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.
Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia was traditionally thought to involve a fear of public places and open spaces. However, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks and panic disorder. Although it can develop at any point, agoraphobia usually appears within a year of your first recurrent panic attacks.
If youre agoraphobic, youre afraid of having a panic attack in a situation where escape would be difficult or embarrassing. You may also be afraid of having a panic attack where you wouldnt be able to get help. Because of these fears, you start avoiding more and more situations.
For example, you may begin to avoid:
- Crowded places such as shopping malls or sports arenas.
- Cars, airplanes, subways, and other forms of travel.
- Social gatherings, restaurants, or other situations where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack.
- Physical exercise in case it triggers panic.
- Certain food or drinks that could provoke panic, such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or specific medications.
- Going anywhere without the company of someone who makes you feel safe. In more severe cases, you might only feel safe at home.
What Does A Panic Attack Feel Like
Panic attacks mimic life-threatening situations where the individual feels they are dying. They will often present with chest pain and shortness of breath that typically peaks within 10 minutes. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is diagnosed when individuals experience recurrent panic attacks followed by at least one-month duration of having a fear of an oncoming panic attack. The following are common signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks:
- Fear of dying
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What Is Panic Disorder
If you’re having lots of panic attacks at unpredictable times and there doesn’t seem to be a particular trigger or cause, you might be given a diagnosis of panic disorder. It’s common to experience panic disorder and certain types of phobia together. People who experience panic disorder may have some periods with few or no panic attacks, but have lots at other times.
Panic disorder and high sensitivity
Some research suggests that people who have panic disorder might be very sensitive to sensory experiences , but there’s not enough evidence yet to say for sure.
Also it’s not clear whether having a high level of sensitivity to these sorts of things is something that might cause you to develop panic disorder, or whether it may be an effect of having it.
“Never knowing when I was going to have a panic attack was the worst feeling in the world.”
The Best Treatment For Anxiety Facing Your Fears
We know that anxiety disorders are maintained by avoidance. For example, if you are afraid of dogs, you avoid them. While this keeps you safe in the moment, it also feeds your fear because it takes away any opportunities you may have to learn more about dogsthat while some bite, others are cuddly, empathic, and silly.
If you are experiencing anxiety that has been prolonged, causes you significant distress, or impairs your ability to function, it may be time to seek help. The good news is that effective treatment is available in a variety of forms.
Although there are different ways to approach anxiety treatment, we know that exposure therapy has proven to be incredibly helpful. At the heart of the approach is tackling problematic avoidance and increasing willingness to experience discomfort.
Sometimes medications are used to augment exposure-based treatment for anxiety. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants may be useful here to help individuals better engage in exposure-based work.
Newer treatments, like mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, meditation, and acceptance-based approaches, like acceptance and commitment therapy, have also been shown to be effective.
Finally, maintaining healthy behaviors, such as regular physical exercise, good sleep hygiene, and avoiding the use of alcohol or caffeine, can also be helpful.
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Causes Of Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks can often be brought on by worry and fear, but in different ways.
Causes of a panic attack
A panic attack can be caused by a stressful event or nothing at all. They happen suddenly, usually without warning, and can even occur when youre sleeping or relaxed.
Panic attacks can be brought on by certain conditions:
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety
Your panic attack can be the result of your body trying to get you out of a situation that is perceived as dangerous. This response puts your body into fight-or-flight mode.
Causes of an anxiety attack
Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry or fear about a certain situation. Anxiety can cause you to have trouble rationalizing the situation and brings about feelings of dread and apprehension.
People who have anxiety attacks may also have an anxiety disorder, of which there are several.
What Can I Do To Reduce Anxiety And Anxiety Attacks
In many cases, anxiety attacks are caused by certain emotional triggers or perceptions of threat. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help reduce the chance of having an attack, but if the triggers are a normal part of everyday life, complete avoidance may be impossible. In these cases, it may be time to explore your options for the treatment of anxiety disorder.
That said, there are a number of effective tools and techniques you can use that may help lower your overall levels of anxiety. Some of these techniques include:
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What You Need To Know About Panic Disorders
Unlike anxiety, which often has clear triggers, panic attacks occur suddenly and unexpectedly and typically only last for a few minutes.
Those who experience panic attacks have reported lightheadedness, chest pain, hot flashes, chills, and stomach discomfort. Some say they feel like they were being choked or suffocated. Others say an attack made them feel detached from reality.
Occasional panic attacks can happen to anyone, although for some individuals, they occur more frequently and cause significant distress and impairment.
Evidence-based treatments for panic disorder are similar to those for anxiety and involve exposure-based treatment. Mindfulness and meditation can also be useful to curb stress and promote increased psychological flexibility.
Sometimes medications are used to augment behavioral treatments for panic disorder and include beta-blockers, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
If you have had continued panic attacks, you may need to seek professional help. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, other mental health and medical conditions, and whether you are experiencing abnormal stress or anxiety. Blood tests and a heart examination may also be required.
Both panic and anxiety are treatable and manageableeven when they may feel as if they are out of your control.
What Is The Difference Between A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack
Dr. Cathy Frank answers the question: ‘Panic Attack Versus Anxiety Attack?’
— Question: What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?
Answer: There are similarities and differences between anxiety and panic attacks. An anxiety attack often comes in reaction to a stressor. You’re walking down a dark alley and hear footsteps, or you’re at even the top of a rollercoaster and looking to go down that large hill.
An anxiety attack, people may feel fearful, apprehensive, may feel their heart racing or feel short of breath, but it’s very short lived, and when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety attack.
Panic attack on the other hand doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable. And during a panic attack the individual is seized with terror, fear, or apprehension. They may feel that they’re going to die, or lose control or have a heart attack. They have a host of physical symptoms which may include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea. And in addition to these terrifying panic attacks, people start worrying about having the next one. So there’s a lot of what’s called anticipatory anxiety.
Also, they start avoiding places where they have a panic attack. So if they had one in a grocery store for example, they may stop going to the store. The good news is even though this is a very common disorder, it is very treatable.
These Two Conditions Have Similarities But Are Extremely Different In Terms Of Intensity And How Long They Last Here’s How To Tell The Difference
If youve ever been unlucky enough to suffer a panic attack or an anxiety attack, you know how traumatic they can be. About 4.7 percent of the U.S. population will have a panic attack at some point in their lives. Many more will experience feelings of intense anxietyaround 40 million adults in any given year. Heres how you can tell one from the other.
Ways To Help Yourself
Small changes can help prevent further panic attacks.
- Practice breathing exercises regularly. They can help prevent panic attacks and help while theyre happening too.
- Physical activity can reduce stress and tension and improve your mood.
- Eating regular healthy meals can keep your blood sugar stable which can boost your energy and mood.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking if you can. These can make panic attacks worse.
- Try mindfulness. Its a way of being fully present and engaged in the moment that can help with anxiety.
- Join a peer support group. They bring together people who have had similar experiences to help each other. Anxiety UK, No Panic and TOP UK all run support groups and other services.
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Difference Between Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks
Knowing the difference between panic and anxiety attacks can help you understand the symptoms before and during the episode.
A panic attack causes you to feel intense, sudden fear that can be overwhelming and immobilizing. They can happen for no reason, or a triggering event can cause one. During a panic attack, you may feel terrified or threatened.
Some people experience panic attacks as a part of panic disorder, and others only have them once or occasionally. Panic attacks usually only last a few minutes.
An anxiety attack occurs when stress, anxiety, and worry become overwhelming. They are brought on by persistent worry either over big events, like illness and death, or small, everyday things. The attack is the result of building anxiety over time that reaches a breaking point.
An anxiety attack is not so much an attack but just when anxiety comes to a head. They are episodes of intense worry, fear, and dread that trigger physical symptoms. They feel more predictable since they are the result of you worrying about something.
Is One Worse Than The Other
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks differ in intensity and duration. Its impossible to say which kind of attack is worse, since each persons experience is different.
Panic attacks can be frightening because they happen without warning or an obvious trigger. The symptoms can be intense and disruptive, often accompanied with a feeling of being disconnected from reality.
Though theyre usually short in duration, its possible to get several panic attacks in a row, which can make the experience of panic feel longer.
Anxiety is a response to a known trigger, which may be less startling for some. The symptoms do tend to last longer than a panic attack, often building over hours or days. Symptoms of anxiety exist on a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe.
Depending on the kinds of symptoms you experience with anxiety or a panic attack, you might find different approaches to care helpful.
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Anxiety Can Be Our Friend
We, as humans, need anxiety. Why? Anxiety is information.
It tells us when we must freeze, flee, or fight and mobilizes our body to respond quickly, without thinking. Without anxiety, we would not be able to avoid real threats to our well-being.
However, we also feel anxiety about imagined threats that may or may not be meaningful or real. In a sense, our minds have evolved to be extra careful about threat detection. They are more likely to evaluate things as threats than not. This way we do not miss anything that might harm us.
Also, our minds do not have an off button. This means that sometimes anxiety becomes a problem because it doesnt give us useful information and contributes to our distress and avoidance.
All humans experience anxiety when they experience stressful events, such as receiving an upsetting medical diagnosis. Public speaking, social events, relationship problems, stress on the job, and financial worries are also common triggers that make people feel anxious. However, sometimes life events can trigger anxiety disorders or panic disorder. So, whats the difference?
Anxiety Disorders Can Have Serious Effects
An anxiety disorder may lead to social isolation and clinical depression, and can impair a persons ability to work, study and do routine activities. It may also hurt relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Its common for depression and anxiety to happen at the same time. Depression can be a serious illness with a high risk of self-harm and suicide.
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People Dont Get Help For Anxiety
Though anxiety disorders are highly treatable, according to the ADAA, only 37 percent of those suffering receive treatment. This means they are not only battling the symptoms, reports the Mayo Clinic, but they put themselves at risk for ailments like headaches, migraines, high blood pressure, and heart problems. These are 9 signs that you might have an anxiety disorder.
Not All Anxiety Is A Disorder
Everyone experiences anxiety and fear at times these are normal and helpful human emotions that help us deal with danger. However, some people experience excessive and irrational anxiety and worries that become ongoing and distressing, and that interfere with their daily lives. This may indicate an anxiety disorder. Often there appears to be no obvious or logical reason for the way the person feels. This may make an anxiety disorder even more worrying to the sufferer.
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How Do I Treat Or Manage These Attacks
All the health and wellness practices we should probably all be doing can go a long way in managing panic and anxiety, says Sawchuk. These include getting the right amount of sleep for you, following a healthy diet, eating regularly to avoid blood sugar dips, and exercising. Meditation, mindfulness, and a solid social support system can also keep you on an even keel.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has also been shown to help people manage both panic and anxiety. In CBT, you learn how to recognize the thoughts and triggers bring on these attacks, and how to think about them differently so they no longer amp you up, or if they do, you learn how to tolerate it. In the case of panic attacks, the CBT may involve exposure therapy in which the therapist carefully and gradually brings on the symptoms of a panic attack, says Sawchuk. Suppose you had a panic attack while running and felt like you were going to die; a therapist might have you do something to get your heart pounding again, to show you that a pounding heart does not equal certain death.
“Its about retraining the brain and rewiring the alarm system to its not going off whenever those symptoms get stimulated,” he says. “You start to gain confidence, knowing that you can handle the symptoms and that theyre not dangerous. You can actually retrain your brain to become bored with these symptoms.”
What Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks Have In Common
Both panic and anxiety attacks are upregulating states, meaning they move you to action. They both activate the fight, flight, or freeze reaction in the body, says Spray. That’s when your sympathetic nervous system triggers your brain to release of a bunch of hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline, that rev your body up. This alarm bell reaction is a good thing when were facing danger, as it spurs us to get to safety or otherwise protect ourselves.
The problem is both panic and anxiety attacks happen when youre not truly at risk, says Sawchuk. They’re misfires of this alarm system when one or all of three things is going wrong:
- The alarm goes off too loudly. With panic attacks, for instance, your heart is pounding out of your chest, youre sucking air, and youre dripping with sweat, says Sawchuk. With an anxiety attack, your brain might have thoughts pinballing around that feel dire, even though no one is going to die if you are, say, five minutes late to work.
- Its hard to turn the alarm off. With anxiety attacks, you cant just snap out of feeling the way you do, and while panic attacks end on their own pretty quickly, they leave you spent.
- Its a false alarm. There is no actual danger in either scenario it only feels like there is.
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What Does An Anxiety Attack Look Like
How do you know if youre experiencing an anxiety attack?;
An anxiety attack is an intense or extendedperiod of anxiety.;During this period, you might feel nervous, distressed, worried and helpless. ;It is less severe than a panic attack and usually develops gradually when a person feels anxious.;
Anxiety attacks are usually related to something you perceive as stressful or threatening. It starts with a thought that continues to burrow itself at the back of your mind.;
After a period of time, you might find yourself being unable to control your wondering and worrying. This mental pattern creates an anxious feeling thats difficult to shake off.;
Lets say youve been very worried over an upcoming project deadline. Your boss is hounding you to no end, and your teammates are nowhere to be found. Having spent many sleepless nights anxious over the upcoming presentation, you find yourself being more irritable and snappy.
Whats more, youre unable to focus on other work. You also cant enjoy leisure time on the weekends because your mind keeps drifting to the possibility of failing at your project. You might be feeling a sense of helplessness and frustration at your current situation.;
Anxiety attacks arent as simple as just feeling nervous in an instance. Its more severe than a simple feeling of anxiousness, and might lead to overthinking.
Youre experiencing symptoms of an anxiety attack if:;