Information About Anxiety Attacks — Why Do They Happen?
Panic attacks or anxiety attacks first occur “out of the blue”; suddenly, for no obvious reason. A person may have been living as much as anyone else does with the usual stresses and strains of life when one day they experience a panic attack that is the start of a long period of misery and change. The peak times for the first attack are between the ages of fifteen and thirty, although attacks can occur at any age.
It’s been estimated that one in ten people experience panic attacks but only 1 to 3 percent of the population experience panic problems so severe that they seriously interfere with their life. It’s often been asked of people what they themselves call these attacks. Often they give it the name “panic” without having heard of it from anyone else. Some people think of it as a nervous breakdown, or a nervous episode where they feel they cannot carry on at work or have the same active life.
The concern during the first panic attack is that it comes without warning. Sufferers can see no good reason why such a dramatic thing should happen to them. However, what people need to understand is that there are indeed triggers. What can really confuse people is that the first panic attack can strike when they least expect it – during a relaxing weekend or a holiday. They might understand it better if it struck while they were under a lot of stress at home or at work, but not when it seems unconnected to stress.
After the first panic attack, more attacks can happen over the next few days and weeks so that the attacks become a regular feature of life. Here is a list of facts about anxiety attacks to help you understand the truth behind the condition.
Facts about Anxiety Attacks: What?
People have suffered from panic and anxiety attacks even before they knew what they were. In sixteenth-century France, they called them terreur panique, which is obvious allusion towards terror and panic. One English writer at the time described panic attacks in 1603 as foolish frights with any real cause.
Even the great Sigmund Freud went on to document his own thoughts on panic attacks, giving the first accurate description on the attacks in 1884. He was one of the first to call them “anxiety attacks” rather than panic attacks.
Anxiety disorders were fairly ignored by the medical and psychological professions until a century later. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association included “panic attacks” in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; which was a psychiatrist’s Bible for diagnosing emotional problems. This manual’s definition of the anxiety attack has become the accepted standard of what a panic attack is. In a nutshell, symptoms of a traditional panic attack include: Read More
- Palpitations of the heart, along with accelerated heart rate
- Uncontrollable sweating
- Trembling or shaking of the hands / limbs
- Shortness of breath, feeling of suffocation
- Chocking sensation
- Chest pains and discomforts
- Feelings of nausea or nervousness
- Sudden dizziness, unsteadiness and faintness
- Overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety
To qualify a panic attack, most doctors and specialists require that four of the previously listed symptoms have to start almost immediately, unexpectedly and suddenly. They also need to reach a peak within a five to ten-minute period. Although this length of time may seem quick for the ordinary individual, they can appear to be as long as a lifetime for the victim. However, there should be no obvious life-threatening situation setting them off. People need to understand that panic and anxiety are normal feelings for a person to experience; most especially during extreme situations of distress and danger. However, a sufferer of anxiety disorder will experience these things during the most unlikely, unprovoked and normal of circumstances.
Despite needing at least four symptoms to be considered a legitimate panic attack, many sufferers experience more than four sensations. The sort of sensations they notice may not be exactly the same one week as another week, or in one attack or the next. What bothers one victim may not necessarily be the cause of anxiety for another.
The term “limited panic attacks” is used when someone suffers from only one or two of these symptoms out of the blue. However, this does not mean that their cases are less severe and does not require attention. In fact, these “limited panic attacks” can lead to much graver bouts of panic and anxiety if left unattended and untreated.
Some people find that panic and anxiety attacks occur in certain places, such as crowded shops, traveling on a bus standing in a queue, in church, being in a city centre. The name agoraphobia, from the Greek “fear (phobos) of the marketplace (agora)”, has been used in the past for type of panic. For these people, “safety” is also a place, usually at home, where they begin to feel secure and relieved. They may try to avoid crowds and shops, sometimes to the extent of becoming completely housebound.
A case of an anxiety attack coming out of nowhere was reported by a certain Paulina A., whose condition was first spotted in the middle of a bingo game. She had noticed that she had been unable to concentrate on the numbers in her bingo card. Her hands began to shake and begun to have difficulty marking off the numbers on the card. Paulina felt stupid for being unable to do something she had been accustomed to doing for more than twenty years, but she knew something was wrong that day. She began feeling nauseous and nervous. Her heart began to palpitate and her neck began to twitch. She felt as if everyone in the room was looking at her. Despite having gone to bingo for over twenty years, that bingo session would be the last she would ever have.
Another particular case was reported by Anthony J., a teacher and lecturer who began to have anxiety attacks in crowded places, particularly during large student gatherings in the weekends. He reported having difficulty breathing during these bouts of anxiety. His hands would shake, his head would throb, and his heart would feel like it was going to leap out of his chest. This forced him to leave crowded gatherings prematurely to find a place where he can catch his breath and recover. Unfortunately, the attacks began to strike during lectures and classes; forcing him to eventually resign from his position.
The fact about anxiety attacks is that they can happen anywhere. Studies have shown that being accustomed to a situation or a place does not assure you protection from an anxiety attack. Because of that, victims need to be extra diligent to the possibility of an attack.
Some people panic because of the situation they are put in. Some panic if they find themselves trapped in a room where they cannot see the exit. For them, safety means knowing where an “escape route” is, in case the panic starts. Others panic when trapped for a period of time such as having a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment. For these people, safety means avoiding these situations, or trying not to commit themselves to certain appointments. Some panic if they have to carry out stressful things alone. For them, safety means only doing things with a companion, partner, trusted friend or relative.
A majority of anxiety attack victims find themselves unable to attend crowded or council meetings. Committee and conference rooms with no easy avenue of escape can be quite overwhelming, particularly when victims have to leave the room in order to recover from acute panic attacks.
A good amount of anxiety attacks also occur when the victims are trapped in an area for a fixed amount of time. Victims of anxiety and panic attacks find themselves easily panic stricken during exam or testing periods where they are confined to a chair for a set amount of time (lasting from a few minutes to an hour). Victims often worry about losing control, and running or screaming out of sheer panic.
Though most victims of anxiety disorders find themselves panic stricken in crowded places, the complete opposite can also happen. Victims can find themselves overwhelmed by panic and anxiety by simply being alone. Times of solitude can trigger suffocating bouts of panic and anxiety. Sufferers of anxiety disorders have a difficult time when left alone. It is usual for them to require a partner or a companion when accomplishing even the most trivial of tasks.
Despite these scenarios of panic attacks, it’s hard to be able to pinpoint when exactly anxiety and panic attacks are bound to happen. The fact about anxiety disorders is that it can happy anytime, night or die, alone or in a crowd.
What sets a panic attack off for many sufferers is experiencing feeling in their body. This may include palpitations of the heart, uncontrollable sweating or dizziness. Often these feelings are set off by quite normal events, though sufferers do not realize this at the time. They may sweat because the room is hotter, or their hearts may beat faster because they are walking, or they may feel dizzy because they are hungry. Other sensations that may worry them are changes in conditions of their surrounding area. Moving from a dimly lit to a brightly lit place can trigger a panic attack. The same can be said for changes in atmospheric pressure, sudden presence of neon lighting, drastic changes in surface and floor textures, or even the overwhelming feeling of fullness after a hearty meal.
Sickness can also be a grave cause of panic and anxiety attacks. Having a flu or a fever requires the victim to be bed ridden and confined, which are usually triggers of panic on their own. The feeling of light-headedness, sweatiness and fever resemble the symptoms of a panic attack very closely. In some cases, victims of anxiety attacks aren’t able to recognize that it is simply a flu or a fever. For some, any change in bodily sensations can be enough to trigger a panic attack.
Some victims have reported seeking therapy after disregarding any sort of medical treatment for illnesses altogether. They reported to have a profound discomfort with drugs inducing a certain feeling on them; especially with the knowledge that the effects on their body are not natural. Although most victims have stopped smoking and drinking alcohol due to severe panic attacks, a good number of their reasons are not borne out of health, but out of fear.
For these people, safety means trying to avoid having the feelings they fear. This may mean always keeping cool and being in well-ventilated areas. This may also mean taking slow steps up and down stair cases to avoid triggering raised heart rates. It generally means having to be very careful not to set off certain feelings, and certain sensations in their body. Victims may also rely on medication to reduce these feelings, such as beta blockers or downers that reduce heart rates, but even they can end up being more harmful than helpful in the end.
However, if they are unsuccessful in their attempts to avoid these feelings and sensation, the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness can simply aggravate their condition.
Some panic sufferers experience panic before they have to do something difficult. The feeling of panic can become more intense leading up toe the actual task, and can become far too overwhelming for the victim to accomplish. Many victims find even a planned holiday excruciating, as the time for departure approaches. The anxiety of waiting can become an implicit trigger for attacks.
The anxiety of waiting is usually worse than the event itself. By the time the event is already upon them, they are already far too emotionally and physically exhausted to deal with the panic themselves. For these people, avoidance means never committing themselves to doing things. They don’t want to feel trapped by the anxiety of waiting and anticipation and would much rather do without the commitment of going through a planned trip, engagement or deadline. This can be painstakingly difficult for victims who need to plan around their family, friends and work.
Because of this victims would much rather do things at the last minute, or at the spur of the moment. But even then, dramatic changes in lifestyle or living conditions can trigger a panic or anxiety attack as well. If sufferers feel an anxiety attack coming on, even the most of expensive of vacations can find themselves canceled at the very last minute. This can not only prove inconvenient for all parties involved, but can become a grave source of embarrassment for the victim.
People suffering from panic attacks have reported unpleasant symptoms of fear during even the mere prospect of travel. Illness like symptoms would strike with even the slightest knowledge of needing to leave the house.
Aside from travel; scenarios of tension can also trigger panic attacks. Anxiety and panic attacks may also occur when the victim is watching anything from a tension-filled show on television, hearing a heated argument, or experiencing sexual intercourse. For these people “safety” is found in the presence of calmness or inaction.
Studies have shown panic attack victims to be susceptible while viewing suspense or horror shows on television. They immediately feel an attack coming on during more tense moments. However, victims point out that it isn’t only the fact that they are watching a suspense-filled television show. It also has everything to do with the fact that they are sitting deathly still, as if trapped by the very medium that is supposed to entertain them.
Other researchers have pointed out that victims can even be set off by simply hearing a very stressful story or anecdote, even if it doesn’t affect them directly. A particular victim who had gone by the name of Jessica M. had been at home resting, watching television with very low levels of anxiety. But when her daughter had come home to tell her that she had been bullied by a classmate, Jessica’s anxiety level immediately went through the roof. She quickly declared that she was having a panic attack triggered by her daughter’s story.
Tension and action can prove disconcerting and overwhelming no matter how pleasurably exciting the experience may be. Roller coaster rides is one example; while competitive sports is another. That is why it isn’t a surprise that victims of panic attacks prefer laid back more docile lifestyles. The fact of anxiety disorders is that victims are aggravated by high-stress or overly exciting situations; which they will take every means necessary to avoid, for better or for worse.
Striving for Normality…
Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that defined panic and anxiety attacks has been very useful in drawing attention to anxiety disorders, it has been unhelpful in another way. The manual invented the term “panic disorders” who regularly have panic attacks or who are forced to line in fear of panic. While it may be useful to understand this sort of condition in the context of the clinical and medical field (for the practical purposes of insurance claims), it unfortunately gives the impression that the person is suffering from some sort of medical illness or disease. However, anxiety disorders are far from that.
Panic attacks can be explained by normal psychological processes occurring in a very normal mind. These attacks can be explained with reference to the unhealthy way people have learned to cope with life’s stresses, their lack of knowledge and misunderstanding of what is going on in their bodies, and their fear of what might happen to them. Fear, anxiety and misunderstanding are common to all humanity and have nothing to do with illness. However, this does not make the anxiety disorders any less severe.
Many sufferers have looked for help from different sources. Some have gone to their own doctors to have them prescribe drugs to calm them down during severe attacks. Others are referred to specialists like cardiologists and neurologists in hopes to be diagnosed with a curable, physical disease. Others still seek advice from friends, colleagues, their church or companions in an effort to find validation and acceptance. But the question remains: is it possible to change? Is it possible to get better? Is it possible for the feelings of panic and anxiety to disappear? Is it possible to live a normal life?
The answer is a resounding – yes.
Whatever the chosen method of cure, it is possible to live a normal life despite suffering from an anxiety disorder. It may not be possible overnight, but it is possible. Like all cures to psychological conditions, the process is slow but ultimately rewarding.
The first step is being able to understand the facts behind panic and anxiety attacks. It is realizing that the road to recovery is a long, tiring and difficult one. The worst approach to panic and anxiety disorders is to surrender to it completely, to allow it to take control of your life, and to allow it to dictate the direction your life should take.
Anxiety disorders are a paralyzing psychological condition, something that can be sparked by an infinite number of things that may appear completely harmless to the uneducated eye. It is a condition that can be as debilitating as the worst physical diseases, and can be just as painful as the gravest of injuries.
However, with persistence and commitment, even the worst individual sufferers of anxiety disorders have a chance at normality. There is no magical drug and miracle cure to anxiety disorders, but hundreds of thousands of individuals have managed to regain control of their life by taking a pro-active role in fighting panic and anxiety. It’s a long journey to recovery, but the very first step to that very goal is knowing the facts behind to anxiety attacks and how to properly deal with them.