How Are Anxiety Attacks Diagnosed And Treated
- There is no test that can say for sure that you have an anxiety disorder. An anxiety attack can feel like symptoms of other health problems, so these problems need to be ruled out. For example, chest pain and shortness of breath during an anxiety attack can feel like a heart attack.
- Repeated anxiety attacks are a real health problem that needs to be treated. You may need to see a counselor. A counselor may help you understand what is causing the anxiety or fear. A counselor may help you learn relaxation techniques to decrease your anxiety. Medicine may also be needed to help your anxiety. It may take many months of treatment to make sure your anxiety attacks do not come back.
Panic Attacks And The Brain
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 you’re 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 amygdalaGray’s 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.
Causes Of Anxiety Fear And Panic
There are many different causes of anxiety, fear or panic and it’s different for everyone.
When you’re feeling anxious or scared, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
This can be helpful in some situations, but it might also cause physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and increased sweating. In some people, it might cause a panic attack.
Regular anxiety, fear or panic can also be the main symptom of several health conditions. Do not self-diagnose speak to a GP if you’re worried about how you’re feeling.
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You May Feel Like You’re Detached From Your Own Self
Anxiety attacks often feel a lot worse than they actually are, and that’s largely because you may feel like you’re not even in control of your own body. Like you’re in a dream, witnessing whatever is happening to you without the capability to interfere with whatever it is.
Mental health author Gila Lyons describes her experience with depersonalization for Healthline. After months of anxiety and panic attacks, she says she ultimately decided to stop taking the subway to work in New York City and start walking. But, one day, during an attack, she started to feel detached from her body. “My hand looked garish and it panicked me to clearly feel the thought, move your hand, echo cavernously inside my head and then see my hand move,” she explains. “The whole process that was supposed to be automatic, instant, and unnoticeable was broken down.” She felt like “an outside observer of innermost processes, making a stranger in own body and mind.”
Feeling detached from your own self is typical during an anxiety attack, according to The Stress and Anxiety Center. This is called depersonalization.
Anxiety Attack: The Most Common Symptoms
- Insane, overwhelming strike of panic
- Dizziness, feeling faint or light headed.
- Accelerated heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Numbness, particularly in your feet and hands.
- Feeling detached and unreal. Basically, you feel like you are going crazy.
- Fearing youre dying.
An anxiety attack can roll in with most of the above or just a few symptoms, coming one after another or all at once.
The symptoms can last from a few seconds to a terrible half an hour, though the average number is 10 minutes says, Doctor Merav Gur.
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When To Seek Professional Help
While self-help coping strategies can be very effective, if your worries, fears, or anxiety attacks have become so great that theyre causing extreme distress or disrupting your daily routine, its important to seek professional help.
If youre experiencing a lot of physical symptoms, you should start by getting a medical checkup. Your doctor can check to make sure that your anxiety isnt caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, hypoglycemia, or asthma. Since certain drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, your doctor will also want to know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and recreational drugs youre taking.
If your physician rules out a medical cause, the next step is to consult with a therapist who has experience treating anxiety disorders. The therapist will work with you to determine the cause and type of your disorder and devise a course of treatment.
For Support And More Information:
- Anxiety attacks can be a life-changing condition for you and your family. Accepting that you have anxiety attacks is hard. You and those close to you may feel angry, sad, or frightened. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. Let them help you. Encourage those close to you to talk to your caregiver about how things are at home. Your caregiver can help your family better understand how to support a person with anxiety attacks.
- You may want to join a support group. This is a group of people who also have anxiety problems. Ask your caregiver for the names and numbers of support groups in your town. You can also contact one of the following national organizations for more information.
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America 8730 Georgia Avenue, Suite 600Silver Spring, MD 20910
- National Institute of Mental Health , Public Information & Communication Branch6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
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Is Anxiety An Emergency
Going to the ER for anxiety is not uncommon, but is unneeded in most situations. Typically anxiety or panic episodes only last 30 minutes and can be remedied by lying down and with rigorous breathing exercises. It is recommended to take deep and slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. An anxiety emergency or extreme panic attack may require an ER visit if the sufferer is unable to get it under control. Extreme cases of hyperventilation can lead to tachycardia, an occurrence where the heart is beating so fast that it is unable to properly pump blood throughout the body.
Have Medication On Hand
If you want to try a medication for panic attacks, see your doctor well in advance of your flight. Many physicians are booked in advance and may not be able to see you on short notice. Additionally, your doctor may want you to try a medication before a flight to determine how you react to it, so it is better to allow plenty of time.
Anti-anxiety medications can provide you with quick relief from panic attack symptoms, providing you with a tranquilizing effect that can minimize the physical and mental associations of feeling fearful while flying.
It may seem obvious, but you will want to make sure that your medication is with you in your carry-on instead of in your checked luggage.
Be certain that your prescription is up to date, including your name, prescribing doctor, and prescription number. If you only use this medication occasionally, be certain that it is not expired, and that you have the appropriate amount for your round trip.
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You’ll Probably Feel Your Heart Rate Speed Up
Chances are that, if you’re having an anxiety attack, your heart will tell you. You’ll almost certainly notice an increase and/or irregularity in your heart rate, according to MayoClinic. In many cases, your heart may feel like it’s beating so rapidly and loudly that it’s difficult to ignore. Of course, noticing and focusing on your heart speeding up or palpitating may only exacerbate your anxiety and, in turn, affect your heart rate even more.
An increased heart rate during an anxiety attack is normal, but it’s also important to slow your heart rate down with various calming practices like intentional breathwork, meditation, and the use of relaxing essential oils. If your heart beats too fast, it may struggle to pump enough blood to the rest of your body, starving your organs and tissues of the oxygen they need to function, according toMayoClinic.
What Happens During An Anxiety Attack
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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You May Experience Some Trouble Breathing Or Rapid Breathing
One tell-tale sign of an anxiety attack is trouble breathing or rapid breathing, according to MayoClinic. If you’re feeling extremely anxious about an upcoming event, you may feel like it’s hard to catch your breath. This can lead to hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation refers to a condition in which you breathe very quickly, according to Healthline. While healthy breathing strikes a balance between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, hyperventilating means exhaling more than inhaling, which leads to a “rapid reduction in carbon dioxide” in your body. Low carbon dioxide levels can narrow the blood vessels, slowing the supply of blood to the brain. When this happens, you may feel lightheaded and experience a tingling sensation. Severe hyperventilation can even make you unconscious, which is why it’s critical that you control your breathing the best you can.
Deeply and slowly breathing through your nose and into your abdomen , and exhaling through your mouth, can help you calm down your breath, according to VeryWellHealth. There are a whole host of breathing techniques you can try, as well, from resonant breathing to alternate-nostril breathing, according to Healthline.
Panic Disorder Treatment Options
Panic attacks and panic disorders are treatable once the underlying cause is identified. Usually medical conditions and other factors are ruled out before making the diagnosis, says Flo Leighton, psychiatric nurse practitioner, and therapist with Union Square Practice in Manhattan. Getting to the root cause typically takes a couple of sessions, says Leighton. Here are some options that may be recommended to you :
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How To Cope When You Have Panic Attacks
Desperate for help, he reached out to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which sent him a list of therapists experienced in treating panic attacks and anxiety. This is how I got better,” Sideman says. “I found a therapist who understood what panic disorder was, understood agoraphobia, and knew cognitive behavioral therapy, which I had not known about. He also started practicing meditation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help with treating panic disorder and agoraphobia. According to a study published in December 2013 in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, its effects lasted as long as two years after the initial treatment. And a study published in August 2017 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology suggested that it may be superior to traditional psychotherapy in the treatment of this condition.
People generally can overcome panic attacks faster if they seek help after the first one or two, says psychologist Cheryl Carmin, PhD, director of clinical psychology training at the Wexner Medical Center and a professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. When you do seek help, your doctor or therapist will ask about your symptoms and the situations in which they arise, and might also recommend additional medical testing to rule out other health concerns.
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 .
“There’s 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.
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