A panic attack usually involves a sudden onset of intense fear that manifests as physical symptoms such as shortness of breath and dizziness.
Symptoms include changes in heart rate and feeling like you are going to die.
An anxiety attack is different from a panic attack, but it can occur as part of an anxiety disorder such as panic disorder.
In this blog piece, you will learn about the symptoms of panic attacks, how panic attacks are related to anxiety disorders, and current treatments for panic attacks.
Who typically has panic attacks?
Panic attacks can be part of an anxiety disorder. Especially if they are persistent.
Be sure not to confuse normal everyday anxiety with an anxiety disorder.
If you are experiencing a problem at work, a big exam coming up, or an important decision, you are probably having a normal anxious reaction to life stressors.
Anxiety disorders, however, are chronic and usually center around irrational fears and worry.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, to name a few.
Symptoms of GAD usually include:
· Feelings of restlessness or on edge
· Difficulty concentrating and racing thoughts
· Muscle tension
· Trouble sleeping
· Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
· Easily fatigued
Symptoms of panic attacks, which can be a symptom of panic disorder, include:
· Heart palpitations or accelerated heartrate
· Sweating, trembling, shaking
· Shortness of breath
· Feelings of impending doom
Phobia-related disorders are another set of anxiety disorders that are characterized by an intense fear or aversion to specific situations or objects.
This fear is usually out of proportion to the actual danger imposed by the situation or object.
Symptoms of phobia-related disorders include:
· Irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
· Intentional avoidance of feared object or situation
· Intense and immediate anxiety upon exposure to the object or situation
Specific phobias can be related to situations such as flying or heights, or related to animals such as spiders.
Some people also have phobias of receiving injections or blood.
Agoraphobia is another type of anxiety disorder where people have an intense fear of two or more of the following situations:
· Being in open or enclosed spaces
· Standing in lines
· Crowded areas
· Using public transportation
· Being outside of their home
People with agoraphobia often avoid these situations out of fear that they will not be able to escape.
Some have an intense fear that they will panic or have other embarrassing symptoms.
In severe cases, people may avoid leaving their house altogether.
If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, do NOT start taking any medication from a non-reputable source such as a friend, consult a psychiatrist immediately.
Medications should be taken in combination with the right kind of psychotherapy, such as talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
These therapies teach the patient active coping mechanisms to manage anxiety symptoms.
What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?
An anxiety attack usually involves fear of a specific situation or problem that could happen, and symptoms include worry, restlessness, and changes in heart rate.
A panic attack is more of an acute onset of fear that can happen without any specific trigger, and the symptoms are much more severe compared to anxiety.
Panic attacks can occur as part of an anxiety disorder.
Specifically, an anxiety attack, or anxiety:
· Usually has a specific trigger such as an exam, health issues, or relationship problems
· Is not a diagnosable condition
· Is less severe than a panic attack
· Usually develops gradually when a person feels anxious
· Involves physical symptoms such as a racing heart of a feeling of a knot in the stomach
Panic attacks, on the other hand:
· Do not have a specific trigger
· Can be a symptom of panic disorder, which is a diagnosable condition
· Has severe symptoms
· Can happen when a person feels calm or anxious
· Involve physical symptoms and such intense feelings of terror that a person can feel totally out of control or fear imminent death
· Often occur suddenly and unexpectedly and last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. The negative impact, however, may continue
· Usually involve intense physical symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain, numbing or tingling sensation, hot flashes, or pounding heart.
What triggers panic and anxiety attacks?
Panic attacks are basically your body’s natural fight or flight response going into overdrive.
There is no real danger present, but it certainly feels that way.
Panic attacks usually come on suddenly and can be with or without a trigger. Over time, certain situations can trigger panic attacks.
Anxiety often results from feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Common causes of anxiety include the following:
· Work or financial pressure
· Family or relationship problems, including divorce, separation, or bereavement
· Concerns about parenthood or being a caregiver
· Major life changes such as moving to a new house or changing jobs
· Reduced mobility or physical function
· Loss of cognitive function
· Having been diagnosed with a chronic health condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, or others
How are panic attacks treated?
Treatment options for anxiety and related problems include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications such as some types of antidepressants, and support groups for people with these conditions.
Antidepressants that are used to treat anxiety disorders usually work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain that relay information from one neuron to the next to regulate all of our behaviors.
Serotonin and norepinephrine are two of the neurotransmitters that have been associated with anxiety.
Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam can be prescribed to patients as needed when they feel a panic attack coming on.
These should not be taken every day like the antidepressant medications because they have addictive potential. Benzodiazepines work by activating receptors for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.
GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which means that it reduces the firing of neurons.
When receptors for GABA are activated by benzodiazepines, neurons are “quieter” and thus elicit a calming and sedative effect in the patient.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are interfering with your daily functioning, you should seek professional help from a specialist, or ask your primary care doctor for referrals.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, seek helpimmediately.
Additionally, people ask whether panic attacks can be treated without medication or not.
This is because they fear they might become addicted to medicines or suffer from it’s side effects.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about panic attacks:
1. What does a panic attack feel like?
The following signs indicate that you might be having a panic attack: sweating, trembling, hot flashes and shortness of breath.
2. How do you stop anxiety attacks?
There are many strategies you can use to try and stop an anxiety or panic attack when you are having one or you feel like one is coming on:
-Use deep breathing
-Recognize that you are having a panic attack
-Close your eyes
-Find a focus object (this will help you stay grounded)
-Use muscle relaxation techniques
-Picture your happy place
3. Can you die from an anxiety attack?
Even though panic attacks feel like you are having a heart attack or another serious health condition that can cause imminent death, it will not cause you to die.
Panic attacks, however, are serious and need to be treated.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a panic attack described above, it is imperative that you contact your physician to figure out the right treatment plan for you.
4. What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?
Anxiety symptoms vary in intensity from mild to severe, and become gradually more intense over minutes, hours, or days.
Panic attacks, on the other hand, come on suddenly and usually subside after a few minutes.
5. What are the major types of anxiety disorders?
The five major types of anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social phobia (or social anxiety disorder)
6. What triggers anxiety attacks?
Anxiety attacks can be triggered by many things, including the following:
-Health issues such as a difficult diagnosis (i.e., cancer or a chronic illness)
-Parties or social events
7. How do doctors treat anxiety?
A combination of psychotherapy and the right medication regimen is the most effective treatment plan for anxiety.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves working with a therapist to reduce your anxiety symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders.
8. Can CBD help anxiety?
Cannabis is a substance known to enhance feelings of relaxation, which makes it a popular alternative treatment for anxiety.
In 2011, a study found that cannabidiol can reduce social anxiety associated with public speaking.
Want to learn more about anxiety attacks? See below for recommended readings!
This book by Joshua Fletcher is an effective self-help book for people who suffer from symptoms of anxiety.
If you are experiencing panic attacks, feeling anxious, ruminating about health or anticipating further panic attacks, this book is for you.
It provides advice and strategies to successfully tackle anxiety.
Medications for Anxiety & Depression – A no-nonsense, comprehensive guide to the most common (and not so common) antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs available
If you are suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD), including treatment resistant depression and dysthymia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or any mood disorder on the depressive or anxious spectrum, this book is for you.
It is important to understand which medications might be prescribed to you and how they work, as well as common side effects.
Benjamin Kramer provides extensive details on common and non-common antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytics) includingSSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and Lexapro), SNRIs (Serotonin and Norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors uch as Effexor and Cymbalta), atypical antidepressants (such as Remeron, Buspar and Wellbutrin), TCAs (Tricyclic antidepressants, such as Endep and Anafranil), Benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin), “Off-label” and experimental options including stimulants (amphetamine, methylphenidate), Lyrica, tramadol memantine and ketamine.
This book also discusses upcoming drugs for depression and anxiety that are supposed to become available soon.
As described above, journaling is a great way to give yourself a stress release.
Whether you are dealing with mental health issues, heartbreak, a problem at work, or any other life stressor, this journal is for you.
This Mindfulness Journal can easily be added into your daily routine and can serve as an outlet for stress-reduction that will help you appreciate every single day and moment.
It includes 365 daily writing prompts divided into 52 weekly mindfulness topics. The prompts are extremely unique, fun, and engaging, so you will never get bored while journaling.
Additionally, each prompt is on its own separate page so you will have more than enough room for reflection and to write down all of your thoughts, big or small.
Although it is suggested to journal once a day, you can spend as much or as little time as you want on each prompt.
Journaling is a great way to help process and keep track of your experiences and feelings while you are going through depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
This journal contains 94 daily templates to aid in your discovery process.
What we recommend for Panic disorder
- Panic courses are a cost-effective way to seek help for panic attacks. A panic course such as this may help you alleviate those feelings of fears as it has with over 50,000 people.
- If you are suffering from a panic disorder, then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.
Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if you are having panic attack and they are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night.
How to recognize an anxiety attack.Medical News Today. November 5th, 2018.
Panic attacks and panic disorder. Mayo Clinic. May 4th, 2018.