What Does An Anxiety Attack Feel Like
Onlookers often have a difficult time understanding why someone who is having an anxiety attack is behaving in the manner that they are, especially if they do not have any experience with this particular mental illness. Someone who is having an anxiety attack may appear to be out of control and irrational to the naked eye, but the anxiety attack itself can feel like the end of the world.
So, what is an anxiety attack and what does it feel like? Up to 11% of Americans have anxiety attacks each year, and many of them experience the following symptoms and effects during these attacks:
During an anxiety attack, individuals also usually experience a sense of impending doom and/or a feeling of losing control/being out of control. These attacks, depending on the individual, usually last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Learning how to manage an anxiety attack when it occurs can be the best line of defense for those who struggle with this troubling problem.
Stay Calm And Collected
Panic attacks can seem frightening to witness. You may not be sure what to do when your friend or family member appears unable to control their fear. However, panic attacks are much scarier for the individual experiencing them. The best thing you can do to support your loved one is to stay calm and collected. Remember, the situation is not about you. If you need to talk about it with them, you can do so later, once they have recovered from the episode. In the moment, your focus needs to be on helping them feel safe and giving them the time to calm down.
During a panic attack, an individual’s body is being flooded by fear signals. They cannot control their responses to things. It is scary enough to feel out of control, and if those around them also seem panicked, it will just feed into the attack. The best way to convince them there is nothing to be afraid of is by acting as if this is the case. Keep your posture neutral, your voice calm, and your volume low and soothing.
Be Calm And Present: How To Help Someone With Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, can be very frightening for both the person living through the episode as well as onlookers. If you’re with someone when they have a panic attack, there are things you can do to help, even if you don’t have any professional training. Here’s how to help someone having an anxiety attack.
What Does An Anxiety Attack Look Like?
The symptoms of an anxiety attack can mirror symptoms of other serious medical issues, which can make it seem life-threatening. A true panic attack is generally not life-threatening, but if a person experiencing the attack does not understand what’s happening, the fear of imminent death or a true medical emergency can exacerbate their attack. Even if they do know that they’re having a panic attack, the attack can be very difficult for them, and they may need support to get through it. Symptoms usually come on very quickly and can include all or some of the following:
- Rapidly beating, pounding heart
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Sense of doom
- Numbness or tingling sensation in limbs
- Dizziness or lightheadedness feeling faint
- Experiencing chills or overheating
How To Help Someone With Anxiety Attack
If you are with someone who is having an anxiety attack, there are several things you can do.
9. Continue support until help arrives or until the person tells you they’re okay.
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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.
Focus On Taking Action
A soothing voice might help some people, but try to avoid saying things like Dont worry over and over. You might mean well, but your words may not help in the moment. Try these suggestions:
- Remind your friend to take slow, deep breaths and breathe with them. This can often help as they start to mirror your actions.
- Ask them to count backwards slowly from 100.
- Help them to get comfortable .
- Ask them to name five things they can see, hear, smell or feel.
- Reassure them that theyre experiencing panic and that it will go away.
- If the symptoms continue, become worse, or they dont improve after 2030 minutes, call 000.
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Faqs On Panic Attacks
How do you ground someone having a panic attack?
The most effective way to ground them, or bring them back to the surrounding reality, is to help them stabilize their breathing. A lot of people will hyperventilate during a panic attack and this can have mental and physical side effects that make it hard to focus or relax. Focus on their breathing first by either doing counted breathing or using a breathing rhythm video or app.
Should you touch someone having a panic attack?
This is entirely dependent on the person. Some will find comfort in being held and rocked during their panic attacks, others may not want to be touched. It is very important that you always ask before simply reaching out or hugging someone experiencing a panic attack. The anxiety may become scared and lash out without realizing it if they cannot see you before you touch them or if they were not expecting to be touched.
How long do panic attacks last?
Everyone is different but in general the worst of a panic attack will peak within 10 minutes. Most panic attacks are no longer than 30 minutes. If you notice that your loved ones panic attacks are lasting longer, it may be time to seek professional care.
Do Not Force Them To Confront Their Fears
Although you should not enable avoidance of difficult situations, you should not force someone to do something they are afraid of. Trying to push them to deal with anxiety when they are not ready will damage your relationship.
In the heat of the moment, focus on calming them down instead of trying to solve the cause of anxiety.
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What Causes Anxiety Attacks
- Caregivers do not know for sure what causes anxiety attacks. Sometimes they are caused by being in a situation that you find upsetting. You may have them due to a stressful life event, such as getting divorced. You are more likely to have anxiety attacks if you also have another mental health problem. Other mental health problems include depression , or alcoholism . Anxiety attacks may happen for no reason. Anxiety attacks can happen to anyone, regardless of age or gender.
- Some health conditions or medicines may cause anxiety attack symptoms. Using or withdrawing from alcohol or illegal drugs may also cause symptoms. Some people have anxiety attacks that are triggered by the fear of having a future anxiety attack. You are more likely to have anxiety attacks if someone in your family also has them.
How To Help Someone Having A Panic Attack
A panic attack is a brief but intense rush of fear.
These attacks involve symptoms similar to those experienced when facing a threat, including:
- intense fear
- head and chest pain
Panic attacks differ from a typical fear response because theres no actual threat involved.
Panic attack triggers arent always easy to identify, so people who have one attack often worry about having more, especially in public.
Panic attacks usually feel very uncomfortable and cause significant distress. Many people believe theyre experiencing a heart attack or other life-threatening issue.
If you know someone who experiences panic attacks, there are several things you can do to help them in the moment.
Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders
In addition to the primary symptom of excessive and irrational fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms include:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread.
- Watching for signs of danger.
- Anticipating the worst.
- Feeling like your minds gone blank.
But anxiety is more than just a feeling. As a product of the bodys fight-or-flight response, it also involves a wide range of physical symptoms, including:
- Pounding heart.
- Shaking or trembling.
Because of these physical symptoms, anxiety sufferers often mistake their disorder for a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is finally recognized.
Diagnosis: Separating The Good From The Bad
Anxiety is a normal, extreme reaction when we feel threatened or under pressure because of something. In moderation, it even helps us stay alert and focused, giving the incentive to solve our problems and can also be referred to as good or normal anxiety. But it is when anxiety becomes overwhelming and constant, often interrupting your daily functioning, that you have likely stepped into the territory of an anxiety disorder or bad anxiety in simple terms.
Imagine a situation where you experience symptoms like pounding heart, shaking, and shortness of breath, and these intense feelings of fear and worry dont seem to leave you when youre met with challenges or feel threatened. In that case, you are likely to have an anxiety disorder.
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Instead Say: What Can I Do To Help You
If your friend has been dealing with anxiety for a while, chances are they already know what does and doesnt help them feel better. Ask what they need and then do it, even if their request seems silly to you. Showing youre willing to offer assistance helps us anxious folk feel like were being taken seriously.
Alternative Anxiety Attack Definition
Earlier we mentioned that “anxiety attack” is not a medical term, but rather a descriptive term for intense moments of anxiety. Most people, including some medical professionals, refer to panic attacks as anxiety attacks simply because it is easier for people to understand. When you say panic, people tend to think of someone running away from Godzilla. When you term them anxiety attacks, people tend to understand it better.
But because anxiety attack is not a medical term, not everyone uses it the same way. Some people use anxiety attack as a way of describing severe symptoms of other anxiety disorders. For example, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder may have an “anxiety attack” when they encounter a trigger of extreme anxiety that forces them deep into their compulsions. Those with an upcoming test in school may call their significant worry about the test an anxiety attack even though theyre really just talking about being very nervous.
Keep this in mind when people describe anxiety attack, as the term may lead to a bit of miscommunication. For the purposes of this article, however, were talking about panic attacks, because panic attacks are a very real, very common anxiety problem that most people are referring to when they say they have these attacks.
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What Is Hyperventilation
Even though your body needs oxygen to survive, and turns that oxygen into carbon dioxide when it’s been used up within the bloodstream, your body also expects a healthy amount of carbon dioxide in your circulatory system as well. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing either too quickly or incorrectly in such a way that you’re taking in too much oxygen while breathing out too much carbon dioxide.
Interestingly, during this time it may feel as though you’re not getting enough air, and your instinct may be to take deeper breaths. But by responding to that sensation by trying to take in more air, you’re actually making your hyperventilation worse, which is why those that try to get deeper breaths often feel their symptoms getting worse, causing further panic.
When there isn’t enough carbon dioxide in your blood, you experience the symptoms of an anxiety attack, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness and more
Notice how each of these symptoms are the same as when you’re suffering from severe anxiety, which is why it often feels like an “attack” and why the symptoms feel so physical. They build on each other to create an experience that feels like something is terribly wrong.
The most likely cause of hyperventilation is breathing too quickly, which is a common response to anxiety. But it’s not the only cause either. You may also hyperventilate because:
What Not To Say
Just as there are many things you can do and say to help someone calm down from a panic or anxiety attack, there are also things you should never say. One important thing to keep in mind is you should not say anything invalidating. The individual having the attack is already aware that they are not reacting rationally, and there is a good chance they are berating themselves for not having a rational response.
Telling them their fear is irrational will not help, because it does not stop the fear. You also should not tell them things are not that bad. They already know that, and being reminded can increase feelings of guilt and shame. Please do not be harsh or demanding, do not tell them to pull themselves together, and do not touch them without their consent. It would be best if you did not laugh at or belittle them either. Even if the panic attack seems incomprehensible to you, it feels very real to them, and you should be respectful of that.
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Causes Of Anxiety Attacks
Caregivers do not know for sure what causes anxiety disorders. The symptoms vary from person to person. One can suffer from intense anxiety attacks without warning, while some others live in a constant state of fear and apprehension about anything and everything. Some peoples anxiety is triggered by facing threatening or stressful situations, while others experience anxiety attacks because of specific problems or triggers.
Anxiety disorders are likely to manifest if you suffer from other mental health disorders like depression. Anxiety disorders can also develop for no reason and to anyone regardless of age or gender. Talking about medical causes, certain medical conditions and medicines can also cause anxiety or panic attacks. You are also likely to have anxiety disorders if someone else in the family has them too.
What Not To Do When Someone Is Having A Panic Attack
While its tempting to help your loved one avoid the feelings of panic by distracting them from their bodily sensations or taking them away from the situation, these are considered safety behaviors. While safety behaviors might help to ease anxiety in the moment, they could actually reinforce a cycle of panic that exists in panic disorder.
Safety behaviors and distractions can prevent people from learning that panic attacks, while uncomfortable, are not actually harmful or dangerous.
Your loved one can handle panic without actually doing anything, and its important for them to know that anxiety about panic goes away on its own without causing them harm.
Cognitive behavioral therapy a major method for treating panic disorder teaches you strategies to reduce your anxiety and avoidance around panic attacks. The idea isnt to prevent them but to sit with them until they inevitably pass. And often, you experience fewer panic attacks over time as you grow to fear them less.
The most effective way to react to a panic attack is just to ride it out instead of resisting or escaping it. While escaping a panic attack in the short term reduces anxiety, it just drives the panic cycle in the long term because you reinforce beliefs that panic is dangerous, harmful, or something that must be avoided at all costs.
The idea is to allow the symptoms to just be, which helps you to view panic attacks as a manageable experience, not one that needs to be escaped.
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Learn To Recognize The Signs Of Anxiety
Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting up to 18% of the population. Knowing the signs of anxiety can help you realize when someone you love is having fearful thoughts or feelings. Symptoms vary from person to person but can be broken into three categories:
Responding To Panic Attacks
Even if you don’t experience panic attacks yourself, knowing how to support someone going through one is really valuable.
“It’s understandable to feel daunted if you are with someone when they experience a panic attack – particularly if it seems to happen suddenly,” says Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind. “It can help if you gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them. Try to stay calm and encourage them to sit somewhere quietly until they feel better.”
One of the best ways you can help is by encouraging them to breathe slowly and deeply. “It is important to breathe deeply to ensure your body is getting enough oxygen,” says Lidbetter. “But a very common symptom of panic attacks is hyperventilation which can result in further feelings of panic. By taking long deep breaths , the body receives the oxygen it needs and makes the person feel calmer.”
There are certain strategies you can use to make this easier. “It might be helpful to count out loud or ask them to watch while you gently raise your arm up and down. Encourage them to stamp their feet on the spot,” suggests Buckley. “Never encourage someone to breathe into a paper bag during a panic attack as this isn’t recommended and might be unsafe.”
How to support someone through a panic attack
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