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In the fast-paced world of the modern-day, experiencing anxiety is an inevitable part of one’s lifestyle.
While experiencing this fight-or-flight response during stressful situations is normal, excessive anxiety is harmful to one’s mental health and might be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are not uncommon and affect many people every year. The severity of the cases varies in different individuals, but the symptoms are largely similar.
Most types of anxiety disorders involve panic attacks. Such attacks are characterized by an irrational sense of discomfort, sudden fear, and a feeling of losing control, even in the absence of a reason.
Panic attacks occur suddenly without any warning and can considerably impact your daily functioning, irrespective of how long they last.
So what are these disorders? How do you know if you might have one? What are the symptoms of a panic disorder or anxiety disorder? How long can an anxiety attack last? Here we try to answer these questions and any others you might have in mind.
1. What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a category of mental health disorders wherein intense fear overwhelms the individual during even ordinary and regular situations.
The most common symptom of any anxiety disorder is sudden and recurring episodes of extreme fear that last for a few minutes.
Anxiety attacks cannot be controlled in any way and can hinder the regular functioning of an individual. An anxiety attack is generally triggered by specific situations or events. Anxiety disorders have physical manifestations as well.
Some common physical symptoms of a panic or anxiety disorder include rapid breathing, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, and fatigue. Most physical symptoms resemble those of a heart attack.
2. Types of Anxiety Disorders
All anxiety disorders have some symptoms in common but can exist in several forms. Here are the types of anxiety disorders.
This disorder is characterized by the fear of places and situations that might cause the individual to feel anxiety and panic.
People suffering from this tend to avoid such situations that might cause them to feel helpless or embarrassed.
b) Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This type of anxiety disorder causes one to constantly worry excessively about ordinary and mundane activities, so much so that it becomes difficult to manage anxiety.
It also manifests itself in form of physical symptoms and is generally accompanied by depressive disorders.
c) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A term that you might have often heard being used quite casually, OCD is much more than a knack for order and cleanliness.
OCD causes an individual to constantly get unwanted thoughts that eventually drive them to repeatedly engage in a specific kind of behavior, so much so that it hampers their regular social functioning.
Not engaging in the behavior tends to cause the individual great distress and they do not really have the awareness of the irrationality of their obsession or the repeated, unwanted thoughts.
d) Panic Disorder
Panic disorder involves panic attacks, that cause an individual to experience sudden pangs of extreme fear and might last for a few minutes.
A panic attack involves physical symptoms like trouble breathing, palpitations, and chest pain. These, in turn, lead to the individual worrying about the panic attack occurring again.
e) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Though not technically an anxiety disorder, PTSD is a disorder caused by the experience of any event that leaves an excessively negative influence on one’s mind. Though not occurring in every case, anxiety attacks are a possible symptom of this disorder.
Such traumatic events can include anything from natural disasters to accidents and experiences of assault.
People suffering from PTSD get nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic event along with anxiety attacks. This disorder can last for several years and adversely affect one’s coping abilities and social skills.
f) Selective Mutism
This anxiety disorder is mainly found in children. It is characterized by the failure of the individual to speak in certain situations but having no such difficulty otherwise.
For instance, they might be able to speak among family members but not in school. This can adversely impact one’s social functioning.
e) Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety disorder also occurs in young children. This causes a child to feel excessive anxiety about being separated from parents or caregivers.
f) Social Phobia
Also known as social anxiety disorder, social phobia causes feelings of anxiety and embarrassment during social situations.
This causes an individual to avoid social situations due to the feeling of being judged by others and feeling extremely self-conscious.
g) Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
As the name suggests, this type of anxiety disorder occurs due to misuse of certain drugs or sudden withdrawal from them.
Substance abuse, even in the case of prescribed medications, can cause anxiety attacks and can prove to be life-threatening.
3. What is an Anxiety Attack?
An anxiety attack is an episode of intense fear or worry caused by specific situations due to a perceived threat instead of an actual one.
Such feelings are accompanied by physical manifestations resembling heart attack symptoms. Anxiety attacks can cause hindrances in the daily functioning of an individual.
However, one can regain control over their life once one can recognize and manage symptoms.
a) Anxiety vs. Anxiety Attack
Let’s get this straight. Everyone sometimes feels anxious, and there is no harm in feeling so in moderation. This feeling might eventually do you good by keeping you charged and motivated.
Anxiety is the normal fight-or-flight response of one’s body to stressful situations and threats. However, this anxiety becomes a cause of worry when it becomes difficult to manage and hinders regular functioning.
Out of proportion, anxiety attacks are signs of anxiety disorders. While feeling anxious at times is pretty common, the term anxiety attack has more serious connotations.
According to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, an attack caused by an anxiety disorder needs proper diagnosis by a mental health professional.
b) Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack
The symptoms of both of these are largely similar. But these terms cannot be used interchangeably.
We know that specific situations and occurrences trigger an anxiety attack. This might or might not be the case with the latter. Panic attacks can occur out of nowhere without warning.
Panic attacks are almost always more severe than anxiety attacks, even in terms of physical symptoms.
Apart from these, another important difference between the two is the build-up time. In case of an anxiety attack, be it mild, moderate, or severe, one can feel it arriving before it peaks.
But panic attacks come without any warning. Such unexpected panic attacks tend to cause the same level of hindrance each time without any distinction in the levels of severity.
4. How Long Can an Anxiety Attack Last?
It is established by now that having an anxiety attack is not the nicest of feelings. So it is not surprising that every second feels like an hour during an anxiety attack, irrespective of how long or brief.
That being said, it is also important to remember that there is no fixed duration of such attacks, and the longevity varies from case to case.
The duration depends on your overall physical and mental well-being and your unique mental health conditions according to the disorder. A person’s symptoms also differ from time to time.
According to research, most attacks last about 20 to 30 minutes and take 10 minutes to peak.
The frequency also varies from person to person depending upon the severity of the case and mental health conditions. However, managing such attacks with proper awareness of the triggers and cues becomes easier.
Knowing what situations trigger an anxiety attack, you can take conscious steps to avoid such problems. While this might not be a permanent solution for anxiety-related mental disorders, it would lower the risk of an unprecedented attack.
5. How to Stop an Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety attacks come with an overpowering feeling of helplessness and despair and might leave you in a state of confusion.
In such cases when it is impossible to think straight, knowing what works best for you in managing these anxiety symptoms is beneficial.
Though it is always advisable to seek treatment from mental health professionals for any mental illness, there are some self-help strategies you can adopt in order to manage anxiety symptoms and ease an anxiety attack.
a) Deep Breathing
The symptoms of an anxiety attack that most people have to tackle are shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. This physical symptom leads to the worsening of such an attack.
Trying deep breathing techniques in such situations generally proves to be relaxing.
Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation help eliminate symptoms like muscle tension. Breathe slowly and deeply, ad focus on each breath. You can also try specialized relaxation techniques such as the 4-7-8 breathing.
b) Go for a Walk
Move away from the surroundings that are causing you anxiety. Along with this, walking also helps to regulate breathing and heart rate.
While taking a walk due to spatial restraints is not always possible, you can engage in some light exercise instead. Such movements would release endorphins to better your mood.
If you exercise regularly, you will also see its results on your overall mental health.
c) Try Meditating
Let’s face it, meditation does not come very easily to people, even under normal circumstances. But with some practice, you would surely be able to master it and even use it to your benefit during anxiety attacks.
Meditation does not have to be complicated. It might be as straightforward as imagining yourself in your happy place.
You can also adopt a repeated mantra, which might calm you down. Besides, focussing on a single object without letting thoughts wander about it is also helpful.
d) Take Medications
Mental health professionals might prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help with severe anxiety attacks if medically diagnosed with an anxiety-related mental illness.
You may take any such prescribed medications during an anxiety attack. Mental health professionals might even prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that prevent an anxiety attack from happening in the first place.
Again, in this case, the most important thing to remember is that you should only take medications when prescribed and in proper doses. Anti-anxiety drugs might be addictive or have side effects.
e) Seek Therapy
No matter what you do when the symptoms happen, taking steps to manage anxiety, in the long run, is advisable.
You should surely seek therapy if diagnosed with an anxiety-related disorder. Not only will it help you to understand the triggers that cause an anxiety attack and how to avoid them, but it will also address other related mental illnesses that might accompany anxiety.
In recent days, online therapy has seen a meteoric rise in popularity. Online treatment enables you to get help in any space that’s most comfortable for you.
Organizations and support groups such as the Anxiety and Depression Association also play a very important role in raising awareness about mental health problems and making help accessible to the ones who need it.
The Bottom Line
Though anxiety and panic attacks are not the same, the symptoms and steps to stop them remain largely the same.
Anxiety and panic attacks are not uncommon among people. If you know someone who might be suffering from anxiety or panic disorder, you should encourage them to seek help.
It is very important to overcome the taboo surrounding any discussion related to mental illnesses to get more and more people to open up about their problems.
Now that you know how long an anxiety attack can last, share this information with your friends and do your bit to spread awareness about a problem many faces but are not always able to talk about.