Anxiety Attacks: What They Are, its symptoms & How to Cope with treatment options

Understanding Anxiety: From Worries to Full-Blown Attacks

Anxiety is a natural human emotion that helps us navigate stressful situations. It can manifest as a feeling of worry, apprehension, or nervousness. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, persistent, and interferes with daily life, it can turn into an anxiety disorder. This article delves into the world of anxiety, exploring its symptoms, the causes of anxiety attacks, and various treatment options available to manage and overcome them.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorders: Recognizing the Difference

It’s important to distinguish between everyday anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. We all experience nervousness before a big presentation, job interview, or important event. This type of anxiety is usually short-lived and doesn’t significantly impact our daily lives.

However, anxiety disorders are different. These are mental health conditions characterized by excessive, uncontrollable worry and fear that persists for extended periods and significantly disrupts daily activities. Common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Excessive worry and anxiety about a variety of things with no apparent cause.
  • Panic Disorder: Sudden and intense episodes of fear or discomfort that come on rapidly and reach their peak within minutes (panic attacks).
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Intense fear of social situations where you might be scrutinized or judged by others.
  • Specific Phobias: Intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as heights, spiders, or flying.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions) aimed at reducing anxiety.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety can manifest in both psychological and physical ways. Here’s a breakdown of common symptoms:

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Excessive worry and fear
  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty controlling negative thoughts
  • Feeling like something awful is about to happen

Physical Symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • Difficulty relaxing

The Culprit Behind the Chaos: Causes of Anxiety Attacks

While the exact causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood, several factors can contribute to their development:

  • Genetics: A family history of anxiety disorders increases your risk.
  • Brain Chemistry: Imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine may play a role.
  • Life Stress: Stressful life events, such as job loss, financial problems, or relationship issues, can trigger anxiety.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid problems, heart disease, and chronic pain, can contribute to anxiety.
  • Substance Abuse: Drugs and alcohol can worsen anxiety symptoms.

When Worry Turns to Panic: Understanding Anxiety Attacks

When Worry Turns to Panic Understanding Anxiety Attacks

An anxiety attack is a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that comes on rapidly and peaks within minutes. During an anxiety attack, you might experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Feeling like you’re losing control or going crazy
  • Feeling like you might die
  • Feeling detached from reality (derealization)
  • Feeling like you’re not in your own body (depersonalization)
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Chills or hot flashes

While anxiety attacks can be very frightening, they are not physically dangerous and usually subside within 30 minutes. However, the fear of having another attack can lead to avoidance behaviors, further impacting daily life.

Taming the Tiger: Treatment Options for Anxiety and Anxiety Attacks

Fortunately, a variety of treatment options can effectively manage anxiety and anxiety attacks. Here are some of the most common approaches:

Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy):

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a powerful tool for managing anxiety. Different forms of therapy can be helpful, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This evidence-based therapy helps identify negative thought patterns and develop coping mechanisms to manage them.
  • Exposure Therapy: This therapy gradually exposes you to anxiety-provoking situations in a safe and controlled environment to help reduce fear.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT focuses on accepting difficult thoughts and feelings and living a meaningful life according to your values, regardless of anxiety.


In some cases, medication can be a valuable addition to therapy in managing anxiety symptoms. Here’s a breakdown of some common types of medications used for anxiety:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): These are the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety disorders. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood regulation. Examples include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), and citalopram (Celexa).
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): Similar to SSRIs, SNRIs work by increasing levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter involved in mood and alertness. Examples include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
  • Benzodiazepines: These medications provide rapid relief of anxiety symptoms like panic attacks, but their use should be short-term due to potential for dependence and side effects like drowsiness. Examples include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).
  • Buspirone (BuSpar): This medication works differently from SSRIs and SNRIs and targets specific receptors in the brain. It takes longer to work than benzodiazepines but has a lower risk of dependence.

Choosing the Right Medication:

The type of medication prescribed for your anxiety will depend on several factors, including:

  • The specific type of anxiety disorder you have
  • The severity of your symptoms
  • Your medical history and any other medications you are taking
  • Your personal preferences

It’s important to discuss the potential benefits and risks of medication with your doctor to determine if it’s the right course of treatment for you.

Important Considerations When Taking Medication:

  • Do not stop taking medication abruptly. Always consult your doctor before making any changes to your medication regimen.
  • Medication may take time to work. Be patient and allow several weeks for your medication to reach its full effect.
  • Medication is not a cure-all. It’s often most effective when combined with other treatment options like therapy.
  • Be aware of potential side effects. Discuss any side effects you experience with your doctor.

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