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What Happens In An Anxiety Attack

What Is An Anxiety Attack

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack is a sudden and intense episode of fear and anxiety. These anxiety attacks can sometimes occur unexpectedly for no apparent reason, but they can also be linked to specific triggers.

Anxiety attack is not a formal, clinical term. Instead, it is a term often used colloquially by many people to describe all sorts of anxious responses. People may use it to describe a range of sensations, from worries about an upcoming event to intense feelings of fear that would meet the diagnostic criteria for a panic attack. In order to understand what someone means by anxiety attack, it is necessary to consider the context in which the symptoms occur.

How To Deal With Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.

Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness.

The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous, but can be very frightening.

They can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, or that you are going to collapse or even die.

Most panic attacks last somewhere from five minutes to half an hour.

Are Certain People Predisposed To Panic Attacks

Now why do people develop panic disorder / attacks? The main culprit seems to be disruptions in GABA neurotransmitter system which is involved in A LOT of human emotions and reactions. GABA is a name for a specific transmitter in your brain, that carries message from one neuron cell to another, telling the brain to do certain things. The things that might contribute to these changes in the GABA system include your temperament , the adversity youve faced in your childhood, life stress and then genetics in the general sense.

Ive had people tell me its a glitch in the fight-or-flight response, that my brain is unable to process the stress being placed on it, my body is dumping its supply of adrenaline

Thats how most panic attacks work. Andrenaline increases your heart and breathing rate in preperation for extreme physical exertion. Since you typically dont exert yourself, you wind up with secondary symptoms, like shaking, lightheadedness, and low blood sugar. This discomfort can induce stress in and of itself, prolonging the attack.

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What Causes Panic Attacks

When we feel were under threat, our body activates our fight or flight response. It automatically releases hormones that help us act faster and make our hearts beat faster. This is helpful when were in danger because we can fight back or escape. Panic attacks happen when our fight or flight response is triggered but we arent in any danger.

Panic attacks happen at different times and for different reasons for everyone. You might notice you experience them when life is stressful, or that particular places or activities trigger them. Or there might be no obvious trigger for them at all.

What Happens During An Anxiety Attack

How Anxiety And Panic Attacks Differ

Anxiety attacks can be extremely frighteningsome people believe they are literally dying. The first time it occurs, you may not understand what is going on, but unfortunately, the fear of the same thing happening again can often be a self fulfilling prophecy and worrying about it brings on a further attack.

Most people suffer from extreme nerves occasionally. You might be anxious about a forthcoming job interview or perhaps you have to give a presentation at work and the thought of standing up in front of twenty of your colleagues is making you feel anxious and stressed. However, an anxiety attack is very different to a temporary attack of nerves and although feeling nervous or anxious can be unpleasant, it is nowhere near as terrifying as a full blown panic attack.

In simple terms, an anxiety attack is our fight or flight mechanism in overdrive. When it happens, you experience a massive flood of adrenaline and the nervous system is stretched to breaking point. In a survival situation, such a physical reaction could save your life by giving you the strength to escape a predator, but in an everyday situation, the symptoms of a panic attack can be very hard to deal with.

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What If I Am Not Happy With My Treatment

If you are not happy with your treatment you can:

  • talk to your doctor about your treatment options,
  • ask for a second opinion,
  • get an advocate to help you speak to your doctor,
  • contact Patient Advice and Liaison Service and see whether they can help, or
  • make a complaint.

There is more information about these options below.

Treatment options

You should first speak to your doctor about your treatment. Explain why you are not happy with it. You could ask what other treatments you could try.

Tell your doctor if there is a type of treatment that you would like to try. Doctors should listen to your preference. If you are not given this treatment, ask your doctor to explain why it is not suitable for you.

Second opinion

A second opinion means that you would like a different doctor to give their opinion about what treatment you should have. You can also ask for a second opinion if you disagree with your diagnosis. You dont have a right to a second opinion. But your doctor should listen to your reason for wanting a second opinion.

Advocacy

An advocate is independent from the mental health service. They are free to use. They can be useful if you find it difficult to get your views heard. There are different types of advocates available. Community advocates can support you to get a health professional to listen to your concerns. And help you to get the treatment that you would like.

The Patient Advice and Liaison Service

You can find your local PALS details through this website link:

Types Of Anxiety Disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by chronic and exaggerated worry and tension, much more than the typical anxiety that most people experience in their daily lives. People may have trembling, twitching, muscle tension, nausea, irritability, poor concentration, depression, fatigue, headaches, light-headedness, breathlessness or hot flashes.

Panic Disorder: People with panic disorder have panic attacks with feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. During the attacks, individuals may feel like they cant breathe, have lost control, are having a heart attack or even that they are dying. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, dizziness, nausea, sweating, tingling or numbness, and a racing heartbeat. Some people will have one isolated attack, while others will develop a long term panic disorder either way, there is often high anxiety between attacks because there is no way of knowing when the next one will occur. Panic disorders often begin early in adulthood. Many people with panic disorder also suffer from agoraphobia . See more on Panic Attacks.

Phobias are irrational fears. Individuals with phobias realize their fears are irrational, but thinking about or facing the feared object or situation can bring on a panic attck or severe anxiety.

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Is It Panic Disorder

If you feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be, you may have panic disorder.

People with panic disorder may avoid situations that might cause a panic attack. They may also fear and avoid public spaces .

Theres no quick fix, but if your attacks are happening time after time, seek medical help, says Professor Salkovskis.

Read more about panic attacks, including personal stories, at See Me Scotland.

Who Can Diagnose Anxiety Disorders

What does it feel like to have an Anxiety Attack ?

If your provider finds no signs of physical illness, they may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. They may use specially designed interview and assessment tools to figure out if you have an anxiety disorder. Typically, the provider bases a diagnosis on:

  • Your reported symptoms, including how intense they are and how long they last.
  • Discussion of how the symptoms interfere with your daily life.
  • The providers observation of your attitude and behavior.

Providers also consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . The American Psychiatric Association publishes the DSM-5. Its the standard reference manual for diagnosing mental illnesses.

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How Does Psychotherapy Treat Anxiety Disorders

Psychotherapy, or counseling, helps you deal with your emotional response to the illness. A mental health provider talks through strategies to help you better understand and manage the disorder. Approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common type of psychotherapy used with anxiety disorders. CBT for anxiety teaches you to recognize thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings. You then work on changing them.
  • Exposure therapy focuses on dealing with the fears behind the anxiety disorder. It helps you engage with activities or situations you may have been avoiding. Your provider may also use relaxation exercises and imagery with exposure therapy.

How Can You Initiate The Diagnosis Of Anxiety Attacks Or Panic Attacks

Doctors cant usually diagnose anxiety attacks but they can diagnose:

  • anxiety symptoms
  • panic attacks
  • panic disorders

Your doctor may ask you about the symptoms of attacks that may help your doctor to identify your health factors. These factors may also be associated with other types of diseases like thyroid problems and heart diseases. To get a diagnosis, your doctor may conduct:

  • a physical exam
  • a psychological evaluation or questionnaire

Read Also: What It Feels Like To Have Anxiety

Planning An Exit Strategy

One characteristic of an anxiety attack is an urgency to escape. As soon as I sense one coming on, my mind goes directly to planning an exit strategy. At work? Find the bathroom. At home? Find my bed. Somewhere else? Go outside, get somewhere alone, get away from whatever is causing you anxiety and to a safe, quiet place. This is, as I said, an urgent feeling. This is a need to escape. Sometimes I run, but most of the time I just speed walk the f*ck out of there in a desperate search for some level of comfort.

Unfortunately, if it’s a bad enough anxiety attack, this phase is paired with the next stage:

After You’ve Had A Panic Attack

How to control anxiety and panic attacks naturally

Once you feel your breath returning to normal, you start to feel more in control of your body and your thoughts start to calm down, you might feel drained and tired from the panic attack. It can be a good idea to take some time out to look after yourself and rest if you are able to. If you are not sure what to do to relax, here are some things that might help:

  • Breathing exercises a simple breathing exercise can have a calming effect and help you to relax
  • Use a self-soothe box. A self-soothe box contains things that make you feel relaxed. You can put some of your favourite things in there to focus your mind.
  • Listen to some of your favourite music or watch your favourite TV show. This can help you switch off from your anxious thoughts and help you to calm down.
  • Drinking some water can help if you were breathing quickly, felt out of breath or were crying a lot during your panic attack, as your throat might feel dry or you may feel dehydrated.

Everyone has a different way of looking after themselves, so find something that works for you. For more tips and advice on how to look after yourself, visit our taking time out page.

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Whats The Difference Between An Anxiety Attack And A Panic Attack

Its very commonand normalto get a case of the jitters before taking a test, giving a presentation, or going on a first date with someone. In most cases, your brain will calm down once you get distracted by the task at hand.

Unfortunately for some people, it is very difficult to settle their minds. They can get keyed up for hours or even days in advance, with mounting tension that eventually starts to feel overwhelming. They may describe their experience as having an anxiety attack or a panic attackterms that are often used interchangeably. However, in a clinical sense, these two types of attacks differ in numerous ways.

Anxiety Attack Symptoms Include:

  • Feeling of losing control or going crazy.
  • Heart palpitations or chest pain.
  • Feeling like youre going to pass out.
  • Trouble breathing or choking sensation.
  • Hyperventilation.
  • Nausea or stomach cramps.
  • Feeling detached or unreal.

Its important to seek help if youre starting to avoid certain situations because youre afraid of having a panic attack. The truth is that panic attacks are highly treatable. In fact, many people are panic free within just 5 to 8 treatment sessions.

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How Panic Attacks Differ From Anxiety Attacks

Aside from being more acute, a panic attack is different from an anxiety attack in a few ways. Whereas anxiety symptoms gradually build up, panic attacks can come on suddenly. They may seem to come out of the blue, or the onset of one may be in response to a known trigger, such as:

  • Having a phobia, like to snakes, and seeing one nearby in the grass
  • Fear of traveling through tunnels or over long bridges
  • Getting into an airplane or an elevator

Whether they are expected or not, the symptoms can come on rapidly and with an intensity that can be momentarily impairing. These include:

  • Chest pain and a pounding or racing heart, causing someone to think they are having a heart attack
  • Hyperventilation and shortness of breath can lead to feeling lightheaded and dizzy
  • Shaking, sweating, hot flashes, or chills
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • A sense of being choked or smothered
  • Feeling detached from their body or surroundings

Because these symptoms often strike unexpectedly, a person suffering through them may feel like theyre losing control, going crazy, or even that theyre about to die.

Fortunately, panic attacks usually only last about 10 minutes, although it is possible for a person to have multiple ones in a row making symptoms endure for longer. Nonetheless, because of the distress they cause, a person who has had one or multiple panic attacks in public may begin to feel unsafe leaving their home for fear of having another and subsequently feeling embarrassed or helpless if it happens.

Panic Attacks And The Brain

Panic Attack: How can you tell

As with anxiety, paranoia, depression, and other clinical terms that have entered everyday language, a panic attack can mean different things to different people. It may for this reason be useful to settle on a working definition before we go any further. The folks at Mayo Clinic, who usually know what theyre talking about, define a panic attack as: A sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think youre losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

This is how we will think about panic attacks as we try to unravel the brain chemistry that underpins them: brief spells of intense, visceral fear. The kind of fear that keeps you violently alive in the face of danger.

The amygdalaGrays Anatomy / Creative Commons

Heres a layout of the brain region that contains the amygdala. The amygdala, which is made up of compact neuron clusters, is understood to be the integrative center for emotions, motivation, and emotional behavior in general, but is perhaps best known for its role in fear and aggression.

One theory of panic attacks and panic disorder is that they both stem from abnormal activity within this cluster of nerves. In a review of existing research published in 2012, Dr. Jieun E Kim and his colleagues cite several animal studies that link stimulation of the amygdala to behavior analogous to human panic attacks.

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