You’re sitting calmly watching TV on a Saturday afternoon. Suddenly, things feel different. Something’s wrong, you think. You can’t pinpoint it but a feeling of nearby danger overwhelms you. You feel your temperature rise from warm to hot. Your heart beats faster. 90 beats per minute. 110 beats per minute. 130 beats per minute. You’re in full panic mode.
Have you ever had this experience? What you’re experiencing might be an anxiety attack.
What is an anxiety attack?
This can easily be defined as one of the worst experiences of some people’s lives. When an anxiety attack hits, the body is activating its fight or flight response to a perceived threat. Back when humans were routinely chased by predators and had to remain alert at all times, this sort of response was valuable. If a predator were nearby, the fight or flight response gives a person the short burst of energy needed to handle the situation.
Nowadays, the threats that we face can’t always be solved with the fight or flight response, but our bodies don’t understand that. Suppose you’re going through a stressful divorce and are constantly feeling anxious about it. Suddenly, your fight or flight response kicks in and you have a panic attack. Although the anxiety attack just makes things worse, this is your body’s way to responding to extremely high levels of stress.
What causes an anxiety attack?
Anxiety attacks are brought on as a specific reaction to a stressor. One that stressor is removed from our lives, the anxiety attacks stop. Of course, it might not be possible to remove the stressor from our lives, so anxiety attacks are primarily caused by two different scenarios:
1. High Level Anxiety
If a stressor in your life has caused to experience anxiety, your reaction might be to handle the situation with more fear. For example, if you lost your job, you may reaction to this stressful situation by ruminating on what might happen to you. This causes more stress when you think of the future, causing more anxiety, thus perpetuating the cycle. The end result is a panic attack.
2. Constant High Anxiety
The other possible way is to feel anxiety on a constant basis. For example, your boss is constantly threatening to fire you if you don’t do a good job, putting you in a constant state of fear. Over time, this fear builds up and manifests itself as an anxiety attack. It can come without warning, and appear to be completely unrelated to the situation it’s tied to.
What are the symptoms of anxiety attacks?
You may experience all or some of these symptoms when you are having an anxiety attack. If you do find you are exhibiting these symptoms, it’s best to visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
- Intense, overwhelming fear or feeling you are in life-threatening danger
- Racing heartbeat
- Burning sensation on your skin
- Heart palpitations (unpleasant awareness of heartbeat, skipped beats)
- Hot flashes/cold flashes
- Tingling or numbness
- Feelings of going crazy/losing your mind
- Sensation that you might pass out
- Shortness of breath
- Intense urge to leave where you are
Anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways. An anxiety attack for you may involve completely different symptoms than the next person. Anxiety attacks can also mimic other, more serious health problems. This is why it’s important for you to see a medical professional when you have an anxiety attack and get a proper diagnosis.
These symptoms can vary in length, lasting from a few moments to hours, but anxiety attacks are not life-threatening. The feeling you are experiencing can indeed feel as though something is seriously wrong or that you might die, the feelings will pass.
What can I do when I’m having an anxiety attack?
If you’ve never had one before, it’s imperative you get medical attention. Anxiety attacks have similar symptoms to other, more serious health problems. If you’re certain it’s an anxiety attack, try the following:
- Breathe deeply. Focus on breathing into your stomach with slow, purposeful breaths. Inhale to the count of 5, hold your breath, and exhale to the count of 5.
- Tell yourself good things. Pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself, and change it. Repeat phrases like ‘this feeling will pass’, ‘I will be okay’, ‘I feel calm and relaxed’. Even If you may not feel those things right away, with practice it will get easier to believe.
- Go for a relaxing walk, but don’t exert yourself.
- Be good to yourself. Proper diet, exercise, and leisure life can go a long way to combating anxiety attacks.
Anxiety attacks can feel horrible, and their presence can greatly affect your life if you let them. But if you exert small amounts of control, make an effort to take care of yourself, and engage in the necessary therapy, you will overcome your anxiety attacks and realize your potential.