Anxiety attacks can be extremely frightening—some people believe they are literally dying. The first time it occurs, you may not understand what is going on, but unfortunately, the fear of the same thing happening again can often be a self fulfilling prophecy and worrying about it brings on a further attack.
Most people suffer from extreme nerves occasionally. You might be anxious about a forthcoming job interview or perhaps you have to give a presentation at work and the thought of standing up in front of twenty of your colleagues is making you feel anxious and stressed. However, an anxiety attack is very different to a temporary attack of nerves and although feeling nervous or anxious can be unpleasant, it is nowhere near as terrifying as a full blown panic attack.
In simple terms, an anxiety attack is our fight or flight mechanism in overdrive. When it happens, you experience a massive flood of adrenaline and the nervous system is stretched to breaking point. In a survival situation, such a physical reaction could save your life by giving you the strength to escape a predator, but in an everyday situation, the symptoms of a panic attack can be very hard to deal with.
What happens during an anxiety attack?
Once an anxiety attack has been triggered, neurotransmitters flood the brain and kick-start the fight or flight response. Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, which induces intense feelings of panic, along with the associated symptoms of elevated heart rate, sweating and shortness of breath. If you are able to control your feelings of intense anxiety, the symptoms will fade fairly quickly, but if you allow the anxiety to take hold, more and more adrenaline will be released and the panic attack will be prolonged.
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
The symptoms of a panic attack can be described as both physical and psychological. Physical symptoms will vary, but can include a racing or pounding heart and chest pains, which can feel like you are having a heart attack. Sweating, a huge spike in blood pressure, headache, nausea and vomiting, are common, as well as light headedness or fainting spells and the feeling that you can’t breathe because your chest is so tight.
Psychologically speaking, you will probably feel absolutely terrified. The feeling of anxiety may be so intense that it feels like the walls are closing in on you and unless you can escape from this awful situation, you will probably die. Unfortunately, reasoning and common sense do not help a jot, so even though you know deep down your feelings are completely irrational, the anxiety and fear takes over your mind completely.
Once you have suffered from one panic attack, the chances of it happening again are high, mainly because the fear and anxiety causes the symptoms to resurface. In the long term, you may also begin to suffer from other anxiety related symptoms, including insomnia and sleep disorders, skin rashes, digestive problems such as heartburn and IBS, plus any number of other vague symptoms.