In-Depth Guide to Understanding Anxiety Attacks


Introduction to Anxiety Attacks

Do you often find yourself in the grip of intense fear and worry, accompanied by physical symptoms such as faster breathing or nausea? This is what we refer to as an ‘anxiety attack’. An anxiety attack can make you feel out of control, and elicit an intense concern about when the next episode might occur, adding further stress to your life. It’s a common and debilitating issue faced by many, yet often misunderstood and mislabeled.

Definition of Anxiety Attacks

Our bodies react to stress in different ways. Anxiety is a natural response to stress, but sometimes, this reaction intensifies and becomes an anxiety attack. An anxiety attack is usually a reaction to stress, characterized by feelings of fear, restlessness, a faster heartbeat, and other physical changes, with or without an identifiable stressor. It’s worth noting that while ‘anxiety attack’ is a term used to describe a certain set of symptoms, it is not officially differentiated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Individuals may use the term to describe what are actually panic attacks, which are characterized by more severe symptoms.

The Difference Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks, while similar, have distinct differences. Anxiety attacks progressively intensify over time and usually have an identifiable trigger, such as an upcoming exam or stress at work. Panic attacks, on the other hand, happen suddenly and can often reach peak intensity within just 10 minutes, with symptoms that may feel severe and intense.

Comparing Anxiety and Panic Attacks - anxiety attack infographic comparison-2-items-formal

To summarize here,

  • An anxiety attack is usually tied to a specific stressor, and the symptoms build up gradually.
  • A panic attack can occur without warning and peaks quickly with more intense symptoms.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks are both symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Understanding the nuances between these experiences is the first crucial step in addressing and managing them effectively. Reading on, you will gain more insight into the symptoms, causes, and treatment approaches for anxiety attacks.

Understanding the Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety attacks manifest in a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, which differ in intensity and duration for each individual. At DBT of South Jersey, we understand that recognizing these symptoms is the first step towards managing them effectively.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety attacks involve physical symptoms that can be quite distressing. These may include:

  • Faster breathing or hyperventilation
  • Feeling lightheaded and dizzy
  • A churning feeling or a “knot” in the stomach
  • Restlessness and inability to stay calm
  • Diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems
  • Sweating, hot flushes, and trembling
  • Nausea and other digestive issues
  • Experiencing pins and needles, or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Headaches and backaches
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat

Recognizing these symptoms is crucial in determining if you are experiencing an anxiety attack and getting the necessary help.

Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

In addition to these physical manifestations, anxiety attacks can also cause psychological symptoms. These may include feelings of fear, worry, or restlessness. In some cases, individuals may also have a specific trigger for their anxiety, such as an upcoming exam, workplace issues, a health problem, or a relationship conflict.

How Anxiety Attacks Feel

Anxiety attacks can feel overwhelming and frightening. As one of our therapists, Shaelene Lauriano Kite, shared in her personal experience, she felt severe chest pains, hyperventilation, and numbness during her first panic attack. She described it as “feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest along with a huge golf ball stuck in my throat.”

It is important to remember that these feelings are a natural response to stress or fear and are not indicative of a life-threatening condition. However, the intensity of these sensations can make a person genuinely fear that they are going to die, leading to further anxiety.

At DBT of South Jersey, we encourage anyone experiencing these symptoms to seek professional help. Our team of experts, including Shaelene, are ready to provide the necessary support and treatment to help manage and alleviate the distress caused by anxiety attacks.

anxiety - anxiety attack

In the next section, we will delve into the causes and risk factors of anxiety attacks, which is another significant aspect of understanding this condition.

Causes and Risk Factors of Anxiety Attacks

Understanding what triggers your anxiety attacks is an essential step toward managing them. Anxiety attacks can be caused by a variety of factors, which can be both internal and external. Let’s take a closer look at some possible causes and risk factors.

Traumatic Events as a Cause of Anxiety Attacks

Traumatic events, such as accidents, natural disasters, or personal assaults, can sometimes lead to the development of anxiety attacks. This can occur as a part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), where the person repetitively relives the traumatic event, often triggering intense anxiety or panic attacks. Our specialists at DBT of South Jersey are well-equipped to provide support and treatment for individuals dealing with trauma-related anxiety.

Inherited Traits and Anxiety Attacks

Genetics can also play a significant role in the development of anxiety attacks. If a close family member has a history of anxiety or other mental health disorders, you might be at a higher risk. However, having a family history doesn’t guarantee that you’ll experience anxiety attacks. It merely indicates a potential predisposition.

Underlying Medical Conditions and Anxiety Attacks

Certain chronic health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, can trigger anxiety attacks. The stress and worry associated with managing a chronic illness can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Furthermore, some medications used to treat such conditions can also have side effects that induce anxiety.

Stress and Anxiety Attacks

Day-to-day life situations such as job changes, moving to a new place, or significant life events can lead to increased stress levels. This stress can manifest as anxiety, sometimes culminating in an anxiety attack. Excessive caffeine use or a history of drug or alcohol abuse can also contribute to elevated stress levels and, in turn, anxiety attacks.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand that everyone’s experience with anxiety attacks is unique, and therefore, the causes can vary greatly. Our team of professionals is dedicated to helping you understand the specific causes and triggers of your anxiety attacks, and most importantly, equip you with the skills and strategies to manage them effectively.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders manifest in several forms, each with unique symptoms and potential triggers. It’s crucial to recognize that you can have more than one type of anxiety disorder, and sometimes, anxiety might result from an underlying medical condition that requires treatment. Below, we’ll discuss some common types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, involves persistent and excessive worry about everyday activities or events. This worry is often disproportionate to the actual circumstance and is difficult to control, affecting your physical well-being. It can occur alongside other anxiety disorders or depression. If you’re constantly feeling a sense of dread or worry that lasts for months or years, you might be dealing with GAD.

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder involves recurrent episodes of intense anxiety and fear that peak within minutes, often referred to as panic attacks. Symptoms may include feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid heartbeat. The fear of experiencing another panic attack can lead to avoidance behavior, where you might avoid situations in which previous attacks occurred.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as social phobia, is characterized by high levels of anxiety, fear, and avoidance of social situations. This avoidance stems from feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others. If you often feel anxious and fearful in social situations, you might be facing social anxiety disorder.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias refer to major anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation, and a strong desire to avoid it. These phobias can trigger panic attacks in some people. Common examples include fear of flying, heights, insects, or certain animals.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

While often associated with childhood, Separation Anxiety Disorder can also affect adults. This disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety related to separation from people to whom the individual is attached. This could be parents, a partner, or close friends. The fear of separation is often beyond what is appropriate for the person’s age and developmental level.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand that living with any form of anxiety disorder can feel overwhelming. We are here to support you through your journey, providing a safe and nurturing environment for you to learn, heal, and grow. Our team of professionals is equipped with the necessary skills and strategies to help you manage your anxiety effectively.

The Impact of Anxiety Attacks on Quality of Life

Anxiety attacks can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, affecting various aspects, including mental health, physical health, and social interactions. It’s essential to understand these impacts to address them effectively and improve the overall quality of life.

Anxiety Attacks and Depression

It’s not uncommon for individuals experiencing frequent anxiety attacks to also suffer from depression. The constant state of worry and fear can lead to feelings of hopelessness and sadness, which are key symptoms of depression . The persistent stress and anxiety can exacerbate these feelings, creating a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break out of on your own. At DBT of South Jersey, we understand the intricate link between anxiety and depression and are well-equipped to provide the necessary support to manage these conditions effectively.

Anxiety Attacks and Substance Misuse

Unfortunately, some individuals turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication to manage their anxiety symptoms. However, this can lead to a worsening of anxiety symptoms in the long run and can also result in substance misuse or addiction. It’s important to recognize this risk factor and seek professional help if you find yourself relying on substances to cope with your anxiety. We provide a supportive environment to help our clients develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Anxiety Attacks and Social Isolation

Anxiety attacks can also lead to social isolation. The fear of experiencing an anxiety attack in a public setting can cause people to avoid social situations, leading to feelings of loneliness and further exacerbating anxiety symptoms. It’s crucial to remember that you’re not alone in this journey. We, in DBT of South Jersey, provide group therapy sessions where you can connect with others who are going through similar experiences. This can be incredibly beneficial in reducing feelings of isolation and providing a supportive community.

Living with anxiety attacks can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that help is available. By understanding the impact of anxiety attacks on your quality of life, you can take the necessary steps to seek treatment and improve your overall well-being. At DBT of South Jersey, we’re committed to helping you navigate this journey towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Treatment Options for Anxiety Attacks

As you grapple with the challenges of anxiety attacks, it’s important to know that there are several treatment options available. At DBT of South Jersey, we offer a variety of therapies and treatments that are tailored to your unique needs and circumstances.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety Attacks

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a research-supported type of psychotherapy frequently utilized to treat anxiety attacks. CBT focuses on teaching you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that occur during or before an anxiety attack. By learning to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear, the intensity and frequency of the attacks can be reduced.

One common CBT method we use is exposure therapy. This involves confronting the fears and beliefs associated with anxiety attacks to help you engage in activities that you may have been avoiding. This therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises, helping to address both the cognitive and physical aspects of anxiety.

Medication for Anxiety Attacks

Medication is another effective treatment option for anxiety attacks. Different types of medication can help manage the symptoms, including antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety medications.

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are commonly used. While they are primarily used to treat depression, they can also help manage the symptoms of anxiety attacks.

Beta-blockers can control some of the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks, such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and tremors.

Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, can rapidly decrease anxiety attack symptoms. However, they are usually prescribed for brief periods due to the risk of dependency.

Support Groups for Anxiety Attacks

Support groups can also be an invaluable resource in managing anxiety attacks. These groups provide a safe space to share experiences, learn from others who are going through the same challenges, and gain emotional support.

At DBT of South Jersey, we’re here to help you navigate your treatment options and find the best approach for you. A healthy lifestyle, including adequate sleep, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and a strong support network, can also help in managing anxiety attacks.

In the next section, we’ll discuss some practical lifestyle tips and techniques to manage anxiety attacks.

Managing Anxiety Attacks: Lifestyle Tips and Techniques

Reducing the impact of an anxiety attack doesn’t only involve therapy or medication. There’s a lot you can do on your own to complement these treatments. Incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine can make a significant difference. Here are some effective ways to manage anxiety attacks.

Recognizing Signs of Anxiety Attacks

The first step to managing anxiety attacks is to know how to recognize the signs. Symptoms might include headaches, difficulty sleeping, or overeating. If you notice these signs, it may be a signal to take a break or seek help. It’s crucial to listen to your body and respond to these signals promptly.

Identifying Triggers of Anxiety Attacks

Understanding your personal triggers can help you anticipate and manage anxiety attacks. A ‘trigger’ is anything that causes you to feel anxious. This could be a certain situation, event, or even a thought. Keeping a journal can be a useful tool to track and identify these triggers. By knowing what causes your anxiety, you can take proactive steps to manage it.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet to Manage Anxiety Attacks

What you eat can impact your mood and anxiety levels. A healthy diet can help manage anxiety attacks. Try to make time for regular meals, incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid over-reliance on fast food. A balanced diet not only supports your overall health but also helps you handle stress better.

Exercise and Relaxation Techniques for Anxiety Attacks

Regular physical activity can support mental health and boost your sense of well-being, which can help manage anxiety attacks. Whether it’s a brisk walk, a yoga session, or a workout at the gym, find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your routine.

Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and aromatherapy can also help reduce stress and anxiety. These strategies can promote relaxation and help you manage the symptoms of an anxiety attack.

The Role of Socializing in Managing Anxiety Attacks

Spending time with friends and family or finding a group activity can provide emotional and practical support. Social engagement can distract you from anxiety and provide a sense of belonging. Whether it’s joining a choir, a yoga group, or volunteering, these activities can ease stress and provide a supportive community.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand the challenges of dealing with anxiety attacks. We provide a safe, supportive environment and effective strategies to help you manage your anxiety. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it. You’re not alone in this journey.

Conclusion: Seeking Help for Anxiety Attacks

In the journey of understanding and managing anxiety attacks, it’s important to remember that seeking help is a crucial step. This help can come in various forms, from professional therapeutic interventions to self-management techniques and lifestyle changes.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Anxiety attacks can significantly impact one’s quality of life, from physical health complications like heart problems to psychological distress and social isolation. Hence, early intervention is vital. Getting help early can prevent your anxiety from escalating and can also reduce the risk of developing other related problems such as depression.

When to Seek Professional Help

If anxiety attacks become overwhelming or persistent, seeking professional help is advisable. This is especially vital if your anxiety is interfering with your daily activities, causing you distress, or leading to avoidance behavior. As stated earlier, anxiety may not always be rational. For instance, you may be anxious about losing your job without any evidence that this is going to happen. A health professional can provide you with the necessary tools and techniques to manage such irrational fears and anxieties.

How DBT of South Jersey Can Help

At DBT of South Jersey, we offer a comprehensive range of services that can help you manage and cope with anxiety attacks. We provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy that has been clinically proven to be effective in treating anxiety disorders. CBT can help you learn different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that happen during an anxiety attack.

As a part of our therapy sessions, we also focus on emotional regulation, stress and anxiety management, mindfulness, and self-awareness. We can help you build healthier relationships and equip you with practical tools to manage your emotions effectively. We also offer support groups for people with specific conditions.

If you’re considering seeking professional help, rest assured that all our therapists are properly trained and qualified. We take pride in creating a positive therapeutic alliance that fosters growth and healing. It is our absolute privilege to be a mental health support to the youth and families of South Jersey. For more information on our services and how we can help you, please visit our website.

Everyone experiences anxiety differently and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to find a treatment that works best for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us; we’re here to help you navigate this journey towards a happier and healthier future.

For further reading, you can explore our articles on coping through stress and life in the time of Covid.


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