What Is Anxiety Or Panic Attack And How Do You Treat It?

What You Need to Know About Anxiety/Panic Attacks and Available Treatments

Are anxiety or panic attacks making your life a nightmare? The experience is certainly not one to relish. You may wonder what could be responsible. It may well be that you already have an idea of the cause, but you just don't know how to deal with the problem. Whichever is the case, you should be able to get helpful information in this article.

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

It is not uncommon to hear people talking about anxiety attack and panic attack like they are one and the same. But these are technically different conditions that share a lot in common.

A panic attack may be defined as a sudden, crushing feeling of anxiety and terror. You can experience it at any time, even while you sleep. It usually happens without an obvious cause – that is, not in reaction to any stressor. Although it is commonly said to be unpredictable, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that these attacks can be unexpected or expected.

The DSM-5 doesn't recognize the phenomenon of anxiety attacks on the other hand. However, some medical experts distinguish them from panic attacks on the existence of a stressor. People having this sort of feelings have somewhat valid reasons for anxiety and fear. They are provoked. Anxiety attacks usually subside almost as soon as the stressor disappears.

Panic Attack and Panic Disorder

Most cases of panic attacks last 30 minutes or less. Rarely does an attack last up to an hour. It may be a one-off thing. But in some instances, individuals do have repeat episodes. A person who has had one panic attack has greater likelihood of having another. You may develop panic disorder if you experience this incident time and again without seeking medical attention.

The fear of when the next will occur is a major reason for attacks. It has to be noted that these repeated incidences and fear of next attack are the main characteristics of panic disorder, which is believed to affect roughly 6 million American adults.

There is an observation that people with panic disorder tends to develop agoraphobia as a complication. This is intense fear of being in public or open spaces. The affected person will be having fears about suffering panic attacks in such places. This makes them to shy away from where other people are present as much as possible.

Panic attacks can also be a symptom of panic disorder. It may also result from some other conditions, such as depression and social phobia.

What Happens in the Brain During an Attack?

To better understand anxiety or panic attacks, it is relevant to learn about what happens in the brain. Experts suggest that these have a connection to what takes place in the amygdala.

Located in the medial temporal lobes of the brain, the amygdala is a group of nuclei. It is basically a compact cluster of neurons. They often refer to it as the "integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation."

The amygdala is responsible for feelings such as fear and aggression. You may find it easier to understand the connection to panic attack from that perspective. A theory has it that the sudden feeling of terror results from irregular activity in the neuron cluster.

Symptoms of Anxiety/Panic Attacks

Only the symptoms of panic attacks are clearly defined, according to the DSM-5. Given the seeming lack of formal recognition, anxiety attacks may not be said to have clear-cut symptoms. This makes them open to different interpretations.

The popular consensus, however, appears to be that both panic attacks and anxiety attacks exhibit many similar symptoms. They have a handful of distinct symptoms as well.

Below are some symptoms that can be seen in both panic and anxiety attacks:

During a panic attack, you may feel detached from yourself, reality, or the world around you. There could also be a feeling of losing control, going crazy or having terror of impending doom or death.

The other symptoms of anxiety attacks include confusion, emotional distress, and worry.

You may find it hard telling the difference between a panic attack and anxiety attack on the basis of symptoms. It is worth stating again that the latter usually occurs in reaction to an evident or palpable stressor. Also, an anxiety attack tends to build gradually while a panic attack often happens suddenly.

The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that you may think you are having a heart attack. Some people rush to see a doctor when this occurs for fear they might be dying. It is not always that a panic attack comes to mind in such situations.

What Causes Panic and Anxiety Attacks?

Researchers do not yet fully understand the exact causes of panic attacks, as is often the case with mental issues. This is more so with the unexpected type. However, the things happening in the life of a person are potential triggers for expected panic attacks and anxiety attacks.

Among the more common of these triggers are:

These triggers have the potential to markedly increase your stress levels. Some triggers have to do with fears you may be having about a grave danger or something unpleasant happening.

The causes of panic and anxiety attacks are not only psychological. They also have physical or medical causes. These include:

Risk Factors for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

As it would turn out, a bit of genetics could be at play in the incidence of panic attacks. Evidence suggests that it does run in some families. If a family member has it, there is probability of you experiencing same along the line.

Gender is another risk factor for occurrence of panic attacks. Being a female puts you at a greater risk of having this problem. Some estimate has it that women are twice likely to suffer these attacks than men.

Anxiety is a precursor to anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Individuals who easily become anxious are more prone to having this issue.


It is possible to make a diagnosis if your doctor suspects that what you are suffering from is a panic attack. The same cannot really be said about anxiety attacks. The same methods of diagnosis for panic attacks may also be used in the latter case, though. The techniques are similar to those used for panic disorders, anxiety symptoms and anxiety disorders.

Diagnosis typically involves physical examination and series of blood tests. Your doctor or a specialist will also conduct a psychological evaluation – this may involve the use of a questionnaire. It is possible that you may be asked to do a heart test, such as EKG or ECG, as well.

Popular Treatments

Thankfully, anxiety and panic attacks are treatable. There are two main approaches for dealing with these, just as is the case with disorders such as depression. These are psychotherapy and medications.


There are several types of psychotherapy. Of these, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are two forms thought to be especially beneficial.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is arguably the most popular and effective for dealing with panic attacks and anxiety disorders. This aims to address the problem by working on your thinking patterns and behaviors.

The idea is that the real source of the problem is your reaction, not the situation. The way you perceive something is what controls your response. CBT equips you with skills to help you perceive situations in a manner closer to reality.

In its own case, exposure therapy involves exposing a patient to the stressor, that thing or condition that induces anxiety. The might sound like trying to do harm or causing patients to freak out. This is not so. The belief is that this will enable them to develop skills to overcome their fears. This takes place in a controlled setting devoid of hazards.


Your doctor may also recommend that you take certain medications. But it should be noted that these alone may not suffice for overcoming panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy is thought to be more effective. It is better when you combine both.

Drugs are used to control the symptoms of these disorders. There effects only last for a while and then you need to take another dose. The types of medications that your doctor may suggest include anti-anxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines, and antidepressants. Certain heart medications and anticonvulsants are also used for treatment.

It is pertinent to mention that drugs used for treatment of panic and anxiety attacks may produce side effects. Some of them – good examples of which are benzodiazepines – are capable of bringing about addiction issues. You are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them.

How to Prevent or Manage Anxiety and Panic Attacks

By being proactive, you can save yourself from the hassles of panic attacks and anxiety attacks. You may be at a loss as to what you can do in these regard. Below are some tips to get you up and running.

Control the triggers

A very useful piece of advice is to learn how to deal with possible triggers of anxiety and panic attacks. For some, this means staying away from anything that can rouse them. Some other experts believe, however, that a better approach is to keep doing what you are doing when anxiety strikes.

The basis of the latter argument is that you will discover nothing will go wrong if you choose to confront your fears. Whichever approach you choose to adopt, you will benefit from learning to control negative thoughts.

You should keep away from smoking. Caffeine and alcohol need to be avoided as well. All these are capable of provoking panic attacks. You will do well to also stay away from diet pills and other medications containing stimulants.

Reach out

As with depression, anxiety and panic attacks are more likely when people feel lonely or isolated. You may start having thoughts that no one cares. This might even make you feel panicky when you think about the possibility of being helpless when in a grave situation.

It will be to your benefit to connect to people you feel care for you. Family members may be enough in case you have been neglecting them of late and you don't have quality friends. Learn how to make new friends who can be truly supportive.

Get regular exercise

Exercise is highly beneficial for your overall wellbeing. It does not only make you look fit and healthy on the outside, but also helps ensure that your brain works optimally. It offers immense benefits in fighting anxiety disorders, panic attacks and depression.

The exercise you do doesn't have to be intense. Moderate routines may actually be better. Aerobics, such as running, cycling or walking, performed daily or on most days can markedly boost how your brain functions. You can still benefit if all you can devote to this is 30 minutes on each day.

Learn to relax

Knowing how to relax your mind can help to both prevent and manage anxiety and panic attacks. There are a variety of techniques that are used for this purpose. These include progressive muscle relaxation, aromatherapy, yoga, and meditation.

Basically, just do anything that you know can help to relax your mind. And do it every day. You can build the relaxation response of your body by so doing. With this, you will be able to counter stress response that is linked to anxiety and panic attacks.

Do breathing exercise

Being able to control how you breathe is useful for guarding against these attacks. Hyperventilation is usually seen in people having them. This is what leads to symptoms such as tightness of chest and being lightheaded.

You should make conscious efforts to take deep, slow breaths if you observe you are beginning to breathe too fast. Slowly take in as much air as your lung can take via your nose and exhale gently through your mouth. You may count 1 to 4 or 5 each way.

With this, you learn how to take charge of your breathing and prevent panic attacks. This skill will be very helpful when you feel your anxiety rising.

Sleep well

Along with good nutrition and exercise, quality sleep is among the essential means to enjoying great health. Your body gets opportunity to rejuvenate itself when you get the zzzs. And when we talk sleep, we mean the type that is restful, not interrupted.

The kind of lifestyle many maintain these days hardly leave enough time for good quality sleep. Rising cases of panic attacks, depression, and anxiety disorders can partly be attributed to this.

Medical experts advise getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. You should seek help if you find it difficult sleeping that long or you wake repeatedly during the night.

Join a support group

Support groups for people with anxiety and panic attacks exist in some areas. Find out if there is one in yours and join. This gives you a good opportunity of learning more about how to manage your attacks. Merely having access to people with similar problem can help a great deal.

Use supplements

There are not many health issues you won't find a supplement for these days. Products that promise to boost your mental health are available on the market. A good example of these is BrainPill. This is mainly formulated for fighting mental issues that come with aging. According to its maker, it also reduces stress, a major contributor to anxiety and panic attacks.

CBD Pure is another offering you may find beneficial. This contains cannabidiol (CBD), an extract from industrial hemp plant. Experts are suggesting this offers great potential for brain health. It is being investigated as treatment for mood and anxiety disorders. CBD helps to boost the activity of endocannabinoids, which chronic stress reduces.

Anxiety and panic attacks can become things of the past by taking corrective measures. We have already some of these above.

Action should ideally be taken as early as possible. Once you experience a repeat attack, go get professional help! Don't sit back expecting the problem to resolve itself.



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Panic Attack Symptoms: Shortness of Breath, Racing Heart, & More (https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/panic-attack-symptoms)

What Is The Difference Between A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack? - ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/AnxietyOverview/story?id=4659738)

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: What’s the Difference? (https://www.healthline.com/health/panic-attack-vs-anxiety-attack)

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