Anxiety attacks or panic attacks (as they’re more commonly known) are prevalent among patients with an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), these refer to a “fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger.”1
Sadly, no one can predict when these will happen since they can strike at any time.3 The attacks tend to begin suddenly and peak quickly within 10 minutes or less.4 Afterwards, the patient might experience fatigue that can last for the rest of the day, depending on the severity of the attack.5
However, it’s said that a weak panic attack can actually last longer. There’s a concept called the “limited symptom panic attack,” wherein attacks with less than four symptoms can last from a few minutes to several hours.6
Learning about panic attacks is vital not only so you or someone you know can notice them as soon as possible, but to also determine the best course of action that should be taken to help a person heal quickly from this temporary yet devastating event.
What Causes an Anxiety Attack in the First Place?
• Major life events or transitions such as graduation, first job, marriage or pregnancy
• Severe stress due to job loss, death of a loved one or divorce
• Tendency to go into “fight or flight mode,” wherein breathing quickens once your body tries to take in more oxygen. You also release hormones like adrenaline that result in a faster heartbeat and tensed muscles8
• Illnesses and other physical causes like mitral valve prolapse (a minor cardiac problem wherein a valve of the heart doesn’t close correctly), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine or caffeine) and medication withdrawal
If you think you have an anxiety disorder, make sure a doctor clears you from any of these conditions first.
Signs You Are Already Experiencing an Anxiety Attack
Apart from disrupting the emotions of a patient, anxiety attacks also manifest via a combination of these physical symptoms:9
✓ Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
✓ Heart palpitations
✓ Chest pain or discomfort
✓ Trembling or shaking
✓ Choking feeling
✓ Feeling unreal or detached from surroundings
✓ Nausea or upset stomach
✓ Feeling light-headed, faint or dizzy
✓ Numbness or tingling sensations
✓ Hot or cold flashes
✓ Fear of dying, losing control or going crazy
How to Relieve an Anxiety Attack
✓ Stay where you are: Given the various physical symptoms that can occur during an anxiety attack, staying put won’t just help with quicker recovery, but in preventing worsened symptoms too.
If you’re driving, pull over on the side of the road first to avoid endangering yourself and other drivers or passengers.
✓ Focus: Pick out an item from the place you’re in, such as the moving hands of a clock, and focus on them intently to steer your concentration away from the attack.
Aside from this, constantly remind yourself that these frightening thoughts and sensations will be over.
✓ Release muscle tension: This aids with decreasing overall tension and stress levels that can exacerbate panic attacks.
While taking a deep breath, tighten your muscles, hold for a few seconds and breathe out to release the tension. Move this exercise up your body, one muscle group at a time.
✓ Practice slow and deep breathing: Breathing quickly can aggravate feelings of panic and anxiety.
Take slow and deep breaths — these are key in alleviating anxiety attacks. Don’t forget to count from 1 to 3 during each breath, too.
✓ Visualize creatively: It’s most likely that negative thoughts will take over your mind during an anxiety attack. Try to focus on positive thoughts or images instead.
Visualize a place or situation that evokes feelings of relaxation, calmness and peace, and pay attention to this intently.
You may find this difficult to do at first, especially if you have been used to thinking negatively for a long period of time.
However, with enough practice, you can do this, resulting in positive changes in perceptions about themselves and others.
✓ Avoid resistance to the attack: Fighting off a panic attack can worsen the situation by increasing your levels of anxiety and panic.
Instead, try to reassure yourself that your life is not at risk, no matter how embarrassing or difficult the situation may be. Moreover, focus on the fact that the attack will be over before you know it.
While recovery from a panic attack is definitely on the horizon if you follow some of these techniques, this does not mean that you shouldn’t consult a psychiatrist or mental health professional. Frequent panic attacks can be a sign of an anxiety disorder called panic disorder that, if left untreated, could severely impact your quality of life.