Anxiety attacks can strike at any moment. The fact that they are not well understood by most people can make the desperation even worse for those who suffer from them.
Anxiety disorders are covered in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). These disorders can be experienced on both sudden and recurring bases.
Stressful situations, emotional trauma, or even being under pressure can trigger an anxiety attack.
Experiencing one feels like you’re going to die, that your heart is going to explode. It’s extremely traumatic, even more so if those around you don’t know what’s going on. They may react in the worst way possible by saying things like “nothing’s wrong”, “you’re letting yourself get all worked up over nothing”, “calm down, there’s nothing to be upset about”.
Today on our site we want to cover this common problem and provide you with some basic strategies to deal with anxiety attacks if they occur.
Anxiety attacks: when your heart feels like it’s going to explode
First off, we need to make one thing clear: anxiety serves a purpose in human beings.
- Anxiety warns us of danger to help us escape or deal with it.
- A little anxiety, properly managed, can be used to motivate us to be more effective in our daily lives.
- The problem occurs when the anxiety levels rise to uncontrollable levels.
- The brain interprets the heightened anxiety as a very real and immediate threat that must be escaped, unleashing a series of changes in bodily processes: accelerated heart rate, high blood pressure, increased adrenaline levels in the blood…
While our brain and bodies are telling us to “escape”, our mind is chattering away with negative and catastrophic thinking that makes the situation even worse.
Also read: Cure Headaches and Stress with Acupressure
Symptoms of an anxiety attack
Anxiety disorders cover a wide range of factors and personal situations.
Some people are afraid to fly, others may suffer from agoraphobia, arachnophobia or aquaphobia, all of which are common causes of anxiety attacks. Others may experience these horrible episodes as the result of emotional trauma.
While there are many things that can trigger an anxiety attack, the symptoms are all common and easily identifiable.
- Apprehension or intense and uncontrollable fear.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Feeling tense and really nervous.
- Fatalistic thinking: always expecting the worst.
- Focusing on the negative, panicking.
- Tunnel vision: everything is dark and will just go wrong anyway.
- Accelerated heart rate.
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Stomach pain and nausea.
- Frequent urination or diarrhea.
- Heavy breathing and feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack.
- Trembling and tics.
- Muscle tension.
- Extreme fatigue and weakness.
Anxiety attacks are linked to depression
If the anxiety attacks are somewhat frequent, it’s possible the person may be suffering from hidden depression.
- Anxiety and depression often derive themselves from the same vulnerability: helplessness. This happens when we lose control of what is happening to us in extremely distressing situations.
- Something we should make clear: anxiety and depression are two distinct disorders. But, as we mentioned earlier, one can sometimes be a symptom of the other. To be sure, you should consult your primary care physician for referral to a specialist.
Coping with anxiety attacks
To cope with an anxiety attack, the first thing we need to do is deal with the emotional symptoms and try to look at the threat, fear or stressful situation from a logical point of view.
- Try to break down everything that’s upsetting you and rationalize each source of anxiety until it disappears.
Helping a person who is suffering from an anxiety attack
Be understanding of their situation. They are not going crazy: they need your help and, above all, your calm and understanding.
- Ask them what they’re feeling and get them somewhere where they can get a little air.
- Loosen belts and tight clothing.
- If they are hyperventilating, offer them a bag to breathe in or get them to breathe as if they were trying to blow out a candle (with their lips pursed).
- Keep repeating “you’re not having a heart attack”, “I’m here to help and everything will be ok”. (Speak calmly and gently)
- Have them place one hand on their stomach and another on their heart. They need to get their breathing under control
If the symptoms don’t go away and their pulse is really high, call a doctor, especially if the person has cardiopathy, diabetes or suffers from obesity.