Anxiety attacks can build gradually with chronic worry over upcoming events. The events may be major like an illness or death, or even minor things such as being late to work or missing a deadline. Panic attacks almost always come on very suddenly and last a short period of time, but they are very intense. People experiencing a panic attack often seek emergency care due to the intensity of the symptoms.
Symptoms of panic and anxiety attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks share many of the same symptoms such as trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling faint, and even chest pain although these symptoms are often much more severe in panic attacks. People having a panic attack also often have a feeling of impending doom and are fearful they are having a heart attack. Anxiety can occur in different levels and may even be present in the back of your mind while you continue to function day to day. However, panic attack symptoms are so severe they generally interrupt your normal activities.
Causes of panic and anxiety attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks can have similar causes although many panic attacks are unexpected and have no known cause or trigger which can make them even more frightening. Stressful jobs or situations can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Added causes include things like phobias, chronic illness or pain, and withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. People that have experienced traumatic events, abuse, or a major life stressor are at higher risk for panic attacks. A family history of panic attacks or panic disorder also puts people at a higher risk.
When to seek help
People that experience panic or anxiety attacks should seek medical help right away. While a panic attack is not life-threatening it’s symptoms can mimic a heart attack so that must be ruled out. Anxiety and panic attacks can also quickly affect everyday life and can also get worse if left untreated. People experiencing these attacks often withdraw from social situations because they are afraid, they will have an attack.
Treatment for panic and anxiety attacks
Once a diagnosis of panic or anxiety attacks is given, treatment is usually a combination of psychotherapy and medications. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, with a therapist experienced in panic and anxiety disorders is the primary treatment. Talking about and even re-creating the symptoms in a safe environment can help reduce the threat and fear associated with them. Medications may also be prescribed and often give initial help until talk therapy can begin to resolve the problem. Normally antidepressants or sedatives are the medications used but it may take a few weeks to see improvement. Sometimes the medication dosages must be adjusted or even medications changed to achieve maximum benefit.
Lifestyle changes to treat panic or anxiety attacks
Although professional help is always recommended, there are things that can be done by the individual to help manage panic and anxiety attacks. Learn stress management techniques. These are generally very individualized. What works for one person may not work for another. Whether it’s exercise, yoga, meditation, or reading a good book finding a healthy way to manage stress is vital. Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is also important. Caffeine, alcohol, drugs, and smoking should be avoided as they can all add to the attacks, although quitting smoking before the attacks are under control may not be recommended. Finally, finding a support group can be helpful. Being able to talk with others that face the same problems and knowing you are not alone can be a great source of strength.