When Anxiety Attacks
Everybody feels anxious from time to time. In fact, it can be useful in certain situations. It can motivate us to study for a test, prepare for an important meeting or practice for an upcoming speech. It can even save our lives when adrenaline creates the fight-or-flight response in emergency situations. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming or constant and begins to interfere with life instead of helping, an anxiety disorder may be to blame.
One facet of anxiety disorders is the anxiety attack. Also known as panic attacks, these are episodes of intense anxiety characterized by:
- feelings of losing control or going crazy
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach
- hot flashes or chills.
An anxiety attack can be triggered by a stressful situation or fear of an upsetting event or it can come on with no trigger or warning whatsoever. They usually last less than thirty minutes, peaking at around 10 minutes. During a panic attack, many people fear that they are dying, especially because the symptoms of an anxiety attack so closely resemble a heart attack. Once experiencing one anxiety disorder, anxiety over having another one can keep a person from doing things or going places they used to enjoy.
Treatment for anxiety attacks is two-fold. First, acute attacks must be treated as soon as possible to the onset of the attack. When the first signs of a panic attack are felt, taking a fast-acting benzodiazepine tranquilizer can significantly lessen the severity and duration of the attack. Side effects of benzodiazepines include sleepiness, nausea and loss of coordination. Typically, the higher the dose, the worse these negative effects are. Rarely, anti-anxiety medication can have the opposite effect. Instead of sedating the user, they can cause mania, rage and aggressiveness. These side effects can be dangerous and should be closely watched for.
Secondly, it is important to prevent future attacks from occurring. This is best accomplished using a combination of medication and therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is meant to help change negative or irrational thoughts into positive and proactive ones. Sometimes, exposure therapy is more appropriate. This type of therapy repeatedly exposes the patient to the situation causing the anxiety until they realize that their fear is irrational and that they can control it.
If therapy alone isn’t enough to keep anxiety attacks at bay, long-term medication may be required. Benzodiazepines and antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medications for treating anxiety. These drugs can be effective, but they also come with side effects, some of which may be severe. They can also be addictive. Therefore, it is important to do research and weigh the risks against the benefits before deciding whether or not medication is the best treatment option. It is also important to remember that while medication can help manage the symptoms of anxiety and anxiety attacks, it cannot treat the underlying cause of the disorder like therapy can.
So when anxiety attacks make life miserable, therapy and medications can help bring stress and fear back to manageable levels and keep panic attacks from taking control. With the proper treatment, most people who suffer from anxiety attacks can go on to live full and happy lives.