Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What Happens During A Panic Or Anxiety Attack

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So How Can We Hit The Brakes

What causes panic attacks, and how can you prevent them? – Cindy J. Aaronson

To be classed as a panic attack, symptoms must come on rapidly, or within a few minutes, says Aaronson. And theres good news: Attacks typically peak and subside within 10 or 15 minutes, and there are a handful of solid techniques that can help you ride them out.

Chief among those is recognizing your experience as a panic attack and not a more serious medical crisis, and gently reminding yourself that theres nothing physically unsafe about it. Just knowing what it is helps people, says Aaronson. Just to be sure, double-check that youre not experiencing any heart-attack specific symptoms such as pressure in the chest or pain that builds or radiates into the arm or jaw.

Once youve ruled those out, remember: Panic always passes, and focusing on that belief can send it on its way.

Of course, this is easier said than done when you feel like youre suffocating or losing control. It takes practice, says Aaronson. But the more you do it, the better you get at doing it.

You might tell yourself: Everything my body is doing right now is designed to keep me safe and protect me.

If you can, find a quiet spot where you can talk yourself through why youre feeling what youre feeling.

For example, you might tell yourself: Im feeling light-headed because my blood is being redirected to my limbs. Im breathing hard because my body is responding in an evolutionarily honed way to adrenaline. Everything my body is doing right now is designed to keep me safe and protect me.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder may have:

  • Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack
  • Physical symptoms during a panic attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea
  • An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen
  • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past

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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Complications Of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is treatable and you can make a full recovery. But it’s best to get medical help as soon as you can.

If you do not get medical help, panic disorder can escalate and become very difficult to cope with.

You’re more at risk of developing other mental health conditions, such as agoraphobia or other phobias, or an alcohol or drug problem.

Having panic disorder may affect your ability to drive. The law requires you to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency about a medical condition that could impact your driving ability.

Visit GOV.UK for further information about driving with a disability or health condition.

How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed

How Anxiety And Panic Attacks Differ

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.

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Causes Of Panic Attacks

Anxiety disorder is the principal cause of all panic attacks. According to the National Institute of Mental Health , approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 51 are diagnosed as being affected by anxiety disorders. However, the total number of people who are affected by anxiety disorders â and who are therefore predisposed to experience a panic attack â is thought to be far greater.

Panic is the most acute form of anxiety. As such, a panic attack is caused by heightened anxiety, whereby the body undergoes physiological changes due to oneâs thoughts, entering into a state called fight or flight mode. A person may not be consciously aware of the thoughts that induce this state, as it can be caused by the brainâs background activity.

Fight or flight mode is an automatic response to danger, rapidly preparing the body for physical activity, such as running away from or fighting off a predator. In a panic attack, however, there is usually no immediate physical threat to escape from.

Physiological changes associated with fight or flight mode, that may contribute to a panic attack, include:

  • Increased metabolic rate
  • Loss of hearing and dilation of pupils
  • Relaxation of the bladder and sphincters

Treatments For Anxiety Attacks

When anxiety attacks take control of your life and you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, your doctor may suggest two forms of treatment:


Talk therapy is the first approach to treating anxiety attacks. You and your therapist will discuss what might be the root cause of your anxiety disorder. Psychotherapy helps give you the skills to healthily cope with the symptoms of anxiety. The common types of therapy are cognitive-behavior therapy and exposure therapy.


There are several types of medication that help relieve anxiety attack symptoms. The type of medicine will depend on the anxiety disorder or other mental health issues you may be facing. Certain antidepressants can treat anxiety. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medicine, like buspirone.

Along with these two types of treatment, there are things you can try at home to help you cope when symptoms start to begin:

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How Can You Initiate The Diagnosis Of Anxiety Attacks Or Panic Attacks

Doctors cant usually diagnose anxiety attacks but they can diagnose:

  • anxiety symptoms
  • panic attacks
  • panic disorders

Your doctor may ask you about the symptoms of attacks that may help your doctor to identify your health factors. These factors may also be associated with other types of diseases like thyroid problems and heart diseases. To get a diagnosis, your doctor may conduct:

  • a physical exam
  • a heart test,
  • a psychological evaluation or questionnaire

Treatment For Panic And Anxiety

Anxiety – #3 What Happens in the Body during a Panic Attack

Whether youre dealing with panic, persistent anxiety, or both, effective treatments are available. Some of the most common treatment options include therapy, prescription medications, and self-help strategies. You may decide to try one or a combination of these methods.

  • Psychotherapy can help better you understand your symptoms, develop ways to manage them, work through past pain, determine your path for the future, and gain a clearer perspective that will allow for a more hopeful outlook.
  • Medicationscan assist you in reducing your symptoms. They may only be needed for a short period of time to control symptoms while you work on the other long-term strategies.
  • Self-help techniques, such as breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation, can also be beneficial in allowing you to work through symptom management at your own pace.

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Types Of Anxiety Disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by chronic and exaggerated worry and tension, much more than the typical anxiety that most people experience in their daily lives. People may have trembling, twitching, muscle tension, nausea, irritability, poor concentration, depression, fatigue, headaches, light-headedness, breathlessness or hot flashes.

Panic Disorder: People with panic disorder have panic attacks with feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. During the attacks, individuals may feel like they cant breathe, have lost control, are having a heart attack or even that they are dying. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, dizziness, nausea, sweating, tingling or numbness, and a racing heartbeat. Some people will have one isolated attack, while others will develop a long term panic disorder either way, there is often high anxiety between attacks because there is no way of knowing when the next one will occur. Panic disorders often begin early in adulthood. Many people with panic disorder also suffer from agoraphobia . See more on Panic Attacks.

Phobias are irrational fears. Individuals with phobias realize their fears are irrational, but thinking about or facing the feared object or situation can bring on a panic attck or severe anxiety.

Involuntary Laughing During Panic/anxiety Attacks

Guest over a year ago

But lately the stuff that have been triggering the anxiety attacks have been bothering me a lot lately and Ive been wanting to bring it up to my therapist, which I struggle to do regardless so actually the first time the laughing fit happened during an anxiety attack was the time I was home alone venting to my voice memos app to try and practice how Id bring up my stressors to my therapist, I stopped audio recording as soon as I began hyperventilating because at that point I was like whats the point but now I guess since that first happened 3 months ago, I never even contemplated bringing it up with my therapist because Im afraid thatll happen in front of her.The 3-4 times these recent anxiety attacks have happened, were when I was home alone, first being when I was trying to vent to myself and to my voice memos to try and figure out how to express everything to my therapist, and the other times were solely because I thought about the factors of my stress I apologize if this is lengthy, I just cant keep letting everything build up I guess.

TLDR/Summary: Recent anxiety attacks have included involuntary laughter that dont provide any form of relief or benefit, and were out of sync with the emotions I was feeling. What could be causing this?


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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 .

Feeling Of Doom And Peak

Stress Anxiety Panic Attacks

At this point you’ll often experience feelings of doom. Once again, this is entirely uncontrollable, and a natural reaction the symptoms. It’s at this point where people feel like they’re about to die, or as though something terrible is about to happen. All of these symptoms become more and more overwhelming.

Suddenly it peaks. You experience this intense dread, and it feels like time slows down to a stop. Then everything starts to drain slowly away. You start to feel a little bit better, but only marginally so, and often you’ll be filled with a considerable amount of fatigue from that entire experience. You’ll be sweaty, shaking, and possibly still have health anxiety or fears as a result. But you’ll usually feel a tad bit better as it starts its slow but steady decline.

Anxiety attacks may have other symptoms as well. There are unusual symptoms like back pain, nerve firing, cold feet, and even itching. There are also severe symptoms like derealization . All of these are no more dangerous, but all of them can be very concerning to the person who is experiencing them.

Panic attacks are not dangerous events, and many who get them are completely healthy. But there are so many physical symptoms involved and so much anxiety that they often feel like something terrible is wrong with your health – even if you know you have an anxiety attack problem.

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What Are The Differences

Here are some of the features that distinguish them.

An anxiety attack, or anxiety:

  • can have a specific trigger, such as an exam, workplace issues, a health issue, or a relationship problem
  • is not a diagnosable condition
  • is less severe than a panic attack
  • usually develops gradually when a person feels anxious
  • involves physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or knot in the stomach

A panic attack:

The term anxiety attack is not listed in the American Psychological Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition .

Panic attacks, however, are a symptom of panic disorder in the DSM-V. Only a licensed professional can diagnose panic disorder.

Doctorate In Counselling Psychology


I have worked successfully with a wide range of difficulties. Nothing is more important than developing a warm, compassionate relationship with someone you can trust

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This Is How Your Nervous System Works

To simplify, you can think of your mind and body in everyday mode as a car driving at normal speed on the highway. If you need to pass someone ahead of you, you press on the gas to increase your speed . If another car is merging ahead of you and you need to slow down, you let up on the gas . Ideally, the SNS system and the PNS system are working togetherbut opposite to each other to maintain the perfect balance of activation needed to get you safely to where you want to go in the desired amount of time.

The Link Between Anxiety Symptoms And Depression

What Does a Panic Attack Actually Do To Your Body?

Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety and depression are believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse , its important to seek treatment for both conditions.

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Are Certain People Predisposed To Panic Attacks

Now why do people develop panic disorder / attacks? The main culprit seems to be disruptions in GABA neurotransmitter system which is involved in A LOT of human emotions and reactions. GABA is a name for a specific transmitter in your brain, that carries message from one neuron cell to another, telling the brain to do certain things. The things that might contribute to these changes in the GABA system include your temperament , the adversity youve faced in your childhood, life stress and then genetics in the general sense.

Ive had people tell me its a glitch in the fight-or-flight response, that my brain is unable to process the stress being placed on it, my body is dumping its supply of adrenaline

Thats how most panic attacks work. Andrenaline increases your heart and breathing rate in preperation for extreme physical exertion. Since you typically dont exert yourself, you wind up with secondary symptoms, like shaking, lightheadedness, and low blood sugar. This discomfort can induce stress in and of itself, prolonging the attack.

Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Agoraphobia, the fear of being somewhere where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack, may also accompany a panic disorder. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls, or confined spaces such as an airplane.

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Ask A Doctor About Medication

Panic attacks often come out of nowhere. But if youre prone to these sudden episodes, it might be helpful to talk to a professional about medication options.

Many people travel with a prescribed dose of short-acting benzodiazepine, Varma said. It doesnt hurt to even book an appointment with a psychiatrist who can help you with this if you travel frequently. You want to discuss all your specific symptoms with your provider and this medication has its own risks and side effects, so may not be for everybody.

You can take anxiety medication before your flight or just keep it on hand in case you start to feel a panic attack coming on. Although some medication might not take effect until after the moment has passed, Varma noted that it can still help with the after-effects or uneasy feelings that can follow an episode.

I find that many people dont even end up taking the medication at the moment, but feel a degree of comfort knowing it is there if they need it, Gitlin said.

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