What is an Anxiety Attack?
An anxiety attack is an intense period of fear that occurs for no reason that you know of. An anxiety attack is also known as a panic attack. An anxiety attack can be a one-time event or become a recurring problem. If you have two or more anxiety attacks in a month, you may have a condition called panic or anxiety disorder. If anxiety attacks become severe, they may keep you from living a normal life.
Anxiety occurs when a person feels tension, has worrisome thoughts, and experiences physical changes such as an increase in blood pressure. These worries can be associated with everything from concerns over facing death or illnesses to more mundane events like being late for an appointment or facing the unknown.
Anxiety is generally a typical feeling in everyday human life, however, experts note that when these feelings are more severe and frequent in nature, one may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. More intense manifestations of anxiety can include persistent and extreme fear in the face of everyday situations. And having that intense form of anxiety for prolonged periods of time is considered an anxiety attack, a condition that can last anywhere from several minutes to weeks on end.
Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack
Unlike anxiety attacks, the term panic attack is recognized in the DSM-5. A panic attack is not a diagnosable condition on its own but is a central symptom in panic disorder, as well as other anxiety disorders. According to the DSM-5, a panic attack can be expected or unexpected.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about what differentiates an anxiety attack from a panic attack. However, you might think of an anxiety attack as something broader in nature.
Anxiety attacks can be mild or moderate, as well as severe, and can encompass any of the symptoms of anxiety. Contrastingly, all panic attacks are disruptive and severe, in order to meet the symptoms of a panic attack as defined in the DSM-5.
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Anxiety Attack Symptoms
Anxiety attacks are a combination of mental and physical symptoms that are overwhelming and intense. The anxiety is more than just regular nervousness. The anxiety is often a feeling of immense, impending doom that makes many individuals feel they’re about to die, or that everything around them is breaking down. It creates physical symptoms that are so severe they mimic legitimate, serious health problems.
Anxiety attacks also tend to peak around 10 minutes. Then as they dissipate, they often leave you feeling fatigued and drained, possibly fearful of another attack. Anxiety attacks are unusual in that they can be triggered under moments of heavy stress or fear, or they can be triggered by nothing at all. Often the first anxiety attack comes at a moment in a person’s life when they’re experiencing a lot of stress (although not always). But future panic attacks can be caused by almost anything.
Any number of situations could trigger an anxiety attack. For many individuals, an already stressful life situation may lead to an anxiety attack. These situations could include:
- Caregiving duties
- Work-related stress
- Grief or loss of a loved one
- Financial stress
- Driving in heavy traffic
- Performances or presentations
- Global pandemic
Remember that anxiety, as an emotion, is a totally normal part of life. Major life changes can be anxiety-inducing, but a healthy level of anxiety can keep you focused and alert. However, if your day-to-day worries become an anxiety attack, with acute symptoms, this can be incredibly distressing.
A 2017 study found that people who experience panic attacks are hypersensitive to unpredictable stimuli. Therefore unpredictable, shocking situations might trigger anxiety attacks for some individuals. These situations might include being bitten by a cat, spooked at a haunted house, missing a step on the stairs, or any other shocking situation.
Mental Health Conditions
Anxiety attacks can also be a symptom of certain broader mental health diagnoses. In particular, anxiety and panic attacks are a feature of many anxiety and related disorders, including:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
During an anxiety attack, the symptoms felt like symptoms of a severe health problem, such as a heart problem. On the other hand, some severe health problems can cause anxiety attacks, such as heart or breathing problems. The main symptom of an anxiety attack is extreme fear. Other signs and symptoms are different from person to person. The same person may even have different signs and symptoms during repeat anxiety attacks. Signs and symptoms usually do not last longer than 30 minutes. Besides fear, other signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack may include:
- Chest pain
- Feeling light-headed or dizziness
- Fear of losing control or doing something embarrassing
- The feeling of being out of touch with people or things around you
- Having a feeling of doom, which is feeling like something very bad is going to happen. You may feel like you are about to die
- Heart palpitations, which is becoming suddenly aware of your heartbeat. You may feel like your heart is pounding or beating too fast
- Sweating, trembling or having hot or cold flashes
- Stomach discomfort or upset, which may include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) or diarrhea
- Numbness or loss of feeling or tingling in your hands or feet. You may have numbness or tingling of your lips or around your mouth
- You may feel like you cannot breathe. Some people may hyperventilate during an anxiety attack and not even notice it.
During an anxiety attack, focus on taking prolonged, deep breaths. You may need a loved one or a friend to help you do this by breathing with you. Your caregiver may show you how to breathe in and out of a paper bag when you hyperventilate. Never use a plastic bag.
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How to Stop an Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety attacks can be challenging to stop after they’ve started. However, some steps can help reduce their severity. If you believe you’re having or about to have an anxiety attack, try the following:
Tell Yourself it’s Anxiety
It’s not going to stop an anxiety attack, but tell yourself that you’re having one. The symptoms you’re experiencing are very stressful and very real. In some circumstances, they may even be painful. However, they’ll go away when the attack is over. The more you fear that something is wrong with your health, the more likely the attack will worsen.
Remember that hyperventilation is the most common cause of anxiety attack symptoms. If you can stop hyperventilating, the symptoms will subside. Take slower breaths, and don’t worry about trying to expand your chest. Instead, breathe in through your stomach and breathe out very slowly. It can take a while to reduce the sensation that you need to get a deep breath, but it should stop the symptoms from getting worse.
Hold Your Breath at Peak
Hold your breath before breathing out for two or three seconds at the peak of each breath. Remember, you want to give your body back a healthy carbon dioxide balance, so holding your breath for a short time (not too long, but a couple of seconds) can increase CO2 in your body.
Don’t be shy about your anxiety attack if you’re out with others. Holding it in causes you to think about it too much, which can increase your anxiety and feelings of doom. It may be a bit embarrassing to tell people that you’re suffering from a panic attack, but not telling people will not make the anxiety attack any better, and talking about it to others can reduce its severity.
If you’re alone, calling someone on the phone and just talking to them can be a huge help. That’s because calling someone acts as a distraction. Remember, your mind and thoughts still cause anxiety attacks. However, when you’re on the phone talking with someone, you’re taking out your thoughts and engaging in conversation. This can have a powerful effect on the severity of your attack.
The more you’re taken “out of your own head,” the less severe your anxiety attacks will be. Try other things like going for a speed walk, drinking water, turning on the TV, and anything else that keeps you from focusing too much on the symptoms.
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Identifying the Cause
The first time you experience an anxiety attack, you might think it’s a heart attack. However, the opposite can be true as well — you don’t want to shrug off a heart attack as “just an anxiety attack.” Most people experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime, but this does indicate a disorder. Anxiety attacks are considered a disorder when they are frequent or chronic. A summary of panic attack causes and other diseases is described below.
Psychiatric disorders linked with anxiety attacks include the following.
- Anxiety disorder: Some people have anxiety disorders in which they get frequent anxiety attacks.
- Post-traumatic stress: Individuals can experience panic-type symptoms after exposure to extreme trauma.
The shortness of breath and arrhythmia palpitations are often confused with anxiety attacks.
Causes of anxiety attacks related to the respiratory system may include the following.
- Asthma attack: Asthma attacks are linked with difficulty breathing and an elevated heart rate.
- Lung disease exacerbation: Similar to asthma, acute exacerbations of chronic lung disease can cause panic attack-like symptoms.
- Toxins: Different environmental toxins may lead to anxiety and anxiety attack-like symptoms.
- Drug overdose: Overdosing on certain stimulant drugs, such as caffeine, amphetamine, or cocaine can lead to symptoms similar to an anxiety attack, such as palpitations and extreme anxiety.
- Allergic reaction: A severe allergic reaction can create symptoms of an anxiety attack.
Rare tumors of endocrine organs can produce adrenaline and other hormones leading to panic attack-like symptoms.
Metabolic abnormalities such as severe infection, traumatic injury, or changes in temperature or electrolyte levels can trigger physical symptoms similar to an anxiety attack.
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Lifestyle Tips to Manage Anxiety Symptoms
In order to better manage your symptoms, there are a few techniques you can do when you start to show signs of anxiety and stress. Self-care is one of the best ways to manage the early symptoms of anxiety. This involves taking care of your diet, exercise, sleep routine, daily life, relationships with family and friends, and how you are feeling.
Below, we list a few ways that you can manage the first symptoms of stress and anxiety to begin to get a better hold over the condition.
A Healthy Diet
Magnesium is one of the most common minerals in the human body. While magnesium plays a vital role in the maintenance of over 300 bodily functions, magnesium also helps maintain healthy blood pressure, acts as a sleep aid, and even helps to minimize the symptoms of anxiety in the brain.
While you may have a very healthy diet, you may not be eating foods that are rich in magnesium. It is suggested that magnesium can be taken as a natural treatment for those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) and social anxiety.
Making little changes to your daily lifestyle can have remarkable effects on your mental well-being and help you take steps towards your recovery from the signs of severe anxiety disorder.
Having an established daily routine has helped many individuals get their anxiety and mental well-being on the route to getting better. In addition, it allows people who suffer from the symptoms of anxiety disorders to gain a structure to their day and even give them a sense of purpose.
These daily routines could be something as simple as going to bed at the same time each day, trying to eat at the same time each day, and making sure to go grocery shopping once per week.
If you frequently struggle with panic attacks or feel anxious in certain situations, breathing exercises can help calm the warning symptoms of anxiety attacks. If you do breathing exercises regularly as part of a daily routine and know exactly what you’re doing, you will get the most benefit from them.
Many individuals who struggle with anxiety also join a support group – where like-minded individuals come together to share experiences and give each other support. Many individuals who join these groups even find lifelong friends as they’re surrounded by individuals going through similar things.
To find your local support group, search online. We know it can seem like a difficult task, getting out of your comfort zone to talk to a group of strangers. However, many charities with friendly staff offer these services, so choose one that you like the look of and get in contact when you’re ready.
Co-occurring Disorders Treatment
To provide proper treatment for co-occurring disorders, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends an integrated treatment approach. Integrated treatment involves coordinating substance abuse and mental health interventions rather than treating each disorder separately without consideration for the other.
Integrated or dual diagnosis treatment often involves forms of behavioral treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), that can help improve coping skills and reduce maladaptive behaviors. These may be used in combination with medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Integration is key to achieving a healthy balance and long-term recovery.
Treating co-occurring disorders is a critical aspect of our inpatient treatment experience because co-occurring disorders are strongly connected with instances of substance abuse. Creating a treatment plan that addresses the physical aspects of withdrawal, the psychological connection with drug use, and addressing underlying mental health disorders is all a part of setting clients up for success.
At We Level Up NJ, we believe that if the client can identify the underlying issue and treat it simultaneously with their treatment for addiction, the client’s chances of a successful, relapse-free recovery are much improved. In fact, once we can identify and properly begin treatment on the underlying issues such as an anxiety attack that’s driving or co-occurring with the dependency on alcohol or other drugs, clients will have reached a major milestone and will be that much closer to long-term sobriety.
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 NIMH – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders