1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. Anxiety Attack

Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are sudden and intense episodes of fear, panic, and physical symptoms that resemble a heart attack. They can leave individuals feeling terrified, overwhelmed, and powerless. While anxiety attacks themselves are not inherently dangerous, they can significantly disrupt daily functioning and cause intense distress.

picture of a person more like painting screaming out loud like suffering from anxiety
Anxiety Attack

A Comprehensive Examination of Anxiety Attacks: Definition, Symptoms, and Causes

Anxiety disorders as a whole are considered the most common mental illness in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 19% of American adults experience an anxiety disorder each year. Due to stigma and lack of resources, many cases go undiagnosed and untreated.

Definition of anxiety attacks and their impact on individuals

someone-having-an-anxiety-attack.jpg

An anxiety or panic attack refers to a sudden surge of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, and sweating. They usually peak within 10 minutes and rarely last longer than 30 minutes, but their impact can linger for hours or even days after.

Sufferers describe anxiety attacks as intensely frightening and disorienting experiences. The physical symptoms can mimic serious medical emergencies like heart attacks, leading many to fear they are dying or "going crazy" during an episode.

Brief overview of the prevalence of anxiety disorders in society

large-crowd-of-people.jpg

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions worldwide. In the United States alone, over 40 million adults deal with some form of anxiety each year. Specific phobias and social anxiety are the most prevalent, though panic disorder is also relatively common.

Unfortunately, less than half of those suffering receive treatment. Barriers like stigma, lack of access to care, and difficulty recognizing symptoms prevent many anxiety disorders from being diagnosed and addressed.

The societal impacts are far-reaching, from increased risk of suicide to nearly $42 billion in economic costs each year in the U.S. alone from lost productivity and medical expenses.

Types of Anxiety Attacks

There are three main types of anxiety attacks: panic attacks, phobia-related attacks, and situationally-bound attacks. Each type has common characteristics and triggers.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks involve sudden, intense feelings of fear and anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms like a racing heart, chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. They typically peak within 10 minutes and can feel like a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur unexpectedly or in response to certain triggers like stressful events.

person-afraid-of-height.jpg

These attacks are triggered by exposure to a specific phobia or fear, such as heights, insects, or crowded spaces. The physical and emotional symptoms are similar to a panic attack but directly result from confrontation with the phobic stimulus. The attacks usually subside once the trigger is removed.

Situationally-Bound Attacks

person-giving-a-presentation.jpg

These are anxiety attacks connected to certain situations that are distressing but not considered phobias, like public speaking, tests, or relationship conflicts. The attacks are confined to the feared situation and usually lessen once the event ends. However, anticipatory anxiety can build prior to these situations.

While the triggers differ, all three attack types induce an intense "fight-or-flight" reaction accompanied by distressing mental and physical symptoms. Identifying the type of attack is important for finding the right treatment approach.

Triggers and Risk Factors

Anxiety attacks do not occur randomly or without cause. Research has identified several potential triggers and risk factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders over time. These include trauma, genetics, brain chemistry imbalances, and high levels of stress.

The Role of Trauma

Traumatic experiences, especially in childhood, can rewire the brain and nervous system to be hyper vigilant for threats. This puts someone at higher risk for anxiety attacks later in life when encountering situations that remind them consciously or unconsciously of the original trauma. Sexual abuse, violence, loss of a loved one, and emotional abuse are some examples of traumatic events linked to anxiety disorders.

Genetic Predisposition

Genes likely play a role as well. Research suggests that a family history of anxiety disorders or depression can make someone more biologically vulnerable to developing anxiety themselves. Certain gene variants affect neurotransmitters and stress hormone systems in a way that can lead to excessive worry and heightened emotional reactions.

Brain Chemistry Imbalances

brain-scan.jpg

Imbalances in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA can also contribute to anxiety disorders. These brain chemicals regulate mood, fear response, relaxation, and other processes relevant to anxiety. Deficiencies or irregularities in their function are frequently seen in those with panic attacks and other anxiety conditions.

The Effects of Stress

Finally, chronic stress often serves as kindling for anxiety episodes. Prolonged activation of the body's stress response systems, especially high cortisol, can damage parts of the brain involved in emotional regulation over time. This stress-induced neurological impact combined with inadequate stress relief outlets escalates risk for anxiety attacks.

In most cases, anxiety disorders result from a combination of biological vulnerability and environmental triggers rather than one single cause. But understanding common predisposing factors can help medical professionals better screen for and prevent anxiety conditions.

Physical and Emotional Symptoms

Anxiety attacks can produce a wide range of distressing physical symptoms. Many people experience heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling, and feelings of numbness or tingling during an attack. These symptoms are caused by the fight-or-flight response being activated, flooding the body with stress hormones like adrenaline. As adrenaline levels spike, it leads to bodily reactions like increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and tightening of muscles.

In addition to physical symptoms, anxiety attacks also involve intense emotional distress. Many describe feeling an overwhelming sense of fear and apprehension. There is often a fear of losing control or "going crazy" during an attack. Some also report feeling detached from reality or themselves. A perception of imminent danger is common even when there is no real threat present. These emotional symptoms feed the physical reactions, making the attack feel even more frightening.

The physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety attacks are so severe that those experiencing them feel utterly overwhelmed. The terror and loss of control associated with these episodes can be traumatic. Understanding the wide range of symptoms can help identify when someone is having an anxiety attack so that proper support can be provided.

Common Physical Symptoms

  • Racing heartbeat, palpitations
  • Chest tightness or chest pain
  • Hyperventilation, shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheartedness
  • Nausea, stomach discomfort
  • Trembling, shaking
  • Hot flashes, chills
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

Common Emotional Symptoms

  • Feeling of intense fear, apprehension, panic
  • Feeling that you are losing control or going crazy
  • Feeling of impending doom or danger
  • Feeling detached from yourself or reality
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing

Diagnosis and Misdiagnoses

Accurately diagnosing anxiety disorders can be challenging. There are no definitive medical tests that can diagnose anxiety on their own. Doctors must rely on a clinical assessment of symptoms. However, medical tests are still important to rule out physical conditions that may mimic anxiety attacks, like heart problems, thyroid disorders or in some cases, medication side effects.

Importance of Medical Tests

Some tests doctors frequently use to assess for anxiety include:

  • Blood tests to check hormone, blood cell and vitamin levels
  • Urine tests for drugs, pregnancy or infections
  • Imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs to visualize internal organs
  • Electrocardiograms (ECGs) to measure heart rhythms

While these tests don't confirm an anxiety diagnosis, they help identify medical conditions that could explain symptoms. This is crucial because many disorders share common signs with anxiety attacks, like rapid heartbeat, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Common Misdiagnoses

Anxiety is frequently misdiagnosed. According to some estimates, it takes the average person with an anxiety disorder over 9 years to get a correct diagnosis. Some common misdiagnoses include:

  1. Panic attacks being mistaken for heart problems
  2. Generalized anxiety disorder being mislabeled as depression
  3. Social anxiety disorder being confused with avoidant personality disorder
  4. Phobias being attributed to specific triggers only

Misdiagnoses delay proper treatment. They also lead to unnecessary tests, medication side effects and worsening mental health over time. People may suffer from undertreated or untreated anxiety for years before the right diagnosis.

There are many reasons why anxiety disorders are challenging to accurately diagnose. Lack of awareness among doctors and patients, similarities with other conditions, and insufficient screening during evaluations all play a role.

Conventional Treatment Options

When it comes to treating anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders, there are several conventional treatment options that are typically recommended by healthcare professionals. These include different types of therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.

Therapy

One of the most common treatment approaches for anxiety is therapy. This can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The goal of therapy is to help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns, face fears gradually, practice mindfulness, and develop healthy coping strategies. Research shows that CBT in particular can be very effective at reducing anxiety symptoms. However, therapy requires regular sessions over weeks or months to retrain the brain, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

Medications

There are several types of medications that may be prescribed to help manage anxiety attacks and related symptoms. These include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin)
  • Antidepressants like SSRIs (Zoloft, Lexapro) and SNRIs (Effexor, Cymbalta)
  • Beta blockers to control physical anxiety symptoms

While medications can provide rapid relief, they also come with side effects and withdrawal risks. Furthermore, they don't treat the underlying causes of anxiety disorders. Many individuals end up taking anti-anxiety meds long-term without making progress in overcoming their anxiety through therapeutic techniques.

Lifestyle Changes

Adjusting daily lifestyle habits can also help minimize anxiety triggers. Getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, practicing relaxation techniques, and getting enough sleep are all important lifestyle factors that can reduce anxiety symptoms for some people. However, lifestyle changes alone are usually not enough for someone already suffering from severe or frequent anxiety attacks. They may provide small benefits but should be combined with therapy and/or medications.

The main limitations of conventional anxiety treatments are that they don't work well for everyone, require prolonged effort, and fail to address underlying causes. Many people try these standard options without achieving full relief from their anxiety disorders. This leads them to seek out complementary approaches as well.

Complementary Approaches

In addition to conventional treatments, there are several complementary approaches that can help manage anxiety attacks. These include CBD, nutrition, herbal remedies, exercise, and meditation.

CBD

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound derived from the cannabis plant. Research shows CBD can help alleviate anxiety symptoms by interacting with receptors in the brain and immune system. Specifically, CBD binds to CB1 receptors that regulate fear and anxiety responses. Multiple studies found CBD reduced anxiety levels in both animal models and humans. For example, a 2019 randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found CBD significantly reduced anxiety and cognitive impairment in patients with social anxiety disorder.

Nutrition

Eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can help stabilize blood sugar levels and support brain health. Deficiencies in nutrients like magnesium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins may exacerbate anxiety. Anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish, berries, leafy greens and turmeric can also improve mood. Eliminating or reducing caffeine, alcohol and processed foods may additionally minimize anxiety triggers.

Herbal Remedies

Certain herbal remedies demonstrate anti-anxiety properties, likely due to their influence on GABA receptors involved in regulating nervous system excitability. Herbs like passionflower, Valerian root, chamomile and lemon balm have traditionally been used to promote calmness and ease tension. For example, a 2019 systematic review found passionflower can significantly reduce anxiety without impairing job performance. However, more research is still needed on optimal herbal formulations, dosages and long-term efficacy.

Exercise

yoga-practitioner.jpg

Engaging in regular aerobic exercise like walking, jogging or cycling leads to neurotransmitter changes that can relieve anxiety. Exercise also alleviates muscle tension, improves sleep and self-esteem – factors that can minimize anxiety susceptibility. Yoga and tai chi integrate physical activity with breathing control and mindfulness, providing multidimensional anxiety relief. For example, a 2015 randomized trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine determined yoga significantly reduced anxiety and stress hormone levels compared to a control group.

Meditation

woman-meditating.jpg

Meditation involves focusing one's awareness on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Research demonstrates meditation can reduce anxiety by lowering activity in the amygdala – the brain’s emotional center. It also strengthens prefrontal cortex functioning critical for mood regulation. Mindfulness meditation in particular shows efficacy for anxiety disorders. For instance, an analysis in JAMA Internal Medicine found mindfulness meditation improved anxiety and depression comparable to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.

Overall, complementary approaches like CBD, herbs, nutrition, physical activity and meditation can serve as beneficial adjuncts to conventional treatment when addressing anxiety attacks. However, more research is still needed to confirm optimal protocols.

Understanding the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system is a complex cell-signaling system that plays a critical role in regulating our physiology, mood, and everyday experience. It consists of endocannabinoids, receptors found throughout the body, and enzymes that produce and break down endocannabinoids.

Role in Emotion and Stress Regulation

The endocannabinoid system is deeply involved in regulating emotions, mood, anxiety, and response to stress. Its receptors are found in brain regions associated with these functions, like the amygdala and hippocampus. When the endocannabinoid system is disrupted, it can fail to properly regulate emotional responses.

For example, studies show chronic stress can deplete endocannabinoid levels. This may make someone more vulnerable to excessive anxiety, panic attacks, and other stress-related conditions. Boosting a deficient endocannabinoid system can potentially help re calibrate the body's stress response.

Contribution to Anxiety Disorders

Growing evidence suggests endocannabinoid deficiency plays a role in anxiety disorders. People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often have lower circulating endocannabinoid levels. There are also altered CB1 receptor expressions in certain anxiety disorders.

Additionally, polymorphisms in the CB1 receptor gene have been associated with susceptibility to panic disorder. When the endocannabinoid system falls out of balance, anxiety pathways in the brain can become overactive. Targeting the endocannabinoid system may help return neurotransmitter balance and calm excessive anxiety.

In summary, a properly functioning endocannabinoid system regulates emotional equilibrium and stress adaptation. Disrupting this delicate system can contribute to anxiety, panic, and hyperarousal symptoms. Therefore, supporting healthy endocannabinoid tone may play a role in managing anxiety disorders.

CBD, Anxiety and the Endocannabinoid System

There is growing scientific evidence that CBD may help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Multiple studies have shown CBD to reduce anxiety in both animal models and humans. For example, a 2019 randomized controlled trial found that a single dose of CBD led to significantly reduced anxiety levels in 57 participants with anxiety disorders. The effects were observed within 80 minutes of administration.

CBD is believed to modulate anxiety via interactions with the endocannabinoid system - a complex cell-signaling network involved in regulating physiological and cognitive processes. Specifically, CBD enhances signaling of the endocannabinoid anandamide by inhibiting its breakdown. Anandamide has been shown to reduce anxiety behaviors in rodent studies.

Scientific evidence supporting CBD's potential to alleviate anxiety symptoms

In addition to the aforementioned study, several other human trials indicate CBD's anti-anxiety effects:

  • A 2011 study on social anxiety disorder found that CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort during a public speaking simulation.
  • A 2010 double-blind study reported decreased anxiety in patients with social phobia who received CBD compared to placebo.
  • A 2019 literature review concluded that preclinical and clinical studies generally support CBD's efficacy in reducing anxiety symptoms.

Mechanisms through which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system to modulate anxiety

The primary mechanisms by which CBD is thought to impact anxiety within the endocannabinoid system include:

  1. Enhancing anandamide signaling - As mentioned, CBD inhibits the enzyme that breaks down anandamide, allowing it to have greater anti-anxiety effects.
  2. Altering serotonin receptor signaling - Research indicates CBD may activate 5-HT1A serotonin receptors which control anxiety and stress responses.
  3. Reducing inflammation - CBD has been shown to decrease inflammatory markers which are often elevated in anxiety disorders.

Further research is still needed to fully understand the complex relationship between CBD, the endocannabinoid system and anxiety. But preliminary evidence indicates strong therapeutic potential.

Coping with Anxiety Attacks

When anxiety attacks strike, it can feel debilitating. However, having an action plan in place can help minimize their impact and promote a sense of control. The first step is identifying your personal triggers so you can anticipate episodes and utilize coping strategies.

Create an Anxiety Toolkit

Assemble a portable "anxiety toolkit" with items that ground you or provide comfort. This may include:

  • Stress ball
  • Essential oils
  • Uplifting music playlist
  • Photos of loved ones
  • Fidget toys
  • Herbal tea bags

Keep your toolkit nearby and utilize it during moments of panic.

Practice Grounding Techniques

Grounding strategies can shift focus to the present moment. Helpful techniques include:

  1. 5-4-3-2-1: Name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, 1 good thing about yourself.
  2. Deep breathing: Inhale slowly through nose, exhale slowly through mouth.
  3. Progressive muscle relaxation: Tense and relax muscle groups one by one.

Start by practicing these daily, even when calm. With time, they can be applied automatically during anxiety attacks.

Seek Support

support-group.jpg

Confide in trusted friends and family about what you experience during anxiety episodes. Their support can bolster coping capacity. Consider joining a support group, either locally or online via forums.

Don't struggle alone. Professional help from a therapist can also teach long-term anxiety management skills. Be compassionate with yourself throughout the process.

Conclusion and Call-to-Action

In this comprehensive examination of anxiety attacks, we have covered their definition, symptoms, causes, triggers, diagnosis, and treatment options. Key takeaways include:

  • Anxiety attacks involve sudden episodes of intense fear, panic, and physical symptoms that can be terrifying. They may be related to panic disorder or specific phobias.
  • Triggers can include trauma, genetics, brain chemistry imbalances, and high stress. Identifying personal triggers is important.
  • Symptoms affect both the body and emotions. Palpitations, trembling, hot flashes, nausea, fear of losing control, and feelings of doom are common.
  • Accurate diagnosis from a mental health professional is essential. Anxiety attacks are often misdiagnosed initially.
  • Treatment options include therapy, medications, lifestyle changes, and complementary approaches like CBD, meditation, exercise, and nutrition.

If you or someone you love struggles with anxiety attacks, seek help. Speak to a doctor or mental health professional. With compassionate support and proper treatment, relief is possible.

Don't lose hope. You deserve to feel safe, calm, and empowered. There are many resources available, so reach out. You do not have to manage anxiety alone.

The future looks bright when we prioritize emotional well-being. Understanding anxiety leads to freedom from its grip. By facing fears with courage and self-care, we can live fully.

Summarizing key takeaways from the comprehensive examination of anxiety attacks

As outlined above, the key takeaways cover the definition of anxiety attacks, their common symptoms and triggers, the importance of accurate diagnosis, and the variety of treatment options available, both conventional and complementary.

Encouraging readers to seek professional help if they or someone they know is struggling with anxiety disorders

The concluding call-to-action emphasizes that readers should seek professional help from a doctor or mental health provider if they or a loved one experiences anxiety attacks. Proper diagnosis and treatment can provide much-needed relief. With compassionate support, managing anxiety is possible, so there is hope for freedom from its effects. By prioritizing emotional wellness, we can live more fully.