Anxiety attack: Symptoms, causes, and complications

While anxiety is a normal, healthy and in many cases useful “fight or flight” human reaction, extreme or disproportional anxiety can cause serious problems for the person affected.

When anxiety gets out of control, and the worrying thoughts, the panic and the fear gains control over the everyday activities, the relationships, the work and school of a person, this is probably due to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can include suffering from anxiety attacks as well as panic attacks, as well as other physical and mental symptoms that can affect one’s life.

There are different types of anxiety disorders, including – panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, specific phobias, agoraphobia, separation anxiety phobia, selective mutism, as well as disorders caused by alcohol, medication, or drug abuse or withdrawal, trauma, stress, or an underlying medical condition.

Read on more to find out everything you need to know about anxiety attacks, what the symptoms are, what causes them, what the possible complications are, and what the treatments are.

Fast facts about anxiety attacks

Anxiety attacks are usually triggered by a specific object, event, or setting.

The anxiety attack typically exhibits itself with fear and worrying about an upcoming event or about something that may occur.

There are some physical symptoms of anxiety attacks, including heart rate changes, increased blood pressure, muscle tenseness, apart from irrational or disproportionate restlessness, and worrying.

Although anxiety attacks are not as severe as full-blown panic attacks, they are still unpleasant, bothersome, and can cause a drastic disruption to the life of the person affected.

An anxiety attack can occur to somebody suffering from panic disorder, who fears an onset of a next panic attack.

Anxiety attack vs. panic attack

Many people mistakenly think that an anxiety attack and a panic attack are the same things.

The fact is, they do have some common symptoms, including fear, a racing or pounding heart, breathing problems, lightheadedness, and irrational thoughts.

But, the symptoms of a panic attack are typically much more severe than those during an anxiety attack. People having a panic attack often have a genuine belief that they are actually dying from a heart attack or feel impending doom.

This is why people who suffer from panic attacks will land up in the emergency room much more often than those experiencing anxiety attacks.

Here are the differences between anxiety and panic attacks:

Anxiety and anxiety attacks are:

  • Less severe than panic attacks
  • Usually caused by a specific trigger (an exam, speech, job interview, a specific object or setting, or other)
  • They develop gradually
  • May include physical symptoms like feeling “a knot in the stomach” or racing or pounding heart

Panic and panic attacks:

  • Can occur at any time, anywhere, without a specific trigger
  • Can happen when a person is anxious but also suddenly when a person is calm, or even sleeping as well
  • The symptoms – both physical and emotional can be so severe that a person may seek emergency care
  • The person experiences genuine terror and fear of imminent death and total loss of control
  • If the panic attack is due to panic disorder, it can be officially diagnosed as a medical condition
  • For people with panic disorder, anxiety can trigger a new panic attack
  • Fear of having another panic attack can lead to anxiety, also known as “fear of fear”

General symptoms of anxiety and signs that you may have an anxiety disorder

Anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe, and the symptoms may vary from person to person and from one anxiety disorder to another.

People suffering from anxiety can experience both physical and non-physical symptoms.

When the anxiety is ongoing and starts interfering with one’s normal life, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Here are some of the common symptoms which people who suffer from one or more forms of anxiety disorder can experience:

  • Constant worrying and a feeling “on edge”
  • The anxiety interferes with everyday life, work, and family responsibilities
  • Irrational fears which cannot be shaken off
  • A belief that something terrible will occur
  • Avoidance of certain triggers that cause the anxiety symptoms
  • Sudden onsets of changes in the heart rate, like heart racing and pounding
  • A feeling of danger, and of being trapped and unable to get help
  • Troubles concentrating
  • Tenseness and jumpiness
  • Increased irritability
  • Brain fog
  • Problems going to sleep and sleeping
  • A need to go to the bathroom frequently
  • Tremor and trembling
  • Headaches, chronic pains
  • Sweating
  • Digestive problems

Causes of anxiety and anxiety attacks

In some cases, you may be suffering from anxiety attacks, or from ongoing anxiety due to an underlying health condition. It is important that you see a doctor who can examine you and determine whether such is the case. Often times, when the primary medical condition is treated, the anxiety too will go away.

Here are some of the common health problems which can cause anxiety attacks, anxiety or anxiety disorders:

  • An overactive or underactive thyroid gland
  • Arrhythmia or other heart problems
  • Respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD or others
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Tumors causing hormonal imbalance the overproduction of adrenaline
  • Changes in the chemistry of the brain
  • Withdrawal from alcohol, medications or drugs
  • A diagnosis for a serious medical condition

Apart from medical reasons, there are some other factors which can cause the development of anxiety disorders, or frequent anxiety attacks, including:

  • Genes – it is believed that anxiety is hereditary
  • Trauma or a life-threatening event
  • Stress at work or in the family or relationship
  • An abrupt major change in your life
  • Losing a loved one, divorce or separation
  • Having a baby and worrying about being a good parent
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • The use of some medications
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Reduced mobility or loss of mental function
  • Excessive caffeine intake

A specific anxiety attack may be triggered by a specific event, including:

  • Exposure to a trigger of your phobia
  • A fear of having a panic attack
  • Stage fright
  • Fear of embarrassing yourself

Possible complications from anxiety attacks

Anxiety is meant to help people cope with difficult temporary situations. Adrenaline is a hormone that triggers the fight or flight response which is a survival mechanism for dealing with danger or fleeing from it.

Under normal circumstances, the adrenaline levels return to normal once the danger is averted or confronted, and when the trigger is removed.

But in the cases, when the adrenaline levels remain high even without a trigger, or when the anxiety symptoms occur without a plausible reason or trigger, the person affected may face further, serious problems.

Some of the complications of persistent anxiety and stress include:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Sleep, immune, digestive, reproductive and other health problems like high blood pressure, insomnia, diabetes, heart disease, and frequent infections and colds

It is vital to seek medical attention and help to pinpoint the reason for ongoing or overwhelming anxiety in order to help prevent the onset of more severe physical and mental problems.

Types of anxiety disorders which can cause anxiety attacks

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

This is a chronic anxiety disorder that causes ongoing anxiety, worrying and fear without any specific trigger.

People suffering from GAD often experience so much overblown anxiety that it can interfere with their work, relationships, and social lives.

Generalized anxiety disorder can cause not only consistent anxiety but also specific physical symptoms as well.

Here are the most common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Uncontrollable anxiety and worrying
  • Restlessness and feeling “on edge”
  • Problems with concentration
  • Increased irritability and explosive anger
  • Unexplained nervousness
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Non-realistic problem perception
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Personality changes, including becoming isolated or less social
  • Sweating
  • Frequent need for using the bathroom

Panic attacks and panic disorder

Panic disorder causes frequent and reoccurring panic attacks and often causes increased anxiety and fear of suffering another panic attack.

People who have a panic disorder may have anxiety attacks or suffer from increased anxiety due to their “fear of fear,” or in other words, of having another terrifying episode that they dread can occur at any time, anywhere and without an obvious trigger.

Phobias and irrational fears

A phobia causes a person to feel an irrational fear and anxiety from a specific situation, animal, object, or other.

In severe cases, the affected person may try to avoid coming into contact with the trigger at all costs. In some cases, this can cause isolation, and serious disruptions of everyday activities, social life, relationships, school work and others.

Interestingly enough, many people with phobias realize that their fears are irrational, but still are unable to control them.

A person who has a specific phobia will:

  • Take all kinds of actions and steps to avoid the trigger at all costs
  • Worry excessively about coming into contact with the feared trigger
  • Experience severe anxiety when in contact with the trigger

Agoraphobia

This is a fear of being trapped somewhere where you cannot escape or get help if something happens.

Agoraphobia can be a fear of riding a bus, getting on an elevator, being in a crowded space, leaving home alone, and others.

As with the other phobias and irrational fears, the people affected will often do everything possible to avoid the settings which trigger them.

In extreme cases, people with agoraphobia can become housebound and refuse to leave their homes.

When left untreated, panic disorders can also induce the onset of agoraphobia as well.

Social anxiety disorder

This disorder causes an irrational and debilitating fear of being viewed negatively, judged by, or embarrassed by other people. Social phobia can cause a fear of relationships, intimacy, humiliation, rejection or others.

Like with other phobias, people suffering from a social phobia may start avoiding any situations involving other people, and this can seriously affect their work, relationships and overall lives.

Performance anxiety, known as stage fright, is one of the most common types of social phobia.

Separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety is something which just about any child passes through, but when it becomes persistent and continues enough to stop a child from going to school or anywhere without one or both parents, then it can turn into a separation anxiety disorder.

It is essential to seek treatment for the child as early as possible if it is showing symptoms of separation anxiety disorder, or of any other type of anxiety which can turn into a disorder later on in life.

But separation anxiety disorder does not affect only children. Some adults develop separation anxiety, as well. This can lead to suffering anxiety attacks, and physical symptoms when separated from the attachment figure, as well as irrational fears about something terrible happening when the person is away.

Selective mutism

This is a rarer type of anxiety disorder that causes an inability of children who can otherwise speak freely with close ones to speak in certain places and situations. This type of disorder usually appears around the age of 5 and is often due to overwhelming shyness, a fear of being embarrassed in public, temper tantrums, a clinging behavior and others.

It is a condition that needs to be addressed by a doctor or medical expert in a timely manner, in order to prevent further complications as the child grows.

When is it time to seek professional help for anxiety symptoms?

Although in some mild cases of anxiety and anxiety attacks, self-help strategies can be very useful, in more severe cases, a person suffering from anxiety or anxiety attacks which are disrupting his or her normal daily life, should seek professional help.

If you are experiencing constant worrying, fear, nervousness, or phobias which are getting in the way with your relationships, your work, your social life, your finances, and your everyday life, then it is time to see a doctor.

A doctor will help determine whether your anxiety isn’t caused by an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed. There are some health problems that can cause anxiety attacks and anxiety. Some of them include thyroid problems, asthma, COPD, heart disease, chronic pain, IBS, substance withdrawal, tumors causing an overproduction of hormones, and others.

Make sure you let your doctor know what types of prescription and OTC medications you are taking, as well as any herbal or dietary supplements, vitamins, and recreational drugs.

If a medical cause is ruled out, you will probably be referred to a therapist with experience in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

In any case, you shouldn’t be worried, because more than 40 million people in the USA only suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, so you are not alone.

Plus, anxiety disorders are treatable, with the appropriate therapy, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, medication and self-help methods.

Treatment for anxiety disorders

The good news is that anxiety disorders in most cases are treatable, and respond very well to therapy so that you can get well relatively quickly and easily.

The specific treatment of an anxiety disorder depends on the type of disorder, its severity, as well as on the particular case.

In most cases, the treatment includes cognitive behavior therapy or exposure therapy, and in some cases, it can be combined with medications too.

Cognitive exposure therapy will help identify the trigger for the anxiety and challenge the irrational fear and worries, as well as the negative thinking, which causes the anxiety.

Exposure therapy encourages patients to face their fears gradually and in a controlled and safe environment, in order to eliminate the irrational fear of a non-existing danger.

In addition, the treatment of many types of social anxiety disorders can also benefit from joining support groups, as well as making certain lifestyle changes, performing some types of exercises and practicing self-help techniques.

In order to receive proper treatment, always seek professional help by a qualified and trained doctor and psychotherapist.

It is essential to understand, that although there are various highly efficient medications for suppressing the symptoms of anxiety, such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, beta-blockers and others, the medication will only help control or alleviate the symptoms, but will not cure the anxiety disorder. This is why therapy is an essential part of the treatment of anxiety attacks caused by anxiety disorders.

Also, in some cases, you will need to make certain lifestyle changes in order to get rid of the incapacitating anxiety.

Self-help for managing anxiety

Here are some tips for helping control anxiety and anxiety attacks which you can use alongside your treatment:

  • Take the time to relax
  • Practice stress management to help manage the triggers causing the stress
  • Learn to recognize the signs of anxiety and take actions to stop the onset of an anxiety attack
  • Identify the triggers of your anxiety – if alcohol or coffee causes your anxiety, then cut down or quit
  • Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet
  • Engage in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise or physical activity every day
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and others
  • Learn and practice controlling your breathing to help resolve hyperventilation
  • Find a new hobby or activity to take your mind off the worries, and to keep yourself engaged
  • Stay social and meet your friends, relatives or join a support group
  • Create a support network of people who you can rely on when you are overwhelmed by anxiety
  • Get enough sleep and follow a sleep schedule
  • Use an essential oil diffuser for some home aromatherapy relaxation with lavender oil
  • Set up a specific “worry time” when you can focus on your worries for a limited amount of time
  • Stop worrying about “what if” and try to turn them into “so what” instead
  • Try replacing negative with positive thoughts by writing the negative ones down and choosing positive replacements instead

Final words

Anxiety attacks are normal when facing problems and challenges like stress, a test, an interview, a speech, a public performance, and others.

But when you are constantly feeling worried, anxious, and tense, this can cause serious disruptions to your life and wellbeing.

Anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders can be caused by numerous factors, but with professional help, they can be treated.

In any case, you shouldn’t just settle and live with your anxiety and be one of the 60% of the people who have not sought treatment for their anxiety disorders.

Instead, get an appointment to see your doctor, to make sure that the causes of your anxiety are not caused by underlying medical conditions.

Once these are ruled out or addressed, your doctor will prescribe you the best treatment, which usually includes psychotherapy, and in some cases – medication.

With some additional lifestyle changes, and by following some simple tips for controlling your anxiety, you can get better, get rid of the constant fear and worry, and get back to living a normal life once again.

Anxiety: Overview, symptoms, causes, and treatments

Anxiety is a perfectly normal human reaction and is an instinct necessary for survival.

The “fight or flight” instinct acts as an alarm and protective mechanism to alert humans that they are in danger. Some of the signals of the body in such situations include a racing heartbeat, increased sensitivity, sweating and others.

Anxiety can have the same symptoms, but it usually occurs when there is no actual danger but rather, the person believes that there is a hazard.

When the levels of anxiety are too high and are persistent, this may be a symptom of a health problem or an anxiety disorder.

Today, more than 40 million people in the US only are affected by anxiety disorders, making them the most common type of mental disorders in the country.

Shockingly, less than 40% of those affected seek and receive treatment for their anxiety.

It is normal to be anxious before a public speech, an important test at school, or before a job interview. But when anxiety takes control over most of the other emotions and dictates one’s life, it can take a toll on one’s everyday life, relationships and work.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, which can lead to excessive apprehension, worry, nervousness and fear.

While the symptoms of such a disorder may vary from one person to another, in some cases, when they are severe, they can severely disrupt day-to-day life.

Read on to find out more about the different types of anxiety disorders, their symptoms, causes, risk, diagnosis, and treatment. You can also find some useful tips on preventing and controlling your anxiety.

What is the definition of anxiety?

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes, such as increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.”

It is essential to recognize the difference between normal anxiety, which almost everyone feels, and the feelings associated with anxiety disorders so that you can get timely and proper treatment if necessary.

Types of anxiety disorders

You may be suffering from an anxiety disorder if you have anxious feelings and physical symptoms which are disproportionate to the actual stressor or trigger.

Some common symptoms of this type of disorders include nausea and increased blood pressure. Also, when the constant worrying and nervousness or fear begins to interfere with daily life and functioning, then it is probably an anxiety disorder of some type.

Here are the main types of anxiety disorders:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is a chronic anxiety disorder that causes persistent and excessive anxieties and worries about non-specific situations, objects or life events. It is the most common type of anxiety disorder, and often the people affected by it cannot pinpoint the actual cause of their excessive anxiety.

In general, the people affected by GAD display a disproportionate amount of anxiety almost every day for six months or more.

This hyperbolized fear and worrying can seriously interfere with their relationships, social lives, work, school, and everyday lives.

Here are the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

  • Feeling “on-edge” and restlessness
  • Uncontrollable worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased irritability
  • Insomnia, or problems falling asleep
  • Nervousness without an apparent reason
  • Muscle tension
  • A non-realistic perception of problems
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Frequent need for going to the bathroom
  • Trembling
  • Being startled easily

All of these symptoms are perfectly normal when they occur occasionally. But for people with GAD, they are persistent and extreme and may prevent them from functioning and living normally.

Panic disorder

People who have panic disorder suffer from reoccurring panic attacks. A panic attack can be a genuinely terrifying experience, and escalates quickly, lasting for 10 to 30 minutes or more.

Panic attacks can occur without an obvious trigger and can happen anywhere and at any time.

The symptoms of a panic attack are similar to that of a heart attack, which is why so many people end up in the emergency room after such an occurrence.

The fact is, panic attacks are not life-threatening, but their symptoms – physical and mental are so intense that they can cause a lasting mark on a person’s psyche.

The most common symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • A racing or a pounding heart
  • Hyperventilation and difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest
  • A tight throat
  • Chills or hot waves
  • Tremor and shaking
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • A feeling of impending doom and death
  • Loss of touch with reality

Since the experience can be very frightening, it can cause the person affected to feel a constant fear of the panic attack reoccurring and start avoiding places, settings, situations and objects which may trigger it.

People who have panic disorder have unexpected and frequent panic attacks.

The “fear of fear” can cause them to make drastic changes to their lifestyles, and can seriously interfere with their relationships, social life, school, work, and everyday life. In some extreme cases, this can lead to debilitating agoraphobia.

This is why, even if you have experienced a single panic attack, it is advisable to seek timely treatment, to prevent such complications.

Plus, in some cases, the symptoms of panic attacks can be similar to symptoms of other serious medical conditions or can be caused by underlying causes, which should be diagnosed and treated too.

Specific phobia

This type of anxiety disorder causes the person affected to feel an irrational fear and aversion of a particular object or situation and to avoid it at all costs.

Even though some people with specific phobias may realize that their fear is extreme or out of proportion, they can still find it difficult to control their anxiety when in contact with the triggers.

There are various types of specific phobias, including fear of animals, heights, flying, blood, injections, specific objects and many others.

The main symptoms of specific phobias include:

  • Taking all kinds of active steps to avoid the trigger
  • Excessive and irrational worrying about coming into contact with the feared situation or object
  • Intense anxiety when having to endure unavoidable triggers

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes the affected person to fear and thus avoid certain situations, places and events which are hard to get out of and escape or where there will be no help if one gets trapped.

Although some people think that agoraphobia is the fear of being outdoors, it can be a fear of leaving home, being in an elevator, in a bus, in a crowded space, being alone and more. Any one of these fears will most likely cause the person to prefer to stay at home, where it is safe.

The most common triggers causing anxiety and fear in people with agoraphobia include:

  • Enclosed spaces
  • Open spaces
  • Using public transportation
  • Being in a crowd, on the street or standing in line
  • Leaving home alone

Commonly, people with agoraphobia will do anything possible to avoid the situations they fear. Often, this is due to their fear of experiencing panic attacks, and of embarrassing themselves, as well as the irrational fear of not being able to get out or be saved if trapped.

People suffering from severe cases of agoraphobia often reach to extremes and become housebound.

In some cases, people who have untreated panic disorder can develop agoraphobia.

Selective mutism

Selective mutism is a relatively rare anxiety disorder that affects children. These children are unable to speak in certain situations and places, even though they can otherwise speak and communicate perfectly.

It usually occurs up to the age of 5 years. Often selective mutism is associated with fear of public embarrassment, disproportional shyness, clinging behavior, compulsive traits, temper tantrums and others.

This can also be an extreme form of another anxiety disorder – social phobia.

Social anxiety disorder, social phobia

Social anxiety disorder is an irrational fear of public embarrassment or negative judgment from other people. It can be a fear of intimacy, fear of rejection and humiliation, stage fright or other.

This is another anxiety disorder which may cause the people affected to avoid any public situations, or even human contact, which obviously can seriously disrupt one’s daily life, work, and wellbeing.

Separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety disorder can, in some cases, result in panic attacks. It is an irrational level of anxiety and fear when separated from a specific person or people.

Even though it is more likely for children to have separation anxiety when parted from their parents at an early age, some adults too can suffer from this disorder.

Adults who suffer from a separation anxiety disorder often feel constant fear and dread that something will happen to their attachment figure while they are gone or separated.

This type of extreme fear may lead them to avoid separation altogether, as well as having nightmares and actual physical symptoms when separated from the particular person..

Other types of anxiety disorders

Some other types of anxiety disorders can occur due to a specific physical problem or medical condition or can be induced by substance abuse and withdrawal.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extreme anxiety disorder resulting from a life-threatening event or trauma. Today, PTSD is not part of the list of anxiety disorders and is now classified as a separate condition by the American Psychiatric Association.

Causes of anxiety disorders

The actual causes of the different types of anxiety disorders are not completely clear or understood. It is known that traumatic events can trigger such anxieties in people who are prone to them. Genetics and stress can also be factors, as well as certain medical and other underlying conditions.

Medical causes for anxiety disorders

In many cases, there could be underlying medical conditions that cause the signs and symptoms of anxiety. Some of the common health conditions which may trigger anxiety disabilities include:

  • Thyroid problems – overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Heart disease, such as arrhythmia
  • Diabetes
  • COPD, asthma or other respiratory diseases
  • IBS
  • Chronic pain
  • Rare tumors which produce hormones triggering the “fight or flight” reaction
  • Anti-anxiety, or opiate medication withdrawal

Non-medical causes for anxiety disorders

Outside of the medical ones, the other main possible causes for developing an anxiety disorder include:

  • Specific stressors in one’s life including – problems at work, problems in a relationship, family problems, and others
  • Trauma – experienced in childhood or as an adult
  • Genetics – it is found that people who have other close relatives suffering from anxiety disorders are more prone to developing one themselves
  • Bereavement, divorce, separation
  • Marriage, having a new baby, starting a new job
  • Changes in brain chemistry – in some cases, hormonal imbalances or misaligned electrical signals can cause changes in brain chemistry, which can lead to extreme anxiety
  • Withdrawal from alcohol, benzodiazepines, other medications or illicit substances can cause unexplained anxiety and sometimes panic
  • Caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, chocolate)
  • Some medications or supplements
  • Overall stress due to serious illness including worrying about the treatment and the future

Possible complications

Suffering from an anxiety disorder is not only bothersome because of the extreme worrying  and fear, but it if left untreated, it can get worse, and lead to more serious conditions including:

Prevention of anxiety disorders

Although there is no way to prevent or predict the development of an anxiety disorder completely, there are some ways to minimize the risk and reduce the symptoms of anxiety before they get stronger and more overpowering.

Here are the steps to control and to decrease the symptoms of anxiety disorders:

When is it time to see a doctor?

You should make an appointment with a doctor if:

Even if you think that you can manage your anxiety by yourself, keep in mind that if left untreated, it can get worse over time, so getting timely treatment is vital if you want to be healthy and go on with your life.

Treatment of anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are treatable, but the exact treatment depends on your specific case.

In most cases, the treatment includes psychotherapy or behavioral therapy, sometimes in combination with medication.

If your anxiety is due to underlying medical conditions, or alcohol or drug abuse, then the primary issues must be treated first, before the anxiety itself can be addressed.

Here are the treatments for anxiety disorders:

Psychotherapy

Therapy can help people suffering from anxiety disorders. The therapy treatment should be tailored and directed to address your specific anxieties and your situation.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. It is a type of psychotherapy in which the therapist will teach you how to understand, react, behave and think when put in anxiety-inducing conditions or situations.

CBT will also help people with anxiety practice their social skills, which is essential for returning to leading a normal life.

Your therapist may assign you homework or exercises for home practice during the sessions.

Cognitive therapy is focused on pinpointing, recognizing, challenging and eventually neutralizing the distorted thoughts underlying the anxiety disorder.

If you suffer from panic disorder, the therapist will emphasize on teaching you to accept the fact that panic attacks are not heart attacks, and how to recognize, accept and control the symptoms.

CBT can be performed in groups or individually.

Exposure therapy

This type of therapy focuses on confronting a person with a phobia or another anxiety disorder confronting his or her fears to help relieve or eliminate the anxiety symptoms. Successful exposure therapy will teach people with anxiety disorders to stop avoiding the setting and activities which they have been avoiding. This type of therapy is commonly combined with learning and practicing relaxation imagery techniques and relaxation exercises.

Psychotherapy is extremely efficient for treating anxiety disorders, especially when it is done early on with the onset of the symptoms.

Medication

Although medication cannot cure an anxiety disorder, in some cases, it can help relieve its symptoms and help control them.

Anxiety medications must be prescribed by a doctor, such as your primary care provider or a psychiatrist. In some cases, the drug can be prescribed by a psychologist who has the training and permission to do so.

The most commonly used medications for treating and controlling anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, or beta-blockers.

Anti-anxiety medications – benzodiazepines

These medicaments can help reduce the symptoms of extreme anxiety, fear, worrying and panic attacks.

The most commonly used anti-anxiety medications are benzodiazepines.

They are highly efficient and quick-acting medications for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety disorders, but they have their pros and cons.

Since they are highly addictive, they should be taken with extra caution and only with a doctor’s prescription.

They have few side effects, aside from possible addiction and drowsiness, and are relatively safe as compared to the older drugs used to treat anxiety such as barbiturates, glutethimides and meprobamates.

Some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Valium, Librium, Xanax, Klonopin, Dalmane, Ativan, Restoril, Halcion, and others.

Most of them can alleviate extreme anxiety very quickly, and can be taken as soon as one feels an onset of a panic attack, or is about to go into surgery or on a plane and feels uncontrollable fear and panic.

The drawbacks include the fact that some people can develop a tolerance to them, and will need higher and higher doses every time, as well as their addictiveness.

This is why doctors usually prescribe these types of medications for use for a short time, or to use only as a last resort in extreme cases of anxiety.

In some cases, people can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the benzodiazepines abruptly.

You should follow your doctor’s advice for tapering the medication off slowly, instead of stopping it suddenly.

Buspirone is another type of anti-anxiety medication which is a non-benzodiazepine, used for the treatment of chronic anxiety, but it is helpful only for some people and cases.

Antidepressants

These medications are used for treating depression, but in many cases can help treat anxiety disorders as well. Antidepressants can help the brain improve its use of the chemicals which control the mood or stress levels.

In most cases, the patient will have to try more than one antidepressant so that the best one which manages to improve the anxiety symptoms is identified.

If a close relative has taken a specific antidepressant that has helped them, it is highly likely that it will work for you too, so always tell your doctor about people in your family with anxiety or other mental health issues.

Unlike benzodiazepines, antidepressants need some time to build up in the body and start to work. So it may take days or weeks before the medication has an effect.

It is essential to follow the doctors’ orders when stopping your antidepressant medication to do so safely and to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

One of the most commonly used antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Some of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs for anxiety disorder include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Lexapro.

You should only take such medications with a prescription from your doctor.

They have fewer side effects as compared to older antidepressant medications but still may cause nausea, jitters, sexual dysfunction, and others.

Tricyclics are an older class of antidepressant drugs than the SSRIs. They, too, can be used for treating many anxiety disorders but are likely to cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, a dry mouth or weight gain. Some of the most common tricyclics are imipramine and clomipramine.

Monoamine Oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are another older class of antidepressants that are sometimes used for treating anxiety.

In any case, especially when children, teenagers, and young adults start taking antidepressants, it is essential that they are monitored closely during the first few weeks, or every time the dose is changed. This is because they can experience severe side effects like suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are high blood pressure medicaments, but in some cases that can be prescribed to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, including a rapid heart rate, trembling, shaking, or blushing.

When taken over a short period of time, beta-blockers can help the person keep these physical symptoms under control.

In some cases, they can help as preventative medications for predictable anxieties, such as stage fright, airplane flying, and others.

How to choose the best medication for you

While some medications may work perfectly for some types of anxiety disorders and for some people, they may not be suitable for others.

This is why you should work closely with your doctor when testing and identifying the best medication which can actually help you.

Also, keep in mind that some OTC medications, caffeine, herbal supplements, and illicit drugs can interfere with the prescribed medication for anxiety. This is why you should always discuss which other drugs, supplements and substances are safe and which are not during your treatment.

In order to pinpoint the best medication for your anxiety, you can expect that you and your doctor will discuss the following:

  • The benefits and the side effects of each drug
  • The risk of side effects for your specific case
  • The need for lifestyle changes
  • The cost

But as mentioned before, the medications can help control and alleviate the symptoms, but cannot cure an anxiety disorder, which is why they are usually prescribed alongside therapy and other treatments.

Support Groups

Some people suffering from anxiety disorder find it very useful to join support groups with people who share common disorders and problems. There are also online support groups, forums and chat rooms which can be useful too. But any advice received online by a person you don’t know should be treated with caution.

Even if you have found what seems like a great treatment, medication or supplement online, always discuss it with your doctor first, even if it is a completely natural, herbal or a vitamin supplement. The reason is that some of these supplements can interfere with your prescription medication.

Stress Management Techniques

Learning and practicing stress management techniques is also very helpful for dealing with an anxiety disorder. Meditation, aerobic exercise, yoga, tai chi, or other stress management techniques can be used to enhance the effects of the medication or therapy, but not as the only treatment plan.

Self-treatment and self-help for anxiety

Although there are some home remedies and self-treatments that can help manage, control and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, they should not serve as the only long-term treatment for anxiety disorders, especially for severe cases.

Here are some of the common self-treatment methods for helping deal with mild or short-term anxiety:

  • Stress management – learning and practicing how stress management can help reduce and even eliminate future triggers of anxiety. Stress management can include learning how to organize your work and deadlines, in a way which makes them more manageable and less daunting
  • Relaxation techniques – there are some simple activities that can help alleviate the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorders
  • Learning deep breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, resting and long baths can help you control the symptoms when you feel them coming
  • Breathing exercises – learning how to control your breathing and being mindful of it can be extremely helpful if you tend to get panic attacks or hyperventilation when feeling anxious. Put your hand on your belly, and practice taking slow deep breaths through the nose while counting to four. Hold the breath for a second, and then gently and slowly exhale through the mouth while counting to four again. This can help you get your breathing under control in situations when it seems like the panic is about to take over
  • Exercising the replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones – it helps to write down all of the negative thoughts which cycle through your brain and which make you anxious. Next to the list write another one with believable positive thoughts that can replace the negative ones. This exercise can be beneficial if you have a phobia or a problem with a specific fear of a particular event or situation
  • A support network – create or join a support network of people like friends, relatives or new friends which are available and supportive when you need them in the cases when anxiety strikes and you are panicking or afraid
  • Physical exercise – aerobic exercise like walking, running, cycling, or swimming helps boost the release of endorphins and other chemicals in the brain which trigger positive thoughts and feelings and improve the mood. Make sure you engage in some kind of physical activity or exercise for at least 30 minutes on a daily basis. If you work on a desk, try taking short breaks every 30 minutes for some quick and simple exercises or to take a brief walk
  • Find time for relaxing – no matter how well you have learned to manage the stress in your work, school or life, you need to find the time and ways to relax
  • Recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety symptoms – you should learn the signs that you may be heading for a panic attack or a worsening of your anxiety in order to take timely precautions and possibly avoid or at least manage the symptoms when they come
  • Recognize the triggers of your anxiety – in some cases, the trigger of anxiety is obvious (like with a specific phobia) but in others, it isn’t. It is important to pinpoint your triggers so that you can seek timely help or take timely actions (some triggers can include stress, alcohol of coffee intake, and others)
  • A healthy diet – eating a balanced and healthy diet instead of fast food or processed food can help keep your body healthy, and the chemical balance in the brain healthy too
  • Aromatherapy – some essential smells and aromas like lavender and chamomile can help soothe the symptoms of anxiety and can help you relax and sleep
  • A new hobby – you can find a new activity which helps you relax and take your mind off of your worries, fears, and other anxiety symptoms. Join a pottery class, engage in gardening, painting, dancing, choir or anything which will help you focus on something you enjoy and thus alleviate your anxiety
  • Stay social – even if you don’t feel like leaving your home or meeting other people, it is crucial to be social, in order to prevent the worsening of your anxiety symptoms. You should make sure that you see family members, friends, find new friends, or join a support group where you can share common feelings and concerns with others affected by your condition. Loneliness and social isolation can trigger and often will worsen anxiety disorders.
  • Set goals – if you are overly anxious because of too much work, financial problems, or others, it is a good idea to take the time to create a plan with your goals. Set short term targets and priorities and then check them off when you reach them. This will help you manage stress, your time, and have a clearer picture of the future without the anxiety and worries involved
  • Get restful and sufficient sleep – sleep is essential for human health and can help relieve anxiety symptoms such as worrying thoughts and feelings. It also helps the body relax and recuperate for the next day, so try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night
  • Cut down or quit alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine – all of these are substances that can trigger anxiety symptoms, so consider cutting down their intake, or quitting completely. Keep in mind that if you have problems with alcohol abuse, the withdrawal can enhance the anxiety symptoms, so if you are planning on quitting, ask your doctor for guidance and help to help reduce these symptoms
  • Tell yourself to stop worrying – worrying is a habit that you can learn how to recognize and break. Try using strategies such as challenging any anxious thoughts, creating a set worry period, as well as learning how to accept the uncertainty of certain situations, in order to help curb and control the worrying and the anxious thoughts and feelings. Setting up a “worry time” can help direct the anxiety to just the set 30 minutes per day to dwell on any problems, worries or anxious thoughts
  • Turn the “what ifs” into “so whats” – if you are persistently haunted by thoughts about something which you want to avoid happening, then sit down and write down these “what ifs,” and next to them turn them into “so whats” instead. By visualizing these often irrational fears and anxieties you can help train your brain to resist these triggers and may learn how to start going to places or getting into situations which you normally would avoid

Final words

Although anxiety is a normal and useful human survival instinct, excessive anxiety can seriously disrupt one’s life and can lead to more serious medical conditions.

An anxiety disorder develops when anxiety, worrying and fear are blown out of proportion especially as compared to the actual trigger causing them.

There are different types of anxiety disorders which are all treatable.

Treatment can include psychotherapy, as well as medication, combined with joining a support group, learning stress management techniques, and making lifestyle changes.

People who are at risk of developing anxiety disorders, or those already affected by one or more of these disorders must seek treatment.

Treating anxiety is possible, and is relatively easy when the right treatment is prescribed.

Make sure that you seek medical or expert care if you are feeling the onset of panic disorder, a phobia, agoraphobia, social phobia, separation anxiety, or other conditions which are getting in the way of your everyday life, your school, your work, your relationships and others.

With the help of an expert and a few lifestyle changes, even the most severe cases of anxiety disorders can be successfully managed and even eliminated.

Panic Attack – What is It And How to Avoid It

Overview

A panic attack can creep on you suddenly and can be a truly terrifying experience, especially if you have never had one before.

It is a sudden onset of a strong wave of fear which triggers an instinctive “fight or flight” response of the body.

Panic attacks can cause severe physical reactions, which can often be mistaken for heart attacks, a feeling of a total loss of control, and even of dying.

The most common symptoms include a thumping or racing heart, trouble breathing, and an intense fear of dying or going crazy.

While some people may experience panic attacks once or just a few times in their lives as a result of stressful events, others may suffer from recurring attacks, which almost always leads to constant fear and anticipation of the next one. The latter may start suffering from panic disorder.

Panic attacks can occur even when one is fully relaxed, and sometimes happen while a person is sleeping.

First and foremost, it is vital to understand that panic attacks are not life-threatening.

At the same time, a panic attack can be a very frightening experience, and is very likely to affect one’s quality of life, especially if you have panic disorder.

Often, when people suffer from recurrent panic attacks, there is a specific panic-inducing event or situation which seems to trigger them. This can include making a public speech, traveling on an airplane, and many others.

Such panic-inducing events and situations can trigger the “fight or flight” response, and make you feel like you are trapped and that you need to escape.

Some people, who suffer from such recurrent panic episodes, may have underlying conditions such as social phobia, panic disorder, or depression.

Thankfully, there are ways to treat panic attacks and panic disorder through therapy and medication.

There are also ways to control and stop your panic attacks when they strike out without warning and to regain control over your life.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about the symptoms, causes, prevention, treatment, complications as well as ways to control and manage panic attacks.

Panic attack symptoms

The symptoms of a panic attack can appear at any time, any place, and in any situation, which is one of the reasons why they are so frightening.

Although the symptoms may vary, they usually peak within about 10 minutes and end in up to 20-30 minutes.

The problem is that a panic attack can strike while you are driving, in the middle of a presentation, in the subway, or even while you are asleep.

Usually, people feel worn and fatigued after the attack subsides.

The most common symptoms of a panic attack include the following:

  • Pounding and thumping heart and a racing heart rate
  • Unexplained sweating
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Difficulty breathing, hyperventilation, shortness of breath, 
  • A tight throat and feeling of choking
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • A sense of danger, doom, and even dying
  • Dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Tingling or numbness in the limbs
  • Headache
  • A feeling of being detached from reality and the surroundings
  • Intense fear of going crazy, losing control and even dying

The symptoms are quite scary and unpleasant, which is why so many people suffer from a constant anxiety of suffering another panic attack and going through the terrifying experience again. This causes many to avoid situations that may trigger the attacks, which can lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Since the majority of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical and can be so severe, you may have the feeling that you are having a heart attack and that you are dying. This is the reason why so many people end up in the emergency room because of panic attacks.

Of course, any underlying medical reasons for the worrying symptoms like heart palpitations, chest pains, and difficulty breathing must be ruled out, but usually, the panic is overlooked as a cause.

Symptoms and signs that you may have panic disorder

While the majority of the people will go through a panic attack just once or twice in their lifetimes, others can develop panic disorder.

Panic disorder is caused by or can cause repeated panic attacks and, in most cases, an overall change of the behavior of the person affected, or continuous anxiety and fear of having another attack.

Some of the signs that you may have panic disorder include:

  • You experience panic attacks frequently and without any obvious trigger or cause
  • You spend a lot of time worrying about suffering another panic attack
  • You are avoiding going to places, or doing things which are related to previous panic attacks

Even though the actual episode usually lasts for a few minutes, the terrifying experience can leave a long-lasting imprint on a person’s psyche.

If you have panic disorder, suffering frequent panic attacks can seriously affect your emotional wellbeing, your self-confidence, and can cause significant disruption to your everyday life.

This can lead to the following symptoms of panic disorder:

  • Anticipatory anxiety – a constant feeling of dread and tenseness in between panic attacks, caused by the intense fear of another upcoming attack. This is the so-called “fear of fear” and can be pretty disturbing and incapacitating.
  • Phobic avoidance – avoidance of any place, event, or situation associated with a previous panic attack, as well as avoidance of places and situations which do not allow for an easy escape, where it will be embarrassing, or where you won’t have available help in case of a panic attack. In extreme cases, phobic avoidance can turn into debilitating agoraphobia. People suffering from this type of phobia can start avoiding all kinds of crowded places, transportation, traveling, some types of drinks and foods, physical exercise, or going anywhere without a “safety” person – everything which they associate with or fear could trigger another panic attack.

Panic attack causes

The exact causes of panic attacks are not clear, but there is a tendency that they are hereditary. So if somebody from your family has panic attacks, it is more likely that you would suffer attacks too.

There also seems to be a connection between panic attacks and certain significant milestones and transitions in life, including graduation, starting a new job, getting married, having a child, and others.

Panic attacks can also be caused by major stress, like getting fired, getting divorced, or losing a loved one.

Also, some people who have more sensitive temperaments and are prone to experiencing negative emotions are more likely to suffer from panic attacks.

A change in the brain’s chemical balance and the false triggering of the “fight or flight” reaction is another potential explanation for experiencing panic attacks.

In some cases, panic attacks may have an underlying medical condition causing them, including:

  • An overactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
  • Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia)
  • Withdrawal from medication, alcohol, nicotine, or drugs
  • Use of stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine or caffeine
  • A mitral valve prolapse of the heart

Who is at risk of suffering from panic attacks or panic disorders?

Statistics show that women and more prone to panic attacks than men, and that the onset of panic disorder is more likely to occur in late teenage years and early adulthood.

There are some other factors which can increase the risk of having panic attacks or developing panic disorder, including:

  • Genetics – a family history of people with panic attacks or panic disorder
  • Severe stress – significant life stress like a serious illness or the death of a loved one, divorce, and others
  • Traumatic event – accidents, sexual assault, childhood abuse, and others
  • Major transition – marriage, having a baby, starting new work
  • Excessive caffeine intake, smoking, drinking, illegal drugs

Possible complications

Although panic attacks are not life-threatening, when left untreated, especially in the case of panic disorders, they may upset your normal life.

They can cause:

  • Development of phobias, like agoraphobia
  • Avoidance of friends and social events
  • Problems at school or work
  • Frequent visits to the emergency room
  • Anxiety, depression, and psychiatric disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts and increased risk of suicide
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Financial woes

Preventing panic attacks

While there is no way to prevent panic attacks and panic disorder, there are ways to minimize the risk of their recurrence, including:

  • Getting proper treatment on time
  • Sticking to the treatment plan
  • Engaging in regular physical exercise

Diagnosis of panic attacks and panic disorder

The first step for diagnosing whether you have panic attacks, suffer from panic disorder, or have an underlying condition causing them or resembling panic attacks includes:

  • Getting a thorough physical examination
  • A blood test for thyroid or other conditions
  • An ECG or EKG to determine an underlying heart condition
  • A psychological evaluation
  • Discussing your alcohol and other substance use

You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if:

  • You have sudden and frequent panic attacks
  • At least one of them was followed by a month or more of worrying about a next attack
  • A significant change in the behavior and continued fear of suffering another panic attack
  • Your frequent panic attacks are not caused by underlying medical conditions or substance abuse

It is essential to seek treatment even if you have suffered only one or two panic attacks and do not have the abovementioned symptoms of panic disorder, to avoid developing one or developing a phobia.

How are panic attacks and panic disorders treated?

Thankfully, both panic attacks and panic disorder can be treated successfully with psychotherapy sometimes combined with medications.

Proper treatment can help the frequency and the intensity of the panic attacks and can help get your life back to normal.

Your doctor will decide which type of treatment is most suitable for your specific case.

Therapy

Therapy is considered the most effective treatment for panic attacks and disorders. The goal of the different types of psychotherapy is to help you understand the panic attacks better, to learn how to cope with them, and to learn how to face your fears.

Cognitive therapy

An experienced cognitive therapist will help you recreate your panic attack symptoms repetitively and safely, to help you learn and realize that the symptoms are not dangerous and life-threatening.

Cognitive therapy can help reduce the feeling of fear from the physical symptoms of panic attacks, and thus help resolve them, and also help you overcome the fear of specific settings and situations which you have been avoiding due to this fear.

Usually, the results of cognitive therapy will become evident within a few weeks as the panic attack symptoms decrease. In a few months of therapy, the symptoms may decrease significantly or go away altogether.

Exposure therapy

This type of psychotherapy is suitable for treating panic disorder as well as agoraphobia caused by panic disorder.

During these sessions, the therapist will ask you to do certain exercises and things that cause sensations that are very similar to the symptoms of a panic attack. You may be asked to hold your breath, hyperventilate, shake your head and others. The goal is to mimic some of the symptoms of a real panic attack and allow you to get to know these sensations, fear them less, and thus develop a feeling of greater control over them.

If you suffer from panic disorder and agoraphobia, the exposure therapy may include you facing a specific feared situation under controlled circumstances, until the panic and fear subside.

Medications

Medications are an excellent choice for temporarily reducing or controlling certain symptoms of panic attacks and disorders.

They can be instrumental in some severe cases but should be combined with therapy and with some lifestyle changes.

There are several types of medications which are used for relieving the symptoms of panic attacks and panic disorders, including:

Antidepressants

Antidepressants can help suppress the symptoms and improve the control over the panic attacks, but they need to be administered for several weeks before they start working.

Your doctor may prescribe one of the following types of antidepressants:

  • SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) – these are considered to be generally safe, and have a low risk of any adverse effects. They are usually the first choice when it comes to prescribing medications for panic attacks. Some of the FDA approved SSRIs used for panic attacks include sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac), and paroxetine (Pexeva, Paxil).
  • SNRIs (Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) – the most common FDA approved SNRI for panic disorder is venlafaxine (Effexor XR).

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are quick-acting medications that can help relieve the symptoms of a panic attack when taken prior to or at the onset of the attack.

These anti-anxiety medications act within 30 to 60 minutes from taking them. They are sedatives that depress the central nervous system.

Some of the most commonly used benzodiazepines, approved by the FDA are alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).

Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are also highly addictive and can cause mental as well as physical dependence. They can interact with other medications and substances you are taking, so they should be used with caution. They also should also be administered on a short-term basis because tolerance to them can be developed.

It is crucial that you work closely with your doctor when taking any medication for your panic attacks or panic disorders.

Lifestyle changes and home remedies for managing the panic attacks symptoms

While it is always recommended that you seek professional treatment for panic attacks and panic disorders, there are some lifestyle changes and home remedies which can help alleviate the symptoms, and manage the panic attacks better, including:

  • Educate yourself about panic attacks – the more you know about panic attacks, panic disorder, and anxiety, as well as the fight or flight response of the body, the better you will learn to understand and accept your symptoms, without fearing death or going crazy
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking or caffeine – these are all stimulants which can induce panic attacks in susceptible people
  • Learn breathing control – hyperventilating can cause panic attack symptoms, while deep breathing can help alleviate them. Take the time to exercise and learn how to control your breathing to lessen the symptoms and to calm yourself when panic strikes
  • Get enough sleep – sleep is essential for everyone’s wellbeing and health, and not getting enough restful sleep can worsen the symptoms of panic disorder and anxiety, so make sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep per night
  • Use relaxation techniques – activities like meditation, yoga or muscle relaxation can help train the body to relax in response to anxiety and panic
  • Exercise – physical exercise has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety. Try to have at least 30 minutes of movement or exercise every day. You can resort to walking, running, swimming, aerobic workouts, dancing and others
  • See your friends and family – panic disorder can lead to isolation and agoraphobia, which may make your symptoms even worse. So, make sure you meet your friends, or create new supportive friendships, and reach out to them on a regular basis
  • Join a support group – finding people who have the same problems and fears as you can help you cope with your panic attacks or disorder much easier

Alternative medicines for panic attacks and panic disorder

Although there have been some studies of treating panic disorder with herbs and dietary supplements, there is not sufficient proof that they can actually help subdue the symptoms. Plus, the benefits and risks have not been researched enough yet.

Since herbal and other dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, in the same way as medications, you should always speak to your doctor before taking any of the advertised dietary supplements or herbal remedies for your panic attacks or panic disorder. This is especially important if you are already on prescription medication in order to avoid harmful and potentially dangerous interactions.

When is it time to see a doctor?

Although panic attacks are not dangerous or life-threatening, it is essential to seek medical advice or help if you experience such episodes. This will help you get better control over the symptoms and avoid the development of more serious problems like panic disorder, anxiety, depression, agoraphobia and other conditions.

Also, in some cases, the symptoms of panic attacks can resemble the symptoms of other underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed and ruled out.

Preparing for your doctor’s appointment

Before you see your primary medical care provider regarding your panic attack symptoms, you can make a list that will help with your diagnosis and assessment.

Here are some key points to include in your list:

  • List your symptoms, how often they occur, and when they first appeared
  • Describe any stressful or traumatic event or situation which may have triggered your panic attack
  • Include any other relevant medical information and your medical history
  • List all medications you take, including your prescriptions, OTC medications, supplements, and vitamins, as well as their dosages
  • Add the questions which you would like to ask your doctor or the mental health expert you have been referred to

Questions which you may expect to be asked by your doctor

  • When did you first experience the symptoms, and what type of symptoms do you have?
  • How often do they occur, and how long do they tend to last?
  • Have you noticed anything specific triggering the attacks and the symptoms?
  • How often do you worry about suffering another panic attack?
  • Do you avoid certain places, events, and experiences in order to prevent potential panic attacks?
  • Do your symptoms affect your family, relationships, school, or work, and if so – how?
  • Have you experienced any significant stress or trauma shortly before your first panic attack?
  • Do you have any traumatic experiences from the past – including accidents, military action, sexual abuse, or other?
  • Describe your childhood and your relationship with your parents.
  • Do you have a close relative who suffers from panic attacks, panic disorder or has another mental health issue?
  • Do you suffer from any other medical conditions?
  • What kinds of medications, supplements, and vitamins are you taking?
  • Do you smoke, drink or use recreational drugs, and if so – how often?
  • Do you exercise or engage in another physical activity regularly?

If necessary, your doctor may ask additional or follow-up questions. But it helps to be prepared with the answers to the basic ones so that you can provide all the information pertinent for proper diagnosis of your condition.

How to help someone who is having a panic attack?

Being present when a relative, friend, or loved one has a panic attack can be quite a frightening experience.

Watching a person, you care about experience problems breathing, feeling dizzy, trembling, sweating, being nauseous and having a racing heart, thinking he or she is having a heart attack is stressful for anyone.

Even if you are sure that the person is experiencing a panic attack, you shouldn’t dismiss the situation by telling them to calm down.

It is important to stay calm and help the person get through this frightening experience. This will not only help in the specific situation but can also help the person feel less threatened and fearful of another upcoming panic attack in the future.

Stay calm

By remaining calm, non-judging, and understanding, you can help the symptoms of the panic attack subside faster.

Help the person focus on their breathing

If possible, get the person to sit in a quiet place and help him or her take control over their breathing by taking deep and slow breaths for several minutes until the hyperventilation stops.

Try getting the person to do some exercises with you

By engaging the person who is having a panic attack with physical activity like lifting the arms or legs, clapping, or stumping their feet along with you, you can help reduce some of the stress and help them relax.

Try to distract your friend from the fear

You may try to ask your panicking friend about specific things you know interests him or her, or simply play a little game and ask them to name five things they can see four things they can touch, something that they can taste, or just about anything that can help distract them from the fear they are thinking about at the moment.

Reassure and encourage the person

Show your full support for your loved one once the panic attack is over, and encourage them to seek help for their condition. Make sure to reassure them that everything is OK and there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Useful ways to stop or control a panic attack

Panic attacks come suddenly and at any given moment, and can be one of the most terrifying experiences you can have.

Thankfully, there are ways to control your symptoms and try to stop the panic attack as soon as you feel that it is about to start.

1. Control your breathing

Hyperventilating, which is shallow and quick breathing, can bring upon more symptoms and make the existing symptoms of a panic attack worse.

This is why getting control over your breathing is essential for subduing the symptoms.

Try to focus on breathing deeply when you feel the onset of a panic attack.

Close your eyes concentrate on your breathing, and take deep breaths.

Place your hand between the ribs and your belly button and feel how your belly rises and falls as you inhale through your nose deeply and slowly, and then allow the air to exhale through the mouth slowly.

Count from 1 to 4 each while you inhale and hold your breath for a second, then count to four as you exhale. Your hand on your belly will help you keep the tempo slow and controlled.

Within a few minutes, your symptoms should start subsiding.

2. Recognize the panic attack

Since the fear associated with the sudden onset of a panic attack is mainly due to the physical symptoms, which sometimes can feel very similar to having a heart attack, you must learn to recognize when you are experiencing a panic attack, or when you are about to experience one.

Once you recognize that you are in fact having a panic attack which is not life-threatening and which usually subsides in a matter of minutes, it will be much easier to assure yourself that it will pass and that you are not going to die, and will be OK in just several minutes.

By removing the overwhelming fear of death and doom, you can move on to the other techniques which will help alleviate the symptoms.

3. Keep your eyes closed

This is especially important if you are in a setting where there is fast movement, and a lot of visual stimuli that can trigger and feed the panic attack.

By eliminating the visual stimuli, you can focus on calming yourself down, recognizing that you are not dying, and on controlling your breathing.

4. Use mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can be especially useful if you are prone to panic attacks. Since the panic attack usually causes a feeling of separation from reality and your surroundings, mindfulness can help fight this feeling, and bring you back to the reality of what is actually happening. It is a good idea to focus on specific sensations like feeling the texture of your clothes if you sense that a panic attack is coming up.

5. Focus on something specific

People with panic disorder may find it useful to focus their entire attention on a specific object nearby, and then start trying to notice every single detail about it. By examining the object and taking note of all the details, all of your energy will be focused on this task, and the panic symptoms may subside.

6. Relax your muscles

Muscle relaxation is very useful for controlling the response of the body during a panic attack. If you feel an impending attack, try to tense one muscle at a time, and then relax it, do it with as many muscles as you can, so that your whole body relaxes. You can start with the fingers or toes and start moving up or down your body.

It is useful to practice this technique before you have an actual panic attack so that you know how to act as soon as the symptoms start appearing.

7. Imagine your most relaxed and happy place

Think about the place where you feel or have felt the most comfortable. This can be the countryside, the beach, the mountain, your couch or anywhere else you can think of.

Imagine you are there and try feeling the sensations which you felt there – smells, sounds, tastes, and textures.

8. Do some light physical exercises

Aerobic exercise and any type of physical activity help lower the stress, thanks to the endorphins that keep the blood circulation normal and help improve the mood. Choose a light exercise if you feel like you are about to have a panic attack. This can be a brief walk, raising and lowering your arms, lifting up each leg one at a time, and so on.

If you are hyperventilating, make sure you start breathing normally first before making it worse with exercise.

9. Breathe lavender essential oil

If you suffer from frequent panic attacks, it helps to have a small bottle of lavender essential oil handy. Lavender is soothing, so you can simply drop a drop on each wrist and breathe in the scent. You can also use an essential oil diffuser if you are at home.

Lavender tea is soothing too, but be cautious when using lavender if you are already taking benzodiazepines because the combination can increase your drowsiness.

10. Have a relaxing mantra

Choose a mantra that soothes you and helps you relax and repeat it to yourself. It can be a simple mantra like “this will pass soon,” “I am in no danger,” or something else which speaks to you on a personal level.

11. Take a benzodiazepine

These medications have an almost immediate effect, so you may take a pill as soon as you feel that a panic attack is coming.

Use a medication like Xanax, or other FDA approved benzodiazepines, but only as prescribed.

Keep in mind that these medicaments are addictive, and can cause both physical and mental withdrawal.

You can also develop a tolerance to them if you overuse them, and thus will need to take more and more for them to have an effect.

It is a good idea to have your prescribed benzodiazepines with you just in case but resort to them only when you feel that you cannot handle your panic attack without them.

12. Go on with your normal life

Of course, nobody wants to have a panic attack, but you should do your best to prevent the fear and anxiety of another panic attack taking control over your entire life.

So, you should try not to avoid specific places, events, and settings that have triggered a previous panic attack. Instead, try to step out of your comfort zone, and if you are there and do have a panic attack,  try to stay there without running away. This will help you realize that there is nothing so terrible to worry about.

13. Don’t try to fight the symptoms, acknowledge them instead

It is helpful to accept the symptoms instead of trying to fight them during a panic attack. This will help you teach your mind that even if there is another panic attack in the future – it will pass, and everything will be alright.

14. Observe your surroundings

To keep your feeling of now and of reality, you should try to observe your settings. Try to find five things somewhere within your sight, then pick four which you can touch, three that you can hear, two that you can smell, and one that you can taste.

This will help you keep grounded instead of detached, and will give your mind something better to do than to focus and dwell on the fear.

15. H.A.L.T. the panic attack

H.A.L.T. is an acronym for “hungry, angry, lonely, tired.” These are the four feelings that will bring some of the worst things in just about anyone, including those prone to panic attacks. The reason is, each of them can become a trigger for an attack.

As soon as you start feeling the symptoms, quickly ask yourself whether you are hungry, alone, lonely, or tired. If the answer to one or more of the questions is “yes,” then you can take the necessary steps to fix the situation before it is too late.

16. Forget about “what ifs”

Anxieties and panic attacks go hand to hand with the nagging thought of “what if.” So, stop thinking, “What if I get a panic attack there?” or “what if I embarrass myself at the business presentation” or “what if people laugh at me?”

Instead, try to exchange the question “what if” with the words “so what.”

If you manage to do that, you will make your life so much easier, especially if you have panic disorder, anxiety, or other similar problems.

17. Try putting a number on your fear level

During a panic attack, it helps if you rate the fear you are experiencing every few minutes. Use a scale of 1 to 10. This will not only help you keep your mind in the present, but will also act as a soothing reminder, that the fear is not always 10.

Final words

Panic attacks can be terrifying even for the most resilient person, but it is vital that you take timely precautions to avoid the fear of fear taking control over your life.

Left untreated, panic attacks can lead to a more serious panic disorder like agoraphobia or depression, and can seriously affect your life, work, school, relationships, finances, and just about everything that is important to you.

Panic attacks are treatable, and you can learn how to cope with them, control them, ignore them, and eventually get rid of them altogether.