Anxiety is our bodies' typical response to stress which usually involves feelings of fear, uneasiness, restlessness, rapid heart rate, and increased sweating, amongst other symptoms. Having anxiety is common, and over 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder . Anxiety can be mild, and you may feel anxious while still completing your daily activities successfully. On the other hand, anxiety attacks involve more severe symptoms and may get increasingly challenging to focus on your tasks. Anxiety attacks happen when a person fears something terrible happening or is overly stressed about an upcoming event that is about to occur, which can be as simple as delivering a public speech or as severe as the loved one having a dangerous surgery. Anxiety attack is a non-medical term that describes an excessive feeling of fear and an episode of overwhelming anxiety relating to a particular issue.
Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack
Although people use these two terms interchangeably, an anxiety attack is different from a panic attack. Panic attacks usually happen unexpectedly with no apparent trigger, and their symptoms tend to be more severe than those from an anxiety attack.
Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks include:
- Restlessness, feeling nervous, and excessive worries about a particular issue.
- An increased and rapid heart rate
- Trouble concentrating
- The feeling of losing control
- Trouble breathing
- Hot Flashes or Chills
- Trouble falling asleep
- Muscle pain
Symptoms of Panic Attacks are:
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Detachment from reality
- Sudden fear
- Chest pain
- The feeling of losing control
- Digestive issues
- Fear of dying
Although the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks can overlap, the primary difference between these is that anxiety attacks usually happen for a specific reason, anticipating a stressful event. In contrast, panic disorders sometimes tend to occur with no apparent reason unrelated to the situation. It's more challenging to predict panic disorders; they seem to come from nowhere and can happen at any time, even when you least expect it.
Another most significant difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks is their duration: Panic attacks appear suddenly, and their symptoms gradually go away after a few minutes, while anxiety attack symptoms become progressively worse over minutes, hours, or even days.
How Do People Feel During an Anxiety Attack?
Although it's normal to feel stressed or anxious in response to stressful situations or experiences, anxiety attacks go beyond an upset stomach or short-term fear before your public speech. It's almost like our bodies’ fight-or-flight response goes out of control, and your brain feels like an overwhelmed RAM of a laptop that doesn't respond to software programs and keeps crashing.
During an anxiety attack, you will find it challenging to think about anything else, rather than a stressful event that is about to happen or you fear of occurring. It can get severe enough to kill your appetite, leave you socially isolated, and weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to viruses and infections. Anxiety attacks may make you feel helpless and affect the quality of your life.
Although not all signs and symptoms mentioned above can occur when you experience an anxiety attack, you know it's happening when your stress response is much more severe than usual. It interrupts your daily life, and you can no longer complete other tasks but primarily think of the stress you are experiencing.
The primary feeling that comes with an anxiety attack is fear. Although it's the same with panic attacks, you may suddenly fear dying with no reason when a panic attack occurs. On the other hand, with an anxiety attack, you may fear moving to a new country, changing a workplace, your close relative possibly dying from a terrible diagnosis, your upcoming flight when you are claustrophobic, etc.
Why Do Anxiety Attacks Happen?
Anxiety attacks usually occur due to stress buildup in anticipation of stressful situations and events that can cause excessive worries and fears; however, sometimes they are due to more severe issues, such as anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), characterized by constant worry and chronic stress
- Phobic Disorder - an irrational fear of a specific trigger that usually isn't dangerous, like spiders, or closed spaces
- Panic disorder (PD): the constant intense fear of panic attacks after having one or two episodes.
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCS have unwanted repeated thoughts and ideas (obsessions) that lead them to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
How to Prevent Anxiety Attacks?
The primary reason for anxiety attacks is stress, and sometimes it's constant daily stress that leads your body to the peak of fear and worry. Although anxiety sometimes can be helpful and keep us alert in dangerous situations or push us to complete different tasks, reoccurring anxiety attacks and constant worry can interfere with our daily lives. If you've already experienced anxiety attacks, you may fear them happening again in the future. Because you can't stop stressful situations from happening, you may start looking for ways to prevent anxiety attacks, and here are some that might help.
When you constantly feel stressed and overwhelm your body by staying in fight-or-flight mode for too long, you may be more prone to anxiety attacks. One of the best ways to prevent them is by reducing daily stress . Usually, people get the idea of reducing stress in the wrong way. They see stress as the outside factors that make us stressed, but stress is our response to external factors, and while we cannot usually affect stressors, we can change the way we react to them by keeping ourselves calm and balanced.
Some of the few ways to cope with daily stress and reduce anxiety include:
- Getting the proper amount of sleep
- Daily exercise
- Natural remedies
- Breathing exercises
- Well-balanced diet
- Talking therapies
- Support Groups
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