Anxiety attacks can be so terrifying that you feel as if you’re about to die or lose control. You may think that you have a heart attack. After an episode of an anxiety attack is over, you may worry about having another one, especially in a public area where you can’t easily escape, or help isn’t available. It is a highly unpleasant experience.
The sets of signs and symptoms of anxiety attacks are different from person to person. It usually peaks within 10 minutes, and rarely last more than 30 minutes. Subsequent anxiety attacks may follow, causing the overall anxiety attack experience to persist longer. If the anxiety attack continues for a prolonged period, the condition may become more complicated and consequently require more time and effort to resolve.
Causes of Anxiety Attacks
There are two leading causes of anxiety attacks: High-degree anxiety and chronically-elevated stress.
Anxiety attacks are episodes of high-degree stress responses, either precipitated or accompanied by high-degree anxiety.
Chronically elevated stress
When you allow stress to build up without relief, the body can cause an anxiety attack – an involuntary response that isn’t caused by behavior.
You may think you have a heart attack, which may cause you to react with more fear. And when you become more afraid, the body is going to elicit another stress response, which triggers a vicious cycle.
Risk factors of anxiety attacks include:
- Traumatic events, such as a divorce or death
- Ongoing stress, such as interpersonal conflict, financial woes, chronic health condition, or work responsibilities
- Having family members who have anxiety or panic disorders
- Being female
Anxiety attacks can affect each person differently. Consequently, the symptoms can vary from person to person. If your symptoms don’t match the following list, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t an anxiety attack.
Common symptoms of an anxiety attack:
- A feeling of overwhelming fear or panic
- The sense of going crazy or losing control
- Feeling like you might pass out
- A surge of doom and gloom
- An urgency to escape
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling detached from reality
- Weak in the knees
- Numbness and tingling sensation
- Trouble breathing or choking sensation
- Hot flashes or chills
- Nausea or stomach cramps
How to Stop an Anxiety Attack
Try the following techniques in advance, and when you feel panic coming on, choose the most suitable coping method for that moment.
Acknowledge what is happening
If you’re already experiencing an anxiety attack, you know that the symptoms can be extremely frightening. Acknowledge the situation and remember that symptoms will soon pass. You’ll be alright.
Hyperventilation is among the most common and alarming symptoms of an anxiety attack. Learn a breathing technique in advance so that you can adopt it when you’re panicking.
If you feel your breath quickening, focus your attention on your breathing. Inhale and feel your stomach fill with air, and then exhale. Count down from four at a slow and steady pace as you inhale and exhale. Repeat until your breathing slows.
Use relaxation techniques
Try relaxation methods – such as progressive muscle relaxation, aromatherapy, or guided imagery – to reduce feelings of panic and anxiety. When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques can reduce anxiety attacks and increase calmness.
Mindfulness-based intervention is a technique that can help you ground your thoughts in the present moment. Practice mindfulness by actively noticing your thoughts, sensations, and emotions without reacting to them.
Connect with others
Isolation and loneliness can trigger or worsen anxiety. On the other hand, talking about your concerns face-to-face can often make them seem less overwhelming.
Meet up with friends regularly. Join a self-help or support group. Share your concerns with a trusted loved one.
If your stress levels are incredibly high, stress management can help. Give up, turn down, or delate your responsibilities to others.
Exercise is a natural anxiety reliever. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day.
Treatments for Anxiety Attack
Medication can reduce symptoms of a severe or recurrent anxiety attack. Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, or benzodiazepines.
Engaging in psychotherapy can help you identify triggers and manage symptoms. Treatment also aims to help people to accept their past and work towards their future.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be especially helpful for people with anxiety attacks.
Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack
Many people use the terms anxiety attack and panic attack interchangeably, but in reality, they represent two different experiences. These types of attacks have different intensities, symptoms, and durations.
Anxiety attacks are generally less intense than panic attacks. The former is also accompanied by less severe physical symptoms than the latter. However, anxiety attack symptoms often last longer than that of a panic attack.
You may experience both anxiety and panic attack at the same time.
If may be difficult to know whether what you’re experiencing is an anxiety attack or a panic attack. Keep in mind the following:
- Anxiety attack is typically related to something that is perceived as stressful or threatening. Triggers don’t always cue panic attacks, and most often occur out of the blue.
- Anxiety attack symptoms vary in intensity, from mild to severe. Panic attacks, on the other hand, involve intensive and disruptive symptoms.