What Is A Panic Attack
A panic attack causes sudden, brief feelings of fear and strong physical reactions in response to ordinary, nonthreatening situations. When youre having a panic attack, you may sweat a lot, have difficulty breathing and feel like your heart is racing. It may feel as if youre having a heart attack.
Panic disorder can develop when you worry too much about having another panic attack or change behaviors to avoid having a panic attack.
How To Deal With Panic Attacks
A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.
Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness.
The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous, but can be very frightening.
They can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, or that you are going to collapse or even die.
Most panic attacks last somewhere from five minutes to half an hour.
What Else Should I Know About Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder may be extremely anxious and fearful, since they are unable to predict when the next episode will occur. Panic disorder is fairly common and affects about 6 million adults in the U.S. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition, and its symptoms usually begin in early adulthood.
It is not clear what causes panic disorder. In many people who have the biological vulnerability to panic attacks, they may develop in association with major life changes and major lifestyle stressors. There is also some evidence that suggests that the tendency to develop panic disorder may run in families. People who suffer from panic disorder are also more likely than others to suffer from depression, attempt suicide, or to abuse alcohol or drugs.
Fortunately, panic disorder is a treatable condition. Psychotherapy and medications have both been used, either singly or in combination, for successful treatment of panic disorder. If medication is necessary, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications, certain antidepressants or sometimes certain anticonvulsant drugs that also have anti-anxiety properties, or a class of heart medications known as beta-blockers to help prevent or control the episodes in panic disorder.
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Cause Of Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks are usually although not always caused by severe stress. The symptoms depend on the type of attack. The term anxiety attack is sometimes used interchangeably with the term panic attack, but may also refer to any periods of extreme anxiety beyond what a person normally experiences.
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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Is It Panic Disorder
If you feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be, you may have panic disorder.
People with panic disorder may avoid situations that might cause a panic attack. They may also fear and avoid public spaces .
“There’s no quick fix, but if your attacks are happening time after time, seek medical help,” says Professor Salkovskis.
Read more about panic attacks, including personal stories, at See Me Scotland.
How Can I Prevent Panic Attacks
Your healthcare provider can help you identify triggers that bring on panic attacks. During psychotherapy, you learn strategies to manage triggering events and prevent an attack. You can also take these actions to lower your odds of having a panic attack:
- Cut back on caffeine.
- Talk to your doctor before taking herbal supplements or over-the-counter medications. Certain substances can increase anxiety.
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Cultural Differences Related To Panic Disorder
It is important to consider a cultural lens to best understand how panic disorder presents. Research has shown that there are cultural differences in the way people view panic attacks and in the way different racial and ethnic groups receive and perceive a diagnosis of panic disorder.
There is evidence for panic disorder-like diagnoses across cultures, such as ataque de nervios in Latin American communities. Research has shown that African Americans experience more functional impairment than non-Latino white Americans. This is not an exhaustive list of cultural factors related to panic disorder, but it does highlight cultural differences that may affect the presentation of panic disorder as well as individual differences in the interpretation of panic symptoms .
What Causes Anxiety Disorders
Experts don’t know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. Several things seem to play a role, including genetics, brain biochemistry, an overactive fight-flight response, stressful life circumstances, and learned behavior.
Someone with a family member who has an anxiety disorder has a greater chance of developing one, too. This may be related to genes that can affect brain chemistry and the regulation of chemicals called neurotransmitters. But not everyone with a family member who has an anxiety disorder will develop problems with anxiety.
Things that happen in a person’s life can also set the stage for anxiety disorders. Frightening traumatic events that can lead to PTSD are a good example.
Growing up in a family where others are fearful or anxious can “teach” a child to view the world as a dangerous place. Likewise, someone who grows up in an environment that is actually dangerous may learn to be fearful or expect the worst.
Although everyone experiences normal anxiety in certain situations, most people even those who experience traumatic situations don’t develop anxiety disorders. And people who develop anxiety disorders can get relief with proper treatment and care. They can learn ways to manage anxiety and to feel more relaxed and at peace.
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What Is It Like To Have Panic Disorder
One day, without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldnt get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldnt think straight.
After what seemed like an eternity, my breathing slowed and I eventually let go of the fear and my racing thoughts, but I was totally drained and exhausted. These attacks started to occur every couple of weeks, and I thought I was losing my mind. My friend saw how I was struggling and told me to call my doctor for help.
What Does A Panic Attack Feel Like
When you get a panic attack, you feel the same emotions your body will typically elicit when exposed to fear or danger. With a panic attack, however, you generally are not exposed to any imminent danger, and your body is over-responding to a non-dangerous situation or an event that might cause mild discomfort.
When you have a panic attack, you might feel like you are losing control of the things around you. You might become faint and, in severe cases, even feel like you are dying.
People who have had a panic attack report feeling the following symptoms:
- Feeling intermittently cold and hot
- Feeling numbness or tingling in some parts of the body
When having a panic attack, its important to remember that though your symptoms might seem severe, they are not deadly and will pass in a matter of minutes.
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When Someone Is Having A Panic Attack
Below are some tips for you or your loved one to consider during a panic attack:
- Anxiety cannot increase forever and you cannot experience peak levels of anxiety forever. Physiologically there is a point at which our anxiety cannot become any higher and our bodies will not maintain that peak level of anxiety indefinitely. At that point, there is nowhere for anxiety to go but down. It is uncomfortable to reach that peak but it is important to remember this anxiety will even out and then go down with time.
- Emotions are like a wave, they will come and they will go.
- You have experienced this before, you know what to expect, and you will be able to handle it.
- Avoidance is anxiety’s best friend. Avoidance now will mean sustained anxiety in the future.
The following websites and brochures provide useful information for helping and supporting loved ones with panic disorder:
Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders:
Anyone may experience these symptoms during stressful times. However, individuals with anxiety disorders may experience them in absence of stress, with more severe symptoms and/or with several symptoms appearing together.
- Inability to relax
- Rapid pulse or pounding, skipping, racing heart
- Nausea, chest pain or pressure
- Feeling a “lump in the throat”
- Dry mouth
- Feelings of dread, apprehension or losing control
- Trembling or shaking, sweating or chills
- Fainting or dizziness, feelings of detachment
- Thoughts of death
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Trouble Falling Or Staying Asleep
Sleep disturbances have a strong association with anxiety disorders.
People with an anxiety disorder may find themselves waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling asleep.
Some studies suggest that people with insomnia are 10 to 17 times more likely to develop further mental health conditions such as anxiety.
While insomnia and anxiety are strongly linked, its unclear whether insomnia leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to insomnia, or both.
What is known is that if a person treats their underlying anxiety disorder, insomnia often improves as well.
Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder in which a person may experience recurring panic attacks.
Panic attacks produce an intense, overwhelming sensation of fear that can be debilitating.
During a panic attack, a person may also experience:
- rapid heartbeat
- chest tightness
Panic attacks can happen as isolated occurrences, but they may be a sign of panic disorder if they occur frequently and unexpectedly.
You may be showing signs of social anxiety disorder if you find yourself:
- feeling anxious or fearful about upcoming social situations
- worried you may be judged or scrutinized by others
- fearful of being embarrassed or humiliated in front of others
- avoiding certain social events because of these fears
Social anxiety disorder is very common, affecting 5 to 10 percent of people worldwide.
How To Prevent A Panic Attack
To prevent a panic attack from happening, you need first to figure out what triggers your panic attacks. When you figure out what triggers your panic attacks, you can avoid them or eliminate them from your life.
Other tips that can help you prevent a panic attack include:
- Avoid bad habits like smoking and consuming alcohol and caffeine excessively. These habits can increase the frequency of panic attacks or worsen them when they occur.
- Exercise as often as you can. Adopting a regular exercise schedule can improve your mood, cut down stress and help you live a generally more healthy life. This, in turn, can help to lessen the frequency and severity of your panic attacks.
- Try out some stress management methods. One of the triggers of panic attacks is stress. When you are stressed, you are more likely to have a panic attack than when you are not. Stress management methods like meditation and yoga can help you cut down on your stress.
- Ensure that you are getting enough sleep. A panic attack can often feel like your body is on the fritz. These feelings will only be heightened when you are not getting enough sleep and your body isnt fully rested.
- Make breathing exercises a part of your daily routine. While breathing exercises can help you calm down during a panic attack, you dont have to wait for one to happen to benefit from them. Doing daily breathing exercises can help you prevent panic attacks.
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Mental Health Treatment Program Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at . For additional resources, visit www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
How Are Panic Attacks Diagnosed
Serious health problems, such as heart disease, thyroid disease and respiratory problems, cause symptoms similar to panic attacks. Your healthcare provider may run tests to rule out a physical problem. If theres no physical cause, your provider may make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and risk factors.
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How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed
Medical or mental health providers can diagnose panic disorder. Your provider may diagnose panic disorder when you have repeated panic attacks and you:
- Persistently worry about having more panic attacks or their consequences.
- Obsess about losing control during a panic attack.
- Change your behaviors to avoid situations that may trigger a panic attack.
How To Handle A Panic Attack
Professor Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, says it’s important not to let your fear of panic attacks control you.
“Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening,” he says. “Tell yourself that the symptoms you’re experiencing are caused by anxiety.”
He says don’t look for distractions. “Ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible, it’s important to try to remain in the situation until the anxiety has subsided.”
“Confront your fear. If you don’t run away from it, you’re giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing’s going to happen.”
As the anxiety begins to pass, start to focus on your surroundings and continue to do what you were doing before.
“If youre having a short, sudden panic attack, it can be helpful to have someone with you, reassuring you that it will pass and the symptoms are nothing to worry about,” says Professor Salkovskis.
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How Can I Learn More About Anxiety
These organizations offer information about and resources for anxiety disorders:
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
This nonprofit organization is dedicated to advocacy and education about anxiety disorders. This link will take you to its website:
American Psychological Association
American Psychiatric Association
Learn more about childrenâs anxiety disorders and other mental health problems. Get help in finding a psychiatrist. This link will take you to the website:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Learn more about panic disorder, phobias, and treatment that helps. This link will take you to the website:
Tips For Helping Someone With An Anxiety Disorder:
- Make no assumptionsask the person what they need.
- Be predictabledon’t surprise the person.
- Let the person with the disorder set the pace for recovery.
- Find something positive in every small step towards recovery.
- Don’t help the person avoid their fears.
- Maintain your own life so you don’t resent the person with the disorder.
- Don’t panic when the person with the disorder panics, but realize it’s natural to be concerned with them.
- Be patient and accepting, but don’t settle for the affected person being permanently disabled.
- Say encouraging words such as: “You can do it no matter how you feel. I am proud of you. Tell me what you need now. Breathe slow and low. Stay in the present. It’s not the place that’s bothering you, it’s the thought. I know that what you are feeling is painful, but it’s not dangerous. You are courageous.”
- Avoid saying things like: “Don’t be anxious. Let’s see if you can do this. You can fight this. What should we do next? Don’t be ridculous. You have to stay. Don’t be a coward.” These phrases tend to blame the individual for the anxiety.
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Stranger Social And Intergroup Anxiety
Humans generally require social acceptance and thus sometimes dread the disapproval of others. Apprehension of being judged by others may cause anxiety in social environments.
Anxiety during social interactions, particularly between strangers, is common among young people. It may persist into adulthood and become social anxiety or social phobia. “Stranger anxiety” in small children is not considered a phobia. In adults, an excessive fear of other people is not a developmentally common stage it is called social anxiety. According to Cutting, social phobics do not fear the crowd but the fact that they may be judged negatively.
Social anxiety varies in degree and severity. For some people, it is characterized by experiencing discomfort or awkwardness during physical social contact , while in other cases it can lead to a fear of interacting with unfamiliar people altogether. Those suffering from this condition may restrict their lifestyles to accommodate the anxiety, minimizing social interaction whenever possible. Social anxiety also forms a core aspect of certain personality disorders, including avoidant personality disorder.
Psychotherapy And Relaxation Therapies
Psychotherapy includes many different approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy and applied relaxation .33,34 CBT may use applied relaxation, exposure therapy, breathing, cognitive restructuring, or education. Psychotherapy is as effective as medication for GAD and PD.11 Although existing evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions about many psychotherapeutic interventions, structured CBT interventions have consistently proven effective for the treatment of anxiety in the primary care setting.3436 Psychotherapy may be used alone or combined with medication as first-line treatment for PD37 and GAD,11 based on patient preference. Psychotherapy should be performed weekly for at least eight weeks to assess its effect.
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