What is an anxiety attack?
The DSM-5 does not mention anxiety attacks, but it does define anxiety as a feature of several common psychiatric disorders.
An anxiety attack:
- Can have a specific trigger, such as an exam, workplace issues, a health issue, or a relationship problem
- 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 or “knot in the stomach“
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks come on suddenly and involve intense and often overwhelming fear. They’re accompanied by very challenging physical symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or nausea. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes panic attacks and categorizes them as unexpected or expected.
Unexpected panic attacks occur without an obvious cause. Expected panic attacks are cued by external stressors, such as phobias. Panic attacks can happen to anyone, but having more than one may be a sign of panic disorder.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
An anxiety attack is usually related to the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event. It may come on gradually. The lack of diagnostic recognition of anxiety attacks means that the signs and symptoms are open to interpretation. That is, a person may describe having an “anxiety attack” and have symptoms that another person has never experienced despite indicating that they too have had an “anxiety attack.”
A panic attack:
- Does not have a specific trigger
- Can be a symptom of panic disorder, a diagnosable condition
- Has severe symptoms
- Can happen whether a person feels calm or anxious
- Involves physical symptoms and feelings of terror so intense that the person fears a total loss of control or imminent death
- Often occurs suddenly and unexpectedly and last between a few minutes and an hour, although the negative impact may continue
Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack
Panic and anxiety attacks may feel similar, and they share a lot of emotional and physical symptoms. You can experience both anxiety and a panic attack at the same time.
For instance, you might experience anxiety while worrying about a potentially stressful situation, such as an important presentation at work. When the situation arrives, anxiety may culminate in a panic attack. It may be difficult to know whether what you’re experiencing is anxiety or a panic attack. Keep in mind the following:
- An anxiety attack is typically related to something that’s perceived as stressful or threatening. Panic attacks aren’t always cued by stressors. They most often occur out of the blue.
- Anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe. For example, anxiety may be happening in the back of your mind as you go about your day-to-day activities. Panic attacks, on the other hand, mostly involve severe, disruptive symptoms.
- During a panic attack, the body’s autonomous fight-or-flight response takes over. Physical symptoms are often more intense than symptoms of anxiety.
- While anxiety can build gradually, panic attacks usually come on abruptly.
- Panic attacks typically trigger worries or fears related to having another attack. This may have an effect on your behavior, leading you to avoid places or situations where you think you might be at risk of a panic attack.
Causes of an Anxiety Attack
Unexpected panic attacks have no clear external triggers. Expected panic attacks and anxiety attacks can be triggered by similar things. Some common triggers include:
- A stressful job
- Social situations
- Phobias, such as agoraphobia (fear of crowded or open spaces), claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), and acrophobia (fear of heights)
- Reminders or memories of traumatic experiences
Risk Factors of an Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks and panic attacks have similar risk factors. These include:
- Experiencing trauma or witnessing traumatic events, either as a child or as an adult
- Experiencing a stressful life event, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce
- Experiencing ongoing stress and worries, such as work responsibilities, conflict in your family, or financial woes
- Living with a chronic health condition or life threatening illness
- Having an anxious personality
- Hhaving another mental health disorder, such as depression
- Having close family members who also have anxiety or panic disorders
- Using drugs or consuming alcohol
People who experience anxiety are at an increased risk of experiencing panic attacks. However, having anxiety does not mean you will experience a panic attack.
Reaching Diagnosis for Anxiety Attacks
Doctors can’t diagnose anxiety attacks, but they can diagnose:
- Anxiety symptoms
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks
- Panic disorders
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and conduct tests to rule out other health conditions with similar symptoms, such as heart disease or thyroid problems.
To get a diagnosis, your doctor may conduct:
- A heart test, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- A psychological evaluation or questionnaire
- A physical exam
- Blood tests
Treatments and Medications
Speak with your doctor about other treatments for anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Here are some treatments they may discuss with you.
Counseling and psychotherapy
Talking therapies for anxiety and panic disorders can involve the following, often in combination.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you see things that worry you in a new way. A counselor can help you develop strategies for managing triggers when they arise.
- Cognitive therapy can help you pinpoint, reframe, and neutralize the unhelpful thoughts that often underlie an anxiety disorder.
- Exposure therapy involves controlled exposure to situations that trigger fear and anxiety, which can help you learn to confront those fears in a new way.
- Relaxation techniques includeTrusted Source breathing exercises, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, biofeedback, and autogenic training. Your doctor can talk you through some of these.
Your doctor may suggest attending individual sessions, group sessions, or a combination of the two.
Examples of medications your doctor may prescribe are:
- Antidepressants: such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Beta-blockers: which can help manage some of the physical symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate
- Anti-anxiety drugs: such as benzodiazepines, a sedative medication that can suppress symptoms quickly
All these drugs can have adverse effects. SSRIs and SNRIs are for long-term use, and it can take time to feel the effects. Benzodiazepines are for short-term use only, as there is a high risk of dependence. Oftentimes, your doctor will recommend a combination of treatments. They may also need to alter your treatment plan over time.
Home Remedies for an Anxiety Attack
You should speak with your doctor or another mental health professional to find out what you can do to both prevent and treat anxiety attacks- and panic-related symptoms. Having a treatment plan and sticking to it when an attack happens can help you feel like you’re in control.
If you feel an anxiety attack coming on, try the following:
- Take slow deep breaths: When you feel your breath quickening, focus your attention on each inhale and exhale. Feel your stomach fill with air as you inhale. Count down from four as you exhale. Repeat until your breathing slows.
- Recognize and accept what you’re experiencing: If you’ve already experienced an anxiety or panic attack, you know that it can be incredibly challenging. Remind yourself that the symptoms will pass and you’ll be alright.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness-based interventions are increasingly used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Mindfulness is a technique that can help you ground your thoughts in the present. You can practice mindfulness by actively observing thoughts and sensations without reacting to them.
- Use relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques include guided imagery, aromatherapy, and muscle relaxation. If you’re experiencing symptoms of an anxiety attack, try doing things that you find relaxing. Close your eyes, take a bath, or use lavender, which has relaxing effects.
The following lifestyle changes can help you prevent anxiety attacks, as well as reduce the severity of symptoms when an attack occurs:
- Reduce and manage sources of stress in your life.
- Learn how to identify and stop negative thoughts.
- Get regular, moderate exercise.
- Practice meditation or yoga.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Join a support group for people with anxiety or panic attacks.
- Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine as well as the use of drugs.
Reclaim Your Life From Anxiety Attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks may feel similar, and they share a lot of emotional and physical symptoms. You can experience both panic and an anxiety attack at the same time. Having treatment for anxiety disorders at We Level Up Calfornia can help you, or your loved one, reduce these symptoms. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.