Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist
Feelings of anxiety are normal and a natural human response to high risk or intense situations. However, some people experience higher levels of anxiety that is unmanageable and interferes with daily life. If this is the case, professional help may be required to manage symptoms.
You may have heard people who suffer from anxiety, talk about having anxiety attacks? So, what exactly is an anxiety attack and how does it differ from a panic attack?
Many people who suffer from anxiety experience physical symptoms like nausea and a racing heart, with thoughts that are distracting, interfering with the task at hand. However, what differentiates physical symptoms of anxiety, commonly referred to as ‘anxiety attack’ and a full-blown panic attack, is the duration and intensity of the symptoms. Panic attacks are intensely unpleasant with sufferers often submitting themselves to hospital in fear of a heart attack or other life-threatening emergencies. A person having a panic attack may report periods of intense fear in which 4 or more of the following anxiety symptoms develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes.
o Palpitations, pounding heart
o Trembling or shaking
o Shortness of breath or smothering
o Feeling of choking
o Chest pain or discomfort
o Nausea or abdominal distress
o Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
o Feelings of unreality or detachment
o Fear of losing control or going crazy
o Fear of dying
o Numbness or tingling sensations
o Chills or hot flushes
People who present with panic attacks may appear as composed, competent individuals with fulfilling lives however, beneath the surface they are enduring extreme discomfort and are often struggling to uphold daily life. Fear of a repeat occurrence is common with people avoiding trigger situations that may cause another panic attack. Unfortunately, avoidance behaviour exacerbates the problem and inhibits the person’s lifestyle choices and social freedom. Tackling the problem front on and accepting the need for professional help really is the best way forward. Psychologists work with the cognitive and behavioural features of the condition in an attempt to deal with the triggers of physiological reactions. By addressing the underlying cognitive features, the cycle of anxiety is frequently broken, and the person is able to learn skills to better manage high anxiety and enjoy a free and fulfilling life.