Anxiety is a normal thing. Facing challenges, stressful situations, or even facing an incredibly expected moment can bring anxiety; situations such as exams, dates, job interviews, waiting for important news, are all perfect examples of situations that bring anxiety. But if these situations apparently run the life of an individual, and if they are just too overwhelming to deal with, there might be an anxiety disorder in the mix, which can lead to anxiety attacks. However, these attacks might come for a variety of reasons and can have different effects on each individual, depending on a variety of reasons. Anxiety, although normal to some extent, can end up damaging someone’s life and taking a big toll on their happiness, so it should be dealt with.
What Are Anxiety Attacks?
Anxiety attacks are horrible, and no one should have to deal with them. However, if someone is dealing with them, information is key to get past it. If both the victim and people around him/her are properly informed, the situation can end up being much lighter, and it can be solved without too many complications.
Anxiety is a natural condition that we all inherited due to evolution. Anxiety came from the evolution of the fight-or-flight response, and it is designed to keep us safe, away from harm, and to prepare us on how to react in situations that could potentially be dangerous. Anxiety is keeping us safe from harm, and without it, we would get in too dangerous situations without really understating how our life can be threatened by them.
Thanks to anxiety, we don’t get into fights with huge, dangerous gangsters, we don’t walk through the woods at night confidently, we don’t go into abandoned buildings at night with a smile on our faces, or drive incredibly fast in a city, and so on. Nevertheless, sometimes, anxiety can get out of hand and generate an exaggerated response, resulting in an anxiety attack.
An anxiety attack is a prolonged period of fear or apprehension, usually connected to at least four or more symptoms (symptoms of an anxiety attack are listed below in this article). Usually, anxiety attacks begin abruptly and reach the peak of their symptoms within 10 to 20 minutes of the beginning. However, these attacks can last up to a few hours. Usually, first time anxiety attack victims call emergency services and end up making things worse since they don’t understand what is happening, and they end up thinking that they are having a heart attack or a nervous breakdown (situations far more serious than anxiety attacks). Although anxiety attacks end up taking a huge toll on their victims, they are not lethal, and they are not harmful, as long as the sufferer does not mistake the symptoms of anxiety attacks and takes medication that could harm them.
What Are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack?
Generally, an anxiety attack can include a large variety of symptoms, which include: strong feelings of fear, urgency to escape and run away, turning pale, cold sweats, numbness and tingling sensations, burning skin, chocking sensation and tightening of the throat (tightening that would seem like the throat is closing or clogged), weak knees, trembling, confusion, shakiness, a feeling of danger and that something horrible is going to happen, depersonalization (separation from reality and from self), lightheadedness, emotional distress, freaking out, feeling of losing control, knots in the stomach, nausea, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, vomiting and difficulty in breathing.
Note that this list of symptoms of anxiety attack only includes the most common types of symptoms (anxiety attacks have dozens of symptoms) and that victims of anxiety attacks will not suffer from all of these symptoms at once, or all of the symptoms with one only attack. The symptoms vary from person to another, because each organism reacts and responds to anxiety in different manners, meaning that some people might have incredibly strong anxiety attacks, and others will probably only experience mild or moderate anxiety attacks. The degree of the attack is different and varies for each individual. Also the symptoms of anxiety attacks in women can be very different from anxiety attack symptoms in men.
There are a lot of medical conditions that share anxiety attacks” symptoms, and as such if one experiences an anxiety attack, a doctor should be seen afterwards in order to determine the cause of this attack, and to help prevent further attacks. Most of the time, the doctor’s diagnosis is very reliable, since anxiety attacks are easy to understand for experts, and most of the time they will not be mistaken with other medical conditions.
Anxiety attacks in men, and anxiety attacks in women do vary a lot. What varies in between genders is usually the cause of the attack. Men and women have different lifestyles, and when it comes to the small stressful details, the differences are very noticeable. Stressful and apprehensive situations can usually lead to anxiety attacks.
What Causes Anxiety Attacks?
Stressful and apprehensive situations cause anxiety (fear, worry, expectancy and so on). Apprehensive situations and behavior causes the body to originate a response, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that will end up helping the body deal with the situation and stay away from danger; this is the known fight or flight response, and the ultimate cause for anxiety. When we are mildly concerned, the body reacts mildly, and when we are extremely concerned, the body generates an extreme response.
The body reacts according to our worry in a proportional manner, and as such, when we are extremely concerned, the body’s extreme reaction is very likely to trigger an anxiety attack. Persistent serious concerns can also cause anxiety attacks, without having to go to the extreme degree. These types of attacks are deemed “voluntary” anxiety attacks.
Furthermore, biological causes and phobias can easily cause anxiety attacks, if the sufferer is directly exposed to what would trigger a highly stressful situation. For example, with post-traumatic stress disorder (a biological cause), a situation that could come as a reminder of what originally caused the disorder could easily trigger anxiety attacks on the person with such disorder. As for phobias, direct contact or exposure to the phobia-inducing object would, most of the time, trigger anxiety attacks, and in order to stop these attacks (or at least begin the process of stopping them), the exposure that served as a trigger should immediately be stopped.
Serious illness or medical conditions can also easily trigger anxiety attacks. The sufferer of such medical conditions or illness can have the attack triggered when a symptom of the condition they suffer from manifests itself, presenting danger. This type of anxiety attacks is usually the hardest type to manage, since the apprehension and stress come from serious conditions that can potentially cause death. To manage this type of attacks, there is a variety of available medications that can be used; however, it is never a good thing to take care of an anxiety attack with drugs, especially when medical conditions are in the way.
Lastly, short-term triggering causes and lack of assertiveness are also anxiety attack causes. Short-term triggering causes can include significant personal losses, such as the death of a relative or loved one, significant attachments to romantic relationships that abruptly end, significant life changes and significant life transitions. Lack of assertiveness is supported by a significant amount of evidence that points out that those who suffer from anxiety attacks are more often than not engaged in passive communications and interactions with others. Although passive interactions are polite and respectful, they appear to contribute to anxiety attacks, since passiveness is frequently present amongst people who experience panic attacks.
Preventing Anxiety Attacks
Although anxiety attacks come up abruptly, it is possible to prevent them, even after the first symptoms kick in. They may occur anywhere, at any time, but it is possible to feel them coming, and as such, it is possible to avoid the strong peak they can have, and even if the attack itself is impossible to stop, it is clearly possible to make them less harmful.
When symptoms of an anxiety attack start kicking in, and it is known that an attack is imminent, it is of utmost importance to quickly act and stop focusing on the attack. If one focuses on it, it will surely make it worse, since the attack is directly derived from one’s self anxiety, fear and stress. As such, it is important for the sufferer to get things out of his head, and to stop trying to notice changes after the realization of an imminent attack comes.
If possible, the sufferer should find a suitable distraction in order to avoid the attack. While distracted, the mind will stop focusing so hard on the symptoms or on what is causing anxiety, and as such, the attack might be completely prevented, or at least it is softened up. Suitable distractions for most people would be to call someone, or to talk to someone physically if possible. It is very hard to focus on symptoms or on anxiety while having to talk to someone, since the exercise of the conversation immediately demands concentration, in order to listen to what the other person is saying, process it through, understand their point, come back with an answer, and keep the conversation going.
If a random conversation about cupcakes or ponies isn’t helping, there is always the possibility to talk about the direct cause of anxiety with someone else. People have different perspectives on things, think differently from one another, and can help each other calm down or see things from a different perspective. While a specific situation can feel like the end of the world for person A, for person B, the same situation can look like a very simple problem to deal with, with a wide variety of solutions that can help person A. This is why talking about it can help, although still focusing on the anxiety, the person can let it all out, and get some help from someone else.
Mental exercises can also help preventing anxiety attacks, and anxiety in general. Although this doesn’t work for everyone and it does require some focus to apply, it can be a life saver when it comes to anxiety attacks. Mental exercises vary, and different people have different solutions, but some good examples would be math problems, puzzles, complex tasks, paradoxes, brainteasers, and all sorts of tasks that require heavy thinking and will distract the brain. As long as the person is not focusing on the anxiety attack symptoms, the consequences or the direct cause of anxiety and stress, the attack can be greatly softened, or even prevented in some successful cases.
Another alternative would be to go for a walk. In later stages of anxiety attacks, walking might look like an incredibly hard task, and to anyone who has been through an anxiety attack, going for a walk when one is imminent might look like a downright stupid idea. However, it is the exact opposite of a stupid idea, since walking will get the blood flowing, will help control breathing, and getting some fresh air will help getting the mind off things it should not be thinking about. Although the attack might still kick in, if the sufferer maintains calmness and keeps on trying to avoid the anxiety and stress, it is possible to avoid a strong peak, plus continuing to walk will help control the excessive energy that one might get during an anxiety attack.
It is true that there is no way to guarantee anxiety attack prevention after symptoms kick in. Nevertheless, these techniques are simple, and will help soften things down. With time, and with small effects from these techniques, the fear of anxiety attacks will not be so strong, and as such, the severity of attacks will be greatly reduced, since only the condition itself will cause problems, and not the attack itself.
With time, step by step, it is possible to reduce anxiety and stress in general in the daily life of any individual, and every step towards this goal is an important step in preventing and controlling anxiety attacks.