Anxiety And Panic Attacks: An Overview

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/22/2020

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Experiencing anxiety here and there is a normal part of being human. You may feel anxious before taking a test or before having a job interview. Anxiety can also be beneficial in specific situations, such as alerting us to conditions where we are in danger.

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However, individuals who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, overwhelming, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. The symptoms of anxiety can appear out of nowhere and can interfere with daily life activities.

What Are The Types Of Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mood disorder. However, anxiety disorders can be subcategorized into various disorders based on their signs and symptoms.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which individuals fear and avoid specific places or circumstances that may cause them to feel embarrassed, helpless, or trapped. In some extreme agoraphobia cases, individuals may be confined to their home because their fear is too overwhelming to overcome. Everyday situations that may cause intense fear to include:

  •       Standing in a line or amongst a crowd.
  •       Being in enclosed spaces.
  •       Being in open spaces.
  •       Using public transportation.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when a person experiences persistent and excessive anxiety and worries about ordinary events and routines. An individual's worry is nearly out of proportion to the actual circumstances at hand. People with GAD have difficulties controlling their anxiety and often experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, and upset stomachs. Additionally, this type of anxiety disorder often co-occurs with depression and other anxiety disorders. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:

  •  
  •       Muscle tension.
  •       Feelings of restlessness.
  •       Difficulty rationalizing feelings of being worried.
  •       Difficulty sleeping and staying asleep.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Individuals with social anxiety disorder experience an intense fear of being in public settings. This can also be thought of as severe social shyness or intense feelings of self-consciousness. People with social anxiety often worry that other people will adversely evaluate them. This can manifest in various situations, such as school or work. However, in extreme cases, individuals will avoid social gatherings altogether.

Separation Anxiety

This type of anxiety typically forms during a child's developmental period. There are excessive feelings of anxiety when separated from their parents and their home. However, this type of anxiety typically declines as the child ages.

Phobia Related Disorders

A phobia is defined as having an intense, unrealistic fear of specific situations, activities, or objects that, in reality, present little to no danger at all. In severe phobia cases, individuals will go to extreme avoidance, which only intensifies the phobia further. Common phobias include:

  •       Intense fear of flying
  •       Intense fear of animals (snakes, spiders, etc.)
  •       Intense fear of blood
  •       Intense fear of receiving injections

An individual with a phobia may acknowledge their fear as illogical or extreme but cannot control their intense feelings of anxiety when presented with their trigger.

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by unwanted and uncontrollable obsessions such as recurring worry, such as the extreme fear of germs, and uncontrollable compulsions such as washing your hands over and over.

Symptoms Of Anxiety

Although there are several different forms of anxiety disorders, there are, however, common signs and symptoms that can be observed, including:

  •       Increased heart rate
  •       Hyperventilation
  •       Increased sweating and hot flashes
  •       Feeling of being nervous, tense, or restless
  •       Feeling extremely tired or weak
  •       Difficulty concentrating on anything else besides the present worry
  •       Difficulty sleeping
  •       Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety
  •       Excessive worrying
  •       The feeling that you are going through an existential crisis

What Are Panic Attacks/ Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder

 Individuals with panic disorder have recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that manifest quickly and reach their peak within a couple of minutes. Panic attacks can occur unexpectedly or be brought on by a trigger such as an object or situation. You may experience a panic attack when you are at the store, in your car, or at home. They can happen anywhere at any time. Individuals may experience panic attacks yet be perfectly happy and healthy otherwise. During a panic attack, an individual may experience:

  •       Feelings of impending doom
  •       Heart palpitations and accelerated heart rate
  •       Trembling or shaking
  •       Extreme sweating
  •       Shortness of breath
  •       Chest pain
  •       Chills
  •       Nausea
  •       Dizziness and lightheadedness
  •       Fear of losing control

What Are The Causes Of Anxiety And Panic Attacks?

Research indicates that the causes of anxiety are not yet fully understood. However, researchers have observed risk factors that can increase an individual's risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

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Trauma

One of the most common risk factors related to an increased risk of developing anxiety is trauma. Research indicates that children who endure trauma in the form of abuse or witnessing traumatic events are more likely to have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives than children who did not. This is also a trend in adults who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as well.

Stress Due To An Illness

Another risk factor related to anxiety disorders is having a health condition or serious illness that can cause significant worry about treatment or the future.

Stress

Generalized stress in life can also trigger excessive anxiety, whether from work, school, or a death in your family.

Drugs Or Alcohol

The misuse of drugs and alcohol can also cause or worsen anxiety in individuals as they go through withdrawal or use substances as a coping mechanism to alleviate their problems.

Physical Health Conditions

Some physical health conditions can also influence the manifestation of anxiety in an individual, such as:

  •       hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  •       hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  •       Withdrawal
  •       Stimulant and illicit substance use.

Genetics

Individuals who have family members with anxiety diagnoses are also more likely to experience anxiety as well.

Speak With A Professional About Treatment For Anxiety And Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety disorders are very treatable mental health disorders. Once you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the specific treatment approaches will depend on the type of anxiety you may have and its severity. However, most anxiety-related conditions are treated through therapy. Some of the most effective treatment types are behavioral therapy because they focus on an individual’s behavior instead of any psychological discord or past events. These treatment types can also help with issues such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety, and phobias.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widespread treatment method that is used to reduce anxiety. This form of treatment aids people to identify and challenge their irrational and negative thinking patterns that entice anxiety.

Exposure Therapy

Another form of effective therapy is exposure therapy. This type of treatment encourages people to confront their phobias in a safe and controlled environment gradually. Through the gradual exposure, an individual will gain a sense of control over the stimulus and eventually understand that they are not being harmed. Thus, the anxiety eventually diminishes.

Alcoholics Anonymous / Smart Recovery Therapy

Another form of effective treatment recommended by your doctor if you suffer from substance-induced anxiety is AA meetings and smart recovery therapy. By getting to the root of your addiction, you can also combat your fears and concerns created through your substance abuse. These treatment forms also implement CBT treatment methods and non-confrontational motivation methods to help individuals remain on the right path to overcome their disorders.

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Support From Friends And Family 

People who suffer from anxiety experience feelings of frustration and shame around their diagnosis. Anxiety is treatable, but long-term personal self-image and confidence issues can be harder to pinpoint and solve. That is why people with anxiety should be accepted and loved by the people around them to prevent their condition from becoming more serious. If you love someone with anxiety remember to be patient, and learn about their triggers and how you can effectively calm them down.

For all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional for more details.

What You Can Do Today

Living with an anxiety diagnosis can be challenging. After reading this, you may be left wondering if you or someone you love may be experiencing the signs and symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. Taking a depression test or an anxiety quiz can be a good starting point on whether you should seek a professional's help. This quiz should not be treated as a formal diagnosis. After completing the online quiz, we recommend reaching out for further support and treatment options. With the right support, you can learn to manage your anxiety in a healthy manner.