All About the Anxiety Panic Attack

Anxiety panic attacks swoop down on you, out of the blue and with relentless speed. If you’ve had one, then you already know that. Perhaps you didn’t realise that they can come on so inexplicably and suddenly. Read on to find out why you get them and what you can and cannot do.

Fewer than one in one hundred people experience panic attacks. What happens is that your body’s natural fight-or-flight response system short-circuits, and you get the overwhelming urge to get out of a situation even if it has previously been familiar and comfortable to you.

Scientists are still studying why this happens. This fight-or-flight response typically results from biochemicals in our brains reacting to something in the world around you. These biochemicals are called neurotransmitters, and the most common ones are serotonin and noradrenaline, also known as norepinephrine.

These are the biochemicals that told our ancestral caveman to either stand up and fight that Tyrannosaurus Rex, or run away! His body acknowledged the stimulus to fight to be ready if the brain chose to do that with increased heart rate, muscles tensed and jumpy, increased respirations feeding oxygen to the body, and so forth. And if the T-Rex wasn’t hungry and just moved on, Mr. Caveman’s responses could slowly return to normal.

In your anxiety panic attack, you experience all these symptoms, plus more. And the symptoms are terrifying because there is absolutely no justification for them. Imagine sitting on the sofa, watching the television, when out of the blue you are overcome by the certainty that you’re smothering, rapid heart beats, lips that feel numb, and a feeling of terror all for no reason. These are symptoms of a typical anxiety panic attack.

Anxiety panic attacks wreak havoc on your life because they are utterly impossible to predict or control. The symptoms come on quickly and with great intensity. A panic attack forces you to stop whatever you’re doing, because you become convinced that at any minute you’re going to collapse or even die.

So what are the other symptoms? Check which of these you’e experienced:

  • Heartbeat racing uncontrollably.
  • Paralyzing terror.
  • Nausea or dizziness.
  • Sweating, shaking.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Chest pains.
  • Choking sensation.
  • Tingling in your fingers and toes,
  • Or numbness in your lips.
  • The fear that you are going crazy,
  • Or that you will die, and
  • You can do nothing to control this.

Some people are only affected in one area of their daily lives. One young woman experienced her panic attacks whenever she was en route to a hockey game with her fiance’. Their frequency gradually lessened and then stopped. A middle-aged mom pulled over on the side of the highway and was unable to resume her trip and she had to get a relative to rescue her. To this day, she avoids all highways.

The hallmark characteristic of anxiety panic attacks is the unremitting certainty that another attack is imminent. So if you’ve only had one or two attacks, try to relax.

A series of four episodes merits a visit to the doctor’s office. Your doctor can talk to you about your family history, since there is some possibility of genetic predisposition. All ethnic groups are equally vulnerable to these episodes, and twice as many women as men experience them.

Researchers are still evaluating whether the most likely possibility resides in some stressful situation triggering a biochemical surge, like our caveman. Some doctors believe this is more likely to happen if you’ve had a recent separation experience, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, or job loss.

Sometimes there is no causal relationship between the onset of an attack and the area in your life that’ affected. The mom who avoids highways had never experienced an auto accident, yet her anxieties exhibited themselves on the road.

Rest assured, however, that there is help. Relaxation techniques can forestall an anxiety panic attack or help to get you through one. There are support groups. Some physicians believe medications provide much benefit. Behavioural therapy can help you to work through situations that might bring on attacks. By choosing the best ways to ameliorate your symptoms, you can beat this.

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