Agoraphobics are often scared to leave their homes or try new things, so their ability to carry out normal tasks is limited.

Coping Techniques & Self-help For Anxiety

The levels of anxiety may vary from person to person, as one can have anxiety occasionally when put under stressful or challenging situations. Some constantly suffer from intense anxiety symptoms, and others have an obvious trigger for their anxiety.

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Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

Despite the scale or cause of anxiety, recurrent panic attacks or severe anxiety attack symptoms raise mental health concerns, and those who suffer from the same should seek professional help. Although, if you are experiencing anxiety symptoms occasionally, self-help strategies or relaxation techniques can help manage stress and overwhelming fear. These coping techniques and self-help strategies include:

Replace chronic worrying with a rational thought process

Anxiety can cause worry or negative ideas to cloud your mind; an important aspect of coping on your own with this mental illness is replacing these negative thoughts with rational ones. This can be done by questioning yourself about why you have these negative ideas and having a more optimistic approach.

Stress management

Being under a lot of stress often leads to anxiety and disrupts your normal functioning. It is, therefore, important to let go of some responsibilities and prioritize your mental health if you feel overwhelmed or under a lot of pressure.

Meditation and deep-breathing

Meditation and deep breathing are good ways to relax your mind and keep your thoughts centered when experiencing constant intense feelings of fear and apprehension.

Positive Reinforcement

Another idea is to remind yourself of even your little achievements and reward yourself for the same. This helps you have an optimistic mindset and keeps you away from feelings of fear and apprehension.

Exercise and physical activities

Exercise and other physical activities are also great ways to release built-up tension and stress resulting in anxiety. They have also proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Build a support system around you

You must build a reliable support system around you in the form of friends and family when you need to vent out your emotions, as pent-up emotions can cause anxiety.

Taking back control over your thoughts

It is important to have control over your thoughts so that you don’t let the negative feelings or thoughts overpower your functioning and make you lose control.

When to Seek Professional Help

While self-help techniques have proven to help many people with anxiety, sometimes, when these feelings of fear and apprehension are deeply rooted, it is difficult to cope with them on your own. Suppose, even after trying these coping techniques, you still suffer from recurrent and intense anxiety attacks that disrupt your daily functioning. In that case, you are likely to have developed panic disorders, and you need to seek help from a caregiver or a mental health professional before it gets worse.

Treatment

Repeated anxiety attacks are a real medical illness that needs to be treated. Anxiety disorders have proven to respond well to therapy and medication. It’s easier to treat this mental illness if you get help early. But it would be best if you saw a caregiver help you understand what is causing the anxiety or fear to treat it. The treatment approach would vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder and its severity.

Therapy:

  • Psychotherapy– A type of psychotherapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy(CBT) that helps you identify and try to break away from the negative thinking patterns and illogical beliefs which build your anxiety. Through CBT, a therapist attempts to help by teaching relaxation skills and changing behaviors that worsen anxiety. Psychoeducation about anxiety is the first step on the road to recovery from anxiety and other related mental illnesses. 
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  • Exposure therapy – Through gradual exposure to the feared object or situation, either in your imagination or in reality, exposure therapy helps you gain a greater sense of control and encourages you to face your phobias and worries in a secure environment. Your anxiety will slowly decrease as you achieve small successes while facing your fears. This helps reduce fear and decrease avoidance.

Medication :

Anti-anxiety medications help increase the brain’s amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter chemical used by brain cells to communicate with each other. The higher the serotonin levels, the better the brain communicates, which can help ease anxiety and prevent panic attacks.

Medication
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It is important to know that medication for anxiety should only be taken when prescribed by your doctor, or it could have harmful side effects. Usually, people resort to certain medications only after all other options fail to help. It is also important to learn about the side effects of the medication before taking it.

An anxiety attack is not life-threatening. However, it is important to reach out to a doctor to help you cope with repeated anxiety and panic attacks and make sure your symptoms are caused by anxiety and not some other health problem. If your anxiety attacks are not treated, you may develop other issues such as alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health disorders. Frequent anxiety attacks can negatively affect your mood, productivity, and relationships with other people. People who have an anxiety disorder are more likely to self-harm and other related negative thoughts. Treatments thus become important as they can help decrease the amount and severity of anxiety attacks.

Stigma Around Anxiety

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Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Anxiety is often overlooked and left undiagnosed by people, as it is not considered a serious health issue. Some people are also hesitant to ask for help for a mental health issue in fear of seeming ‘sick’ or ‘weak’ compared to others.

The approach towards the treatment of anxiety disorders or mental health issues, in general, is also subjected to cultural disparity. While in the west, it is commonly believed that seeking help should be limited to a therapist or a mental health professional, in the east, the belief is that anxiety is nothing serious and can be cured just through the support of friends and family.

We need to understand that for an efficient approach towards treating anxiety, we need to combine self-help and professional help techniques to help the individual faster and support destigmatize seeking help for a mental illness. It is very important that in the changing world, characterized by several mental health issues, we make a safe space for everyone to seek help without the fear of judgment or embarrassment.

To know more about anxiety, you can also check out this article.

Any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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