Anxiety occurs when a person fears that something terrible is about to happen. It is not a formal, clinical term. Instead, it refers to a feeling of worry or fear that often relates to a particular issue or concern.
Anxiety has been linked to stress. As well as feelings of worry and fear, it mainly involves physical symptoms, such as muscle tension. An anxiety attack is quite different from a panic attack, which is a symptom of panic disorder. Anxiety often relates to a particular situation or event, although it isn’t always the case.
In this post, we will discuss anxiety attacks, their symptoms, causes, and treatment. You’ll also get to know the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack.
So, let’s begin.
What is an anxiety attack?
An anxiety attack is an intense and sudden episode of fear and anxiety. These attacks can sometimes occur unexpectedly for no apparent reason, but they can be linked to specific triggers.
The term “Anxiety attack” is often used colloquially by many people to describe all anxious responses. Many people use it to describe various sensations, from worries about an upcoming event to intense feelings of fear that would meet the diagnostic criteria for a panic attack. To better understand what someone means by “anxiety attack,” it is necessary to look at the context in which the symptoms occur.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack vary. Some people might feel mildly apprehensive, while others may experience a large variety of more intense symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Worry and apprehension
- Sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling pressure and hurried
Physical symptoms include:
- Feeling faint
- Trembling or shaking
- Dry mouth
- Changes in heart rate
- Tightness in the throat and difficulty breathing
- Nausea or diarrhea
Anxiety attack vs. Panic Attack
If you have ever experienced an intense feeling of fear, terror, or apprehension for no apparent reason, then you may have experienced a panic attack.
If you repetitively experience panic attacks, you have a disorder known as panic disorder. Such attacks can also be a sign of other underlying mental or medical conditions, including depression, sleeping disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Panic attacks can be scary and confusing for the people experiencing them, it happens suddenly and is usually accompanied by highly intense physical sensations. This often led a person to believe that they may have a severe mental condition.
Because symptoms of panic attacks overlap with symptoms of other severe conditions, it is crucial to rule out any medical cause.
Symptoms of Panic Attack
Panic attack symptoms may include:
- Fear of dying
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling of choking
- Chills or hot flushed
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, unsteady, or faint
- Heart palpitations, or accelerated heart rate
- Numbness or abdominal distress
- Feelings of unreality
- Number of tingling sensations
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath
If you are having symptoms of anxiety, your first step should be to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will examine you and conduct some lab tests to rule out any medical conditions that might be causing or contributing to your symptoms. If your doctor found no medical cause, he/she may then refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation.
Because an anxiety attack isn’t a formal diagnosis, you may be diagnosed with a type of anxiety disorder such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, depending on your symptoms. Your doctor may ask questions related to your symptoms to determine a diagnosis based on criteria found in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
Although the exact causes of anxiety are not known, it is evident that various factors play a role. Such attacks can be triggered by perceived threats, anxiety disorders, or specific situations.
Some anxiety disorders can cause what people describe as an “anxiety attack.” Each of these disorders has a specific set of symptoms. These conditions also have different causes or can be triggered by certain situations.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): This condition involves intrusive compulsions and obsessions that are difficult to control and lead to significant distress.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This condition is marked by excessive and unrealistic worry without a specific cause.
- Pain disorder: Such a condition is marked by sudden panic attacks that can occur with no warning.
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD): This disorder involves excessive self-consciousness and fear of social situations.
- Specific Phobias: These types of phobias are marked by an excessive and intense fear of a particular subject or situation.
Anxiety treatments are available, and they are effective too. One can use these treatments to treat a diagnosed anxiety disorder. They can also help in reducing general feelings of anxiety as well.
Psychotherapy focuses on changing the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with anxiety. You may find different types of psychotherapy, but two that are widely used are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves identifying the negative thought patterns that are associated with feelings of anxiety. Once these have been identified, people quickly learn to actively change these thoughts and replace them with more realistic ones.
- Exposure therapy can be effective when treating certain types of anxiety, especially specific phobias. People are gradually exposed to a feared situation or object while then practicing relaxation techniques. Eventually, their fear’s source becomes less frightening.
Various coping strategies may help those who are experiencing anxiety attacks. These include:
- Adequate sleep: sleep can have a larger impact on your mental well-being, and lack of sleep can play a role in worsening feelings of anxiety.
- Meditation: it can be a great way to practice focusing on your breathing. Meditative techniques also have some usefulness for reducing symptoms of anxiety.
- Exercise: Exercise has been known to have both mental and physical benefits. Research has also found that exercise can also reduce the symptoms of anxiety effectively.
- Support: social support can play a vital role in mental health. Anxiety can also be an isolating experience, so seeking the support of family and friends can be helpful. One can also join anxiety support groups.
Anxiety attacks can be frightening, but it’s important to remember that they are often normal reactions to difficult situations. If you frequently experience such attacks, talk to your doctor. Many effective treatments are available, and you can also try self-help strategies. They can also be helpful.