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Mental Health Awareness: Anxiety Attacks & how they can feel to sufferers

Mental Health Awareness: Anxiety Attacks & how they can feel to sufferers

If you've recently had a panic or anxiety attack, you may not even know it.  The symptoms are intense, meaning that you may have even mistaken it for something else.

It isn't uncommon for those having a panic attack to think they're suffering from a heart attack or asthma attack.

Panic attacks can arrive seemingly from nowhere, climb steeply towards a peak of intensity within a few minutes and then decrease in intensity and subside soon after. The entire episode may last about ten minutes, according to WebMD (webmd.com), although some of the individual symptoms may continue far beyond that. The more often you have a panic attack, the better you'll become at pinpointing what triggered the attack.

Doctors don't know what causes panic attacks, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (adaa.org), but we do know that if a person suffers one attack, they're more likely to continue to suffer from them. Women are twice as likely to suffer panic attacks as men (according to webmd.com) and they also tend to run in the family. Certain lifestyle habits, like drinking caffeine or alcohol, smoking or dealing with a great deal of stress can exacerbate the frequency and intensity of anxiety attacks.

According to the American Psychological Association (apa.org), anxiety attacks often initially come about as a reaction to a particularly stressful life event, such as moving, a death in the family, getting divorced etc.

Common Anxiety Attack Symptoms

The general criteria for identifying a panic attack is that you're experiencing at least four of the following symptoms at once, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (adaa.org).

  • These are the most common symptoms:
  • Difficulty breathing/sensations of choking
  • Accelerated heart rate, pounding heart and heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Nausea and abdominal pain
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control or of going crazy
  • Physical sensations of heat or cold
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, feet and/or face
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Feelings of being outside one's self 
  • Feelings of separation from reality
  • Chest pain

These sensations increase sharply in intensity - causing you to question your own health and sanity.  You may be intensely afraid of losing control, especially in front of other people. When symptoms subside, you may be weak, exhausted and emotionally battered.

Psychotherapy has been known to help people manage their panic attacks. Through cognitive therapy, people are taught to recognize that an attack is approaching and address the physical discomforts (like nausea and chest pain) and the emotional response (fear, panic, the need to flee). Therapeutic tactics include breathing exercises, distraction techniques and "opposite action" therapy, which encourages sufferers to do the opposite of what their anxiety is urging them to do.

According to Health Place (healthplace.com), using the opposite action technique gives sufferers the opportunity to act rather than simply react to their symptoms. Empowerment may play a key role in alleviating symptoms.

Medication and antidepressants can also be useful for certain sufferers, always under close professional medical guidance.

What Should a Sufferer Do?

If you think you're suffering from anxiety attacks, please, talk to your doctor right away. You aren't responsible for your attacks and you shouldn't be ashamed that you're experiencing them. There are always options and allowing stress and anxiety control of your life, shouldn’t be one of them.