Anxiety Awareness: How to Recognize and Respond to a Panic Attack

Sometimes the most difficult problems to solve are the most common. This is particularly true of anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects 40 million people in the United States alone. Because so many people suffer from it, it is often regarded as “normal” and thus not worthy of treatment. Yet anxiety seriously compromises one’s ability to live a happy, productive life and treatment from a professional is a helpful tool.

The first step in dealing with an anxiety disorder is to recognize the symptoms. Although it comes in many forms, one of the most serious ways anxiety can affect your life is by causing panic attacks. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

1. Intense Fear

The most identifiable sign of a panic attack is a sudden feeling of terror, insecurity or lack of control. These feelings may be focused on a single source of danger, but it may also be generalized, arising even when you have no reason to be afraid. Such fear can quickly turn to anger, especially if it is focused on a specific person who causes you anxiety.

2. Chest Troubles

Victims of panic disorder may mistakenly assume that they have cardiovascular problems. At the height of the attack, you may feel your heart pounding and your chest tightening. It is also important to check in with your doctor, as chest pain may be indicative or another underlying condition.

3. Breathing Problems

Panic attacks often make it feel harder to breathe. You may overcompensate for this by taking deeper or faster breaths.

4. Debilitation & Disorientation

Often, panic attacks bring with them a sense of weakness or dizziness. You may feel disoriented, have trouble remembering things or feel faint.

5. Other Symptoms

Panic attacks can cause you to sweat or feel chills throughout your body. They may also produce a numb or tingling sensation in your fingers, toes, and other extremities. You may feel the need to urinate, to take shelter or to escape from your current location.

A Note On Normalcy

Given how debilitating panic attacks are, you may assume that it is easy to know if you are having one. In fact, those who have experienced panic attacks all their lives often regard them as normal reactions to fear or stress. This does not mean that they have an easy time dealing with panic and anxiety. Rather, they may inaccurately assume that their inability to cope with these situations is a sign of personal weakness, rather than evidence of a psychological problem that can be alleviated with the proper treatment.

The typical panic attack lasts for 10 minutes or less, after which point you may feel perfectly calm. This makes it easy for people with anxiety disorders to conclude that they do not have a real problem, failing to remember how serious panic attacks are when they are not in the midst of them.

Addressing Panic Attacks

To keep anxiety under control in difficult situations, remember to:

  • Breathe Through Your Belly: Fight the tendency to take short, quick breaths. Instead, slowly inhale through your nose until you have filled your belly with air and then exhale through your mouth. This helps to relieve stress and calm your nerves.
  • Face Your Fears: You may be tempted to leave and go to a safe space, but resist this temptation. If you stay until your anxiety subsides, you confirm that you were not in any danger, making you less likely to suffer future attacks.
  • Find a Friend: If there is someone you trust nearby, let them know what you are experiencing and ask for reassurance.

These steps are not a substitute for medical care, and you should still find a mental health practitioner or doctor to help you cope with chronic anxiety. They do, however, make it easier to deal with panic in the short term, keeping your fears to a minimum until you can find professional help. Working with a professional, can help you work through the underlying issues at hand. Sometimes medication is also viable options for many patients.

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