Anxiety is associated with several different diagnosable conditions, but symptoms tend to overlap. Mentally, there’s the persistent and often irrational worrying. Physically, there’s everything from shortness of breath to sweaty palms and headaches. Some of the more severe reactions may fall under the category of panic attacks.
A panic attack is a particularly intense period of fear accompanied by magnified physical symptoms. These may include heart palpitations, chest pain, breathing difficulties, shaking, nausea, fainting, numbness and sweating. You may feel like you’ve lost control of yourself or that you’re facing impending doom.
You probably won’t cause yourself a major injury during a panic attack, but it is going to disrupt your ability to live your life. That means that figuring out what causes them and how to alleviate them can be an important part of treating any anxiety disorder where they feature.
Not all panic attacks can be predicted, but some are a direct result of a stressful situation. If you can identify the stressor, you can take steps to avoid or at least mitigate it. For example, if you have arachnophobia, just seeing a spider may trigger an attack. The socially anxious generally fear social situations. Controlled exposure may decrease the severity of the reaction, while cognitive behavioral therapy can help teach your brain healthier thought patterns.
Things like caffeine and smoking can make the chance of panic attacks higher. Regular aerobic exercise, such as running, may decrease the risk. In many cases, the best way to avoid a panic attack is to identify any underlying cause and treat that. Many people like to use breathing and relaxation exercises to try to reduce their anxiety and, by extension, their chances of an attack.
Panic disorder is a form of anxiety where panic attacks are more frequent and don’t necessarily have an obvious cause. They can still be treated with a combination of therapy and medication, and most people should be able to live relatively panic-free. Some may still experience relapses.
They may only be one symptom of anxiety disorders, but panic attacks can have a hugely debilitating effect on sufferers. Identifying triggers, treating underlying causes (whether with medication or therapy) and learning to manage them can dramatically improve your quality of life. It’s important not to assume that there’s nothing to be done about anxiety, even when your brain lies that it’s inescapable.