Everyone feels anxious now and then, and that is a normal emotion. Anxiety is our body’s way of preparing to face a challenge, as our heart pumps more blood and oxygen, getting us ready for action. We are more alert and can perform physical and emotional tasks more efficiently.
It is normal to feel anxious when our safety, health, or happiness is threatened. However, anxiety can become overwhelming and disruptive and may even occur for no identifiable reason.
Differences Between Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are different conditions.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and weakening, devastating intensity. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, with no clear trigger most times. They may even occur when you’re asleep.
A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, although some people may experience recurrent episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in public, and the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response.
You may experience one or more panic attacks, and still be happy and healthy. Sometimes, panic attacks may occur as parts of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social phobia, or depression, but regardless of the cause, panic attacks are treatable.
There are approaches you can use to cope with the symptoms as well as get effective treatments.
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes panic attacks as a thing, and categorizes them as unexpected or expected.
Unexpected panic attacks occur without an obvious cause, while expected panic attacks are fueled by external stressors, such as phobias. Panic attacks can happen to anyone, but having recurrent ones may be a sign of a panic disorder.
Panic Attack Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop suddenly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. These signs rarely last more than an hour, with most ending within 20 to 30 minutes, and can happen anywhere and at any time.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Hot or cold flashes
- Shortness of breath (hyperventilation)
- Heart palpitations (racing heart)
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking feeling
- Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
These are a group of mental illnesses. The distress they cause can keep you from carrying on with your normal daily life, and for people who have one, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming and can be disabling.
Anxiety attacks aren’t recognized in the DSM-5, as a thing, but the DSM-5 does, however, define anxiety as a feature of a number of common psychiatric disorders.
The lack of diagnostic recognition of anxiety attacks means that the signs and symptoms are open to interpretation.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders:
Anyone may experience these symptoms during stressful times; however, individuals with anxiety disorders may experience them in absence of stress. These Symptoms include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Inability to relax
- Irregular breathing
- excessive worry
- pounding, skipping, racing heart
- Nausea, chest pain or pressure
- Feeling a “lump in the throat”
- Dry mouth
- Feelings of dread, apprehension or losing control
- Fainting or dizziness, feelings of detachment
- Thoughts of death
- Trembling or shaking,
- sweating or chills
Tips For Dealing With A Panic Attack
Although your symptoms may be frightening, they are an exaggeration of normal stress reactions and aren’t dangerous or harmful.
- Face the feelings rather than fear or fight them, and they will become less intense.
- Stay in the present, and notice what is actually happening rather than what you think might happen.
- Rate your fear level on a scale of 1 to 100 and watch it change. Notice that it doesn’t stay at a high level for more than a few seconds.
- Distract yourself with a simple task like counting backward
- When the fear attacks, expect it. Face it and give it time to pass without running away.
Tips For Helping Someone With An Anxiety Disorder:
- Ask the person what they need, and how you might help.
- Be predictable in your actions, and don’t surprise the person.
- Let the victim with the disorder set the tempo for recovery.
- Don’t help the person avoid their fears, but face them
- Learn not to resent the person with the disorder.
- Don’t panic when the person with the disorder panics, but it’s natural to be concerned with them.
- Say encouraging words such as: “You can do it no matter how you feel; I am proud of you; tell me what you need; breathe slow and low; Stay in the present; I know that what you are feeling is painful, but it’s not dangerous; You are brave.”
- Avoid saying things like: “Don’t be anxious; you can fight this. What should we do next? Don’t be ridiculous; don’t be a coward and other such phrases that tend to blame the individual for the anxiety.
Some people believe that anxiety disorders can be overcome with willpower, but this is unlikely, and untreated anxiety disorders can lead to depression, substance abuse and a range of other problems.
If your normal routine is interrupted by excessive worry, you are advised to seek help from a professional.
If you, or someone you know, has symptoms of anxiety disorder, visit a doctor, who can help determine whether the symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, or other medical conditions (or both).
Frequently, the next step in getting treatment for an anxiety disorder is a referral to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor.
In general, two types of treatment are available, medication and psychotherapy, and both can be effective for most disorders.
The choice of one or the other, or both, depends on the patient’s and the doctor’s preference, and also on the particular symptoms of the anxiety disorder.
Medications used may include Antidepressants that may take several weeks before they begin to work. This means that you have to take them continuously, not just during a panic attack. Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety drugs that act very quickly, usually within 30 minutes to an hour, and taking them during a panic attack provides rapid relief of symptoms.
Conversely, benzodiazepines are highly addictive and have serious withdrawal symptoms, so they should be used with caution.
In summary, the following self-help techniques can make a big difference in helping you overcome panic:
- Learn about panic and anxiety
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Learn how to control your breathing.
- Practice relaxation techniques.
- Connect face-to-face with family and friends.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough restful sleep.