A Panic Attack Comes Out Of Nowhere And Is Not An Anxiety Attack
Though we tend to use the terms panic attack and anxiety attack interchangeably, its worth noting that professionally speaking , theres actually no such thing as an anxiety attack, per se.
Anxiety is an excessive persistent worrying over an imminent event that can last a while. A panic attack is a burst of intense fear that typically lasts fewer than 30 minutes, Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford tells NBC News BETTER. She says that she would never use the term anxiety attack to define any such event, noting that the term is something of a lay approach.
Additionally, when panic attacks are linked to a panic disorder, they come out of the blue with no apparent trigger, but anyone can experience a panic attack. If youre afraid of heights for instance, and are up on the roof, you might have a panic attack. The difference here is that in this case, the panic attack has a clear cause, whereas with a panic disorder theres no obvious culprit in the environment.
Know The Signs Of A Panic Attack
“Often, when you don’t know the physiological signs of a panic attack you may feel more scared imagining you’re having a heart attack,” says Annie Wright, LMFT and the owner and clinical director of Evergreen Counseling. “Read up on the signs of a panic attack so you know what you’re dealing with.”
Dr. Rodriguez recommends scouring the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website, which covers all the symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
- Derealization or depersonalization
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
Rodriguez adds that its critical to also get a physical exam to rule out other problems.
Follow Your Treatment Plan
Severe or not, you can always talk to an expert, preferably a doctor, who can help you with treatment plans and medications when experiencing panic attacks. An expert will generally prescribe medicine that works fast. Additionally, you do not need to have a strict schedule for these medicines and treatments.
You can use them only when you experience a panic attack. Most of the prescribed medicines contain benzodiazepine and propranolol. These beta-blockers help you by decreasing your blood pressure and slowing your racing heart. Medicines like Xanax and Valium are two such medicines that contain beta-blockers. However, since these medications can be addictive, you need to take serious care about the side effects.
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How Are Panic Attacks Managed Or Treated
Psychotherapy, medications or a combination are very effective at stopping panic attacks. How long youll need treatment depends on the severity of your problem and how well you respond to treatment. Options include:
- Psychotherapy:Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. You discuss your thoughts and emotions with a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist. This specialist helps identify panic attack triggers so you can change your thinking, behaviors and reactions. As you start to respond differently to triggers, the attacks decrease and ultimately stop.
- Antidepressants: Certain antidepressant medications can make panic attacks less frequent or less severe. Providers may prescribe serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors , serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or tricyclic antidepressants . SSRIs include fluoxetine and paroxetine . SNRIs include duloxetine and venlafaxine . TCAs include amitriptyline and doxepin .
- Anti-anxiety medications: Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication to treat and prevent panic attacks. They help with anxiety but have risks of addiction or dependence. These medications include alprazolam and lorazepam .
Common Characteristics Of A Panic Attack
What, exactly, is a panic attack? A panic attack refers to a sudden episode of intense fear, panic or anxiety that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no imminent danger. Its disproportionate fear. Effectively, a panic attack fills you with the feeling of imminent doom when theres actually no immediate threat. Think of it as a false alarma misfiring of your fight-or-flight instinct, as it were.
In addition to an intense feeling of anxiety, a panic attack usually triggers a variety of physical symptoms, as well. These may include any or all of the following:
- Shortness of breath/hyperventilation
- Sensations of numbness or tingling in parts of the body
- Fear of dying
The scariest part of having a panic attack may be the physical symptoms themselvesmany people describe feeling like they are having a heart attack when it is instead a panic attack. The primary differences between a heart attack and a panic attack are that a panic attack is usually triggered by a wave of fear and panic attacks are usually brief, usually descelarating afting 10 minutes or so. Regardless, panic attacks can be highly disconcerting and uncomfortable, however brief.
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When To See A Specialist
If you have recurrent panic attacks, whether they come on without a definite trigger or are triggered by certain situations, you may wish to see a specialist, especially if the panic attacks are beginning to interfere with your daily life. For example, if you have panic attacks about speaking in public, this may inhibit your chances of receiving promotions at work. Panic attacks from driving over bridges or going through heavy traffic can limit your opportunities to travel or may make your daily commute stressful and overly difficult.
Repeated panic attacks may indicate that you have panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by repeated panic attacks and a noticeable fear that youll suffer from another one. Without treatment, panic disorder can lead to other difficult, anxiety-related conditions such as:
If the panic attacks are starting to take a long-term toll on your health, such as high blood pressure or stress headaches, certain medications can help. These can reduce the effects of the panic attack on your body and help you find mental relief.
Some people experience panic attacks yet are otherwise happy and healthy. Others may have panic attacks stemming from undiagnosed depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. These mental health illnesses can be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Often, treating the underlying cause of panic attacks will help the attacks naturally resolve themselves.
Physical And Mindfulness Grounding Techniques
Clench your fists and release: Focus all the negative and nervous energy to your hands. Clench them into fists, squeeze as hard as you can, and let go. Do this 10 times in a row and think about how your body feels as you release the tension. Feel the blood flow back into your fingers.
Rub your palms together: This is another way of channeling energy to your hands. Rub them together as fast as you can and generate heat through friction, focusing on expelling anxious energy through that heat.
Stomp on the floor: It might feel good to stomp around a little bit, thinking specifically about how it feels when your foot lands on the floor. Focus on the ground beneath you and the sensation it causes when it makes contact with your foot.
Designate a grounding chair: Pick a cozy chair in a quiet space in your home. Sit in it and think about how it feels as you sit. How does the material feel on your skin? How does your body fit into it? Lean back in the chair and imagine all of the negative emotions spilling out of your feet and onto the floor and relax every muscle on the way down.
Bring attention to your breath: Breathing exercises help you take control of your heart rate and your muscle tension. Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and let it out for four seconds. Repeat this until you feel calm.
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How To Stop A Panic Attack In Its Tracks According To An Er Doc
Emergency room doctors are trained to stay cool and focused in the face of complete chaos. These professionals live in a world where the difference between life or death sometimes hinges on a split-second decision. So its super clear a special kind of calm is required.
For emergency medicine doctors like Amy Sedgwick, MD, FACEP, the key to commanding a room and her team in the most stress-filled situations always centered on clearly delegating and assigning roles and focusing on her own breath so that she can save others.
As the leader, empowering my team members to do their best work is incredibly calming, Sedgwick says.
That aside, there is still the reality of being the person who is ultimately making the call, telling the bad news or having difficult conversations with colleagues, she adds. In these moments, I rely on stopping for a moment, taking five breaths, reassuring myself that I am well-trained, and that I can handle anything coming my way. This approach has never failed me in the ER, or otherwise.
Amy Sedgwick, MD, is board certified in emergency medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
What can make panic attacks even more unnerving is the fact that they often appear out of the blue with no warning. But on the inside, your bodys sympathetic nervous system is going into absolute overdrive.
To Relieve Anxiety Talk Out Loud To Yourself
Give yourself permission to have an anxiety attack by saying the words out loud. Remind yourself that the attack will end, and it wont kill you or cause you to faint.
Carbonell says that understanding the physiology of fainting and reminding yourself of it is important. People faint when their blood pressure drops. A anxiety attack can make you feel like youre going to faint, but you wont because your blood pressure doesn’t drop during an attack. Remind yourself out loud of truths like these to counter your fears.
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What Is The Best Therapy For Panic Disorder
The American Psychiatric Association suggests that a form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective for panic disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy reflects the importance of both behavioral and thought processes in understanding and controlling anxiety and panic attacks.
Panic Attacks I Turned My Mental Health Crisis Into A Mental Health Triumph
“Although it’s taken me a long time I have learned I am a strong person who has the potential to help others.”
You might find that you become scared of going out alone or to public places because you’re worried about having another panic attack. If this fear becomes very intense, it may be called agoraphobia. See our pages on types of phobia for more information.
“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I just wanted to get out, to go somewhere else, but I couldn’t because I was on a train.”
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What To Do To Cope With A Panic Attack
When I had my first panic attack at the age of 19, I believed with absolute certainty that I was in mortal danger. I lie in my dorm room bed for what felt like hours, clutching my pounding heart and gasping for air. Fifteen interminable minutes later, it was as if it had never happened, and I felt relatively normal but that wouldn’t be the last incident. I went on to have many more panic attacks, and have since been diagnosed with a panic disorder . I’m among two to three percent of Americans with PD while 18.1 percent of Americans have anxiety disorders in general the most common mental illness. Since that day, Ive treated my condition both with therapy and medication.
Despite managing my PD, I do still suffer the occasional panic attack, but with professional guidance , Ive learned that there are simple things I can do to stop a panic attack in its tracks. I talked with mental health professionals to discuss why my own techniques work and what more those of us living with panic attacks can do.
Aromatherapy And Essential Oils
Essential oils, the extract from plants, have been used for thousands of years to treat a number of conditions, including anxiety. Essential oils activate certain areas of your brain and release feel-good chemicals such as serotonin. They have been found to ease symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, improve mood, and improve sleep.
Recommended use includes diffusing, inhalation, or topical treatment which can aid with anxiety symptoms. When diffusing an essential oil or essential oil blend you will need an essential oil diffuser to fill your space with the desired scent. Inhalation is used by deeply smelling the essential oil straight from the bottle or by applying a drop or two of the oil on something such as a diffuser pad or lava bead that is connected to a bracelet, necklace, or even keychain. You can also place a drop or two of essential oil into your hands, rub them together, then cup your hands and take a few deep inhalations to get the desired effect.
You should be sure that the essential oils you use are pure oils and not mixed with chemicals. Some good brands to use include: Mountain Rose Herbs, Plant Therapy, Young Living, Doterra. You can do your own research to find a brand that will best work for you and your budget. Remember that a bottle of essential oil will last a long time since you typically use only a few drops at a time.
Essential oils that are great for treating anxiety include:
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Tips For Calming A Panic Attack
Knowing how to calm a panic attack is more useful than you may think. In the US, 40 million adults have some type of anxiety disorder. Even those who have no history of anxiety disorders may also suffer from a panic attack at some point in their life and dont know how to calm themselves down.
While panic attacks generally wont cause serious physical health dangers, they can still be scary if you dont know how to calm it down right away. However, the good news is, there are ways to calm yourself down to get through a panic attack better.
Listen To Good Mood Music
Music can have a powerful effect on your mood and on anxiety. They key however is to not just choose songs you like. but also make sure that you are listening to music that represents the way you want to feel. Happy or relaxing music can directly impact your mood and the way you feel.
While many people find it soothing to listen to angry music when theyâre angry or sad music when theyâre sad, the truth is that this type of music will only help you get in touch with those negative emotions. That won’t help you feel better. When you’re trying to stop anxiety, you should listen to music that will help you feel the way you want to feel.
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When To Get Help
See a GP if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of panic disorder.
They’ll ask you to describe your symptoms, how often you get them, and how long you have had them.
They may also carry out a physical examination to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
It can sometimes be difficult to talk about your feelings, emotions and personal life, but try not to feel anxious or embarrassed.
You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if you have regular and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks.
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.
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What Are The Symptoms Of A Panic Attack
A panic attack can be a terrifying experience, with many people believing that they are suffering from a heart attack or other medical problem. The symptoms can begin suddenly and without warning, with an intensity that can overwhelm even the calmest and rational person.
Common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Tingling or numb sensation in your fingers, hands and lips
- An increased heart and breathing rate
- Excessive perspiration
- Needing to use the toilet
- Tightness of the chest
- A sense of impending doom or terror
- Feeling as though you have lost control
In general, most panic attacks will last for between 5-20 minutes, although some symptoms can last for an extended period of time. It is common for one panic attack to trigger another, often extending the experience for up to one hour.
While the above symptoms may feel terrifying, it can be comforting to keep in mind that a panic attack will not cause a heart attack or other physical harm.
Calm Anxiety By Living In Slow Motion
Slowing down your body will affect your minds speed, too. Intentionally practice conscious movements. Try a walking meditation. Take deliberate steps on a garden path. Walk around the block taking in the sights. Yoga and Tai Chi are wonderful at reducing anxiety and increasing mindfulness. Before I started doing yoga, Id get nervous watching people twist their bodies into various poses. But by continuing to practice, I discovered an inner strength and a mental calm I didnt know I had.
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