What Is Anxiety And What Are The Symptoms
Lets start with the basics. What does anxiety mean?
Here are some words to describe it: apprehension, fear, dread, trepidation, nervousness, butterflies in your stomach.
There are three anxiety disorders: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.
Were going to be dealing with the latter, but just in case you also suffer from panic disorder, be sure to read my article on how to stop panic attacks in their tracks.
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.
Example : A Concerning Level Of Anxiety
The second example describes an individual experiencing worry and depending on the level of distress and functional impairment caused, may indicate that treatment for anxiety might be helpful.
Worry is a mental activity that, somewhat counterintuitively, functions as an anxiety avoidance strategy, though its one that doesnt work very well. Its hard to simply stop worrying.
Typically, when individuals find themselves stuck in a worry cycle, learning acceptance and mindfulness skills from acceptance-based behavior therapy can be useful.
Recommended Reading: How To Make Anxiety Go Away
Anxiety Attack Vs Panic Attack
Unlike anxiety attacks, the term panic attack is recognized in the DSM-5. A panic attack is not a diagnosable condition on its own, but is a central symptom in panic disorder, as well as other anxiety disorders. According to the DSM-5, a panic attack can be expected or unexpected.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about what differentiates an anxiety attack from a panic attack. However, you might think of an anxiety attack as something broader in nature.
Anxiety attacks can be mild or moderate, as well as severe, and can encompass any of the symptoms of anxiety. Contrastingly, all panic attacks are disruptive and severe, in order to meet the symptoms of a panic attack as defined in the DSM-5.
Are Phobias Sometimes Diagnosed Along With Panic Disorder
Yes, panic disorder can be diagnosed along with other specific phobias, says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Health System in New York City. These might include injury phobia, where the person has an intense fear of injury,2 or an animal phobia, where the person is afraid of animals.3
Panic disorder also can be diagnosed along with social phobia and agoraphobia . These all are seen as distinct disorders from panic disorder, Rego says.
Recommended Reading: Can I Get An Emotional Support Animal For Anxiety
How Is Panic Disorder Treated
First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam and ask you about your health history to make sure that an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms. Your doctor may refer to you a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
Psychotherapy. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is especially useful as a first-line treatment for panic disorder. CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that come on with a panic attack. The attacks can begin to disappear once you learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear that occur during panic attacks.
For more information on psychotherapy, see .
Medication. Doctors also may prescribe different types of medications to help treat panic disorder:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Another type of medication called beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder, such as rapid heart rate. Although doctors do not commonly prescribe beta-blockers for panic disorder, they may be helpful in certain situations that precede a panic attack.
It’s As If A Vice Is Squeezing Me
Anita Lesko, 61, Pensacola, Fla.
Courtesy Anita Lesko
Anita Lesko has always been a germaphobe, so her anxiety started to build when she first read about the coronavirus in early 2020.
A certified registered nurse anesthetist , Lesko knew she was at higher risk of exposure because of her job administering anesthesia to patients before surgery. When she began hearing about the nationwide lack of personal protective equipment for health-care workers, Lesko really began to worry.
“The prospect of going to work, getting exposed and ending up on a ventilator or dead that’s what pushed me over the edge, she says.
One morning in March, when she was between patients at the hospital, Lesko developed a deep feeling of impending doom. She began to hyperventilate, her heart started racing and she broke out in a sweat. Pressure began building in her chest.
“I got a gripping sensation in my whole chest and throat area, as if a vice was squeezing me, she said. Then I started shaking literally to the core of my body.
Lesko asked to leave early and fled to her car. She collapsed into the driver’s seat and burst into tears.
“I was just sitting there trying to talk myself out of it, and trying to make myself breathe normally, she recalls.
It took about 30 minutes before she was calm enough to drive. When Lesko got home, she was so exhausted she had to sleep for a few hours before she could do anything.
Read Also: How To Help Travel Anxiety
What Are The Symptoms Of Anxiety
Anxiety feels different depending on the person experiencing it. Feelings can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart. You might feel out of control, like theres a disconnect between your mind and body.
Other ways people experience anxiety include nightmares, panic attacks, and painful thoughts or memories that you cant control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event.
Symptoms of general anxiety include:
- increased heart rate
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
Your anxiety symptoms might be totally different from someone elses. Thats why its important to know all the ways anxiety can present itself. Read about the many types of anxiety symptoms you might experience.
The Link Between Anxiety Symptoms And Depression
Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety and depression are believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse , its important to seek treatment for both conditions.
Also Check: Does Aspirin Help With Anxiety
What Does It Mean To Be Diagnosed With Panic Disorder
Some people find that a diagnosis comes as a relief. They may have thought they had a medical condition such as a problem with their heart or lungs, and that their life was at risk, says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Health System in New York City. Other patients have a hard time believing the diagnosis since their symptoms are real and yet they are being told they have a psychiatric disorder.
The diagnosis can be mistakenly taken to mean that it is all in their head, Rego says. The truth is that while the persons symptoms are real, the fears about them, such as that they are having a heart attack or going crazy, are often not accurate.
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 can’t 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.
You May Like: How To Get Over Sexual Anxiety
Some People May Develop Panic Disorders
For many people, the feelings of panic occur only occasionally during periods of stress or illness. A person who experiences recurring panic attacks is said to have panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. They generally have recurring and unexpected panic attacks and persistent fears of repeated attacks.
Panic Attacks Do Not Always Have Further Health Implications
Experiencing a panic attack is inherently distressing for the individual involved, especially if they were previously unaware of being affected by any form of anxiety. The possibility of experiencing a future panic attack â particularly if one encounters scenarios similar to the circumstances of the initial attack â is a common concern, but feeling this way does not necessarily mean that one will experience future panic attacks.
Furthermore, it is possible to experience one or more panic attacks without being affected by a related condition, such as anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Many people, who do not normally have anxiety or depressive disorders, experience one or more panic attacks in relation to a specific stressor or over the course of a lifetime.
Recommended Reading: Can Anxiety Cause Muscle Spasms
Anxiety Attack Treatments And Relief
Anxiety attacks are generally predictable as to when they’re going to occur â usually over a 20-minute period. It’s typical to need a few minutes to calm back down afterward. Many people experience at least one anxiety attack throughout their lives, which can be managed at home. However, if these attacks become frequent and debilitating, it may be necessary to see a professional to reduce their frequency and severity.
Have Anxiety Or Panic Youre Far From Alone
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that some 40 million U.S. adults experience significant anxiety each year, with more than 28.8% of adults experiencing clinically meaningful anxiety symptoms.
Thats nearly one in three people.
Anxiety is Americas most common mental illness and can be treated effectively. However, only around one third of those with the condition seek professional help.
Anxiety disorders are hereditary, which means that if you have a relative with anxiety, you are more likely to experience it yourself.
Panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder, affects about 4.7% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Also Check: How Do I Know Of I Have Anxiety
What You Can Do
To get through a panic attack, try to take control of your breathing first. Find a place where you can sit or be comfortable. Concentrate on making your breath slow and even. Try to inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds. Tell yourself that youâre not in danger and that the attack will pass.
If youâre not sure if youâre having a panic attack, itâs a good idea to go to the hospital to rule out any other health problems.
Panic disorder is one of the most treatable types of anxiety disorders. Medication and a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can help. See your doctor if you have panic attacks often.
Harvard Health Publications: âUnderstanding the Stress Response.â
Robertson, D. Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System, Second Edition, Elsevier Academic Press, 2004.
The BMJ: âPanic Disorder.â
Biological Psychiatry: âDo Unexpected Panic Attacks Occur Spontaneously?â âFunctional t1Ï Imaging in Panic Disorder.â
Psychological Medicine: âDistinct Phasic and Sustained Brain Responses and Connectivity of Amygdala and Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis During Threat Anticipation in Panic Disorder.â
The Journal of Neuroscience: âReduced Serotonin Type 1A Receptor Binding in Panic Disorder.â
Mayo Clinic: âPanic Attacks and Panic Disorder.â
American Academy of Family Physicians: âPanic Disorder.â
Centre for Clinical Interventions : âPanic Stations.â
Alternative Anxiety Attack Definition
Earlier we mentioned that “anxiety attack” is not a medical term, but rather a descriptive term for intense moments of anxiety. Most people, including some medical professionals, refer to panic attacks as anxiety attacks simply because it is easier for people to understand. When you say panic, people tend to think of someone running away from Godzilla. When you term them anxiety attacks, people tend to understand it better.
But because anxiety attack is not a medical term, not everyone uses it the same way. Some people use anxiety attack as a way of describing severe symptoms of other anxiety disorders. For example, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder may have an “anxiety attack” when they encounter a trigger of extreme anxiety that forces them deep into their compulsions. Those with an upcoming test in school may call their significant worry about the test an anxiety attack even though theyre really just talking about being very nervous.
Keep this in mind when people describe anxiety attack, as the term may lead to a bit of miscommunication. For the purposes of this article, however, were talking about panic attacks, because panic attacks are a very real, very common anxiety problem that most people are referring to when they say they have these attacks.
Recommended Reading: Is Cantaloupe Good For Anxiety
When To Seek Medical Attention
The first time one experiences a panic attack, one should seek medical attention promptly in order to check oneâs overall physical and mental health and discuss the possibility and prevention of future panic attacks.
It is not uncommon for an individual, who has experienced a panic attack, to feel embarrassment in telling their family or doctor. Many people are unaware of how common it is to experience a panic attack and/or that it could relate to panic disorder or another form of anxiety â conditions, which are highly treatable with appropriate psychotherapy and/or medication.
Even if one is not diagnosed with a mental health condition, oneâs doctor will be able to advise on management techniques in the event that a future panic attack occurs and will be able to perform check-ups to rule out other conditions or health concerns. For example, one may be screened to rule out the risk of a heart attack, particularly if one believed that one was experiencing a heart attack during the episode.