Stress is part of being human, but if feelings of worry become constant and invasive, it can seem like you’re trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts with no clear method of escape. Prolonged anxiety can also lead to panic attacks, or intense episodes of symptoms like shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, nausea, and more.
While these symptoms can feel life-threatening in the moment, anxiety is a mental health condition that can be managed and even resolved completely with support from evidence-based treatment.
In this resource, we’ll break down the root causes of anxiety and panic attacks and how to manage distressing anxiety symptoms. We’ll also explore the many treatment options available to find relief and break free from anxiety’s vicious cycle of negative thinking.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 or chat online using the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Anxiety is a natural mental and physical response to stress. While each person handles this stress in their own way, constantly feeling worried or stressed can become a significant burden. Excessive, prolonged worry and fear that significantly impairs one’s ability to navigate everyday situations is a sign of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can cause a range of symptoms, affecting both the mind and body. Persistent worry, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulties concentrating are common cognitive and emotional symptoms. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, and muscle tension.
The root causes of anxiety often stems from a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. However, these causes are multifaceted and unique to each person. Clinical researchers have linked anxiety disorders to family history and genetics, imbalances in brain chemistry, traumatic life events, and chronic stress. Understanding these underlying causes is pivotal in tailoring effective interventions that address the unique challenges each individual faces.
What is a Panic Attack?
A distressing manifestation of anxiety, panic attacks are intense episodes of fear accompanied by a surge of overwhelming physical sensations. During a panic attack, the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered, flooding the system with stress hormones. These attacks can be unpredictable, sometimes triggered by known stressors—like specific phobias—or they could happen during seemingly benign situations.
Panic attacks can cause both physical and mental symptoms, such as:
- Feeling weak, dizzy, or lightheaded
- Rapid heart rate
- Hyperventilation or trouble breathing
- Uncontrollable, racing thoughts
- Chest pain
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Sense of dread or impending doom
If you experience panic attacks, you could be experiencing panic disorder—a type of anxiety disorder characterized by these intense episodes of symptoms. While this physiological reaction can be alarming, understanding that it is a natural response to perceived threats is a crucial first step in managing anxiety and panic attacks.
Why Do Panic Attacks Happen?
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to perceived threats, causing a sense of alertness to get away from any potential hazards. Heightened anxiety and panic attacks often start with a perception of immediate danger, triggering the body’s natural “fight or flight” response.
The fight or flight response is an ancient survival mechanism. When you feel threatened, your body acts quickly to make a critical decision: either confront the threat head-on (fight) or make a hasty retreat (flight). Your nervous system automatically releases stress hormones like adrenaline to boost alertness, elevate heart rate, and redirect energy to essential functions. While the fight or flight response is a crucial survival tool, its misalignment with modern stressors can lead to recurrent and intense anxiety attacks.
For those living with anxiety disorder, everyday stressors, past traumas, or even generalized fears can trigger the fight or flight response, even when there is no objective immediate danger. The physical reactions caused by the major flush of adrenaline can make feelings of anxiety and panic feel like they’re escalating out of control.
Panic attacks can be difficult to predict—but coping mechanisms and professional treatment with a mental health clinician can help reduce their intensity and likelihood of occuring. Researchers are studying the many intricate connections between the brain, nervous system, and emotional responses to better understand treatment for descalating attacks and preventing future ones.
How Long Do Panic Attacks Last?
Most panic attacks are short-term, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to around 30 minutes. While the intensity of the experience can be overwhelming and feel like life-or-death situations, it’s important to recognize that these episodes are time-limited. Even in the middle of a severe attack, there is always a natural ebb and flow. Your body’s stress response will peak and then decrease, sometimes immediately or gradually.
Can Anxiety Cause a Heart Attack?
Due to the intensity of physical symptoms caused by panic attacks—and how quickly the attacks can be triggered—they are often mistaken for experiencing a heart attack. This often makes the attack feel even more distressing, forcing people to seek help from the emergency room and then worry about when the next attack might happen.
During both panic attacks and heart attacks, people may report similar physical symptoms—such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and a racing heart. While the immediate symptoms of a panic attack may seem like a heart attack, it’s important to distinguish between the intense physiological responses triggered by anxiety and a genuine cardiac event.
During a panic attack, tyou may experience an increase in heart rate, palpitations, and heightened arousal. While these symptoms can be scary, they are temporary and not indicative of an imminent heart attack. In many cases, the intensity of a panic attack peaks within minutes. It’s not uncommon for people to find relief and a return to a baseline state within minutes. This sudden escalation, followed by a clear decline in symptoms, highlights the transient nature of panic attacks.
On the other hand, heart attacks typically manifest as a more persistent and progressive phenomenon. The symptoms associated with a heart attack, such as chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, and nausea, tend to endure and may escalate over time. Unlike the rapid rise and fall seen in panic attacks, the symptoms of a heart attack often intensify and persist, signaling a serious and immediate concern that warrants urgent medical attention.
Understanding the connection between anxiety and heart health involves acknowledging the role of stress hormones in amplifying these symptoms. Anxiety-related sensations may mimic those of a heart attack, creating a disconcerting experience. However, it’s vital to seek medical attention to rule out any underlying cardiac issues and receive reassurance.
Coping Strategies for Anxiety Attacks
In the middle of a panic attack, it might feel like there’s no relief in sight, but there are effective strategies to navigate the storm of emotions and regain a sense of calm. To cope with anxiety, proven methods involve a combination of self-awareness, mindfulness, and practical techniques designed to interrupt the cycle of distress—along with guidance from a mental health professional.
Take a moment for intentional deep breathing—it’s a powerful way to tackle anxiety’s effects on your body. Concentrate on gentle, deliberate breaths to bring back balance and calmness. Deep, intentional breathing can counteract the physiological effects of anxiety.
Connecting with your immediate surroundings can help anchor yourself in the present moment, breaking from the seemingly continuous loop of panicked thoughts. Take a moment to connect with what’s around you by identifying or naming the things or sensations nearby.
Embrace mindfulness with practices like meditation or guided imagery—they’re wonderful tools. By steering your attention to the present moment, you can effectively disrupt the loop of anxious thoughts, finding a serene mental space.
Seeking Support from Loved Ones
Open up and share your experience with someone you trust—a friend, family member, or a mental health professional. Expressing your feelings out loud can be a powerful step toward finding emotional relief.
Talk to a Medical Professional
Know that anxiety attacks don’t last forever, and you’ve got the tools to make a difference. By adding these coping strategies to your toolkit, you’re giving yourself ways to navigate tough times. However, the best way to combat and mitigate anxiety for the long-term is to seek help from a medical professional, like a mental health clinician.
At Plus by APN, we know there are barriers to accessing mental health care and wellness. That’s why we offer a free consultation for clients to make it simpler to get started on your path towards understanding, resilience, and lasting well-being.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
There are many treatment options for anxiety. Some have been relied on by professionals for decades and some are innovative, advanced options that go beyond the norm. For most patients, lasting relief can be found with a personalized combination of traditional and cutting-edge treatments.
Traditional Treatment Options
Traditional treatments offer reliable, well-established methods to navigate anxiety and panic disorder. These approaches—medication and therapy—are foundational elements of managing anxiety and have been used and studied for decades.
Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help regulate brain chemistry, providing relief from symptoms. While effective, it’s essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable medication and dosage.
Talk therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is a highly successful method for anxiety treatment. CBT delves into identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, providing practical coping strategies, and fostering resilience.
Both medication and therapy are proven and effective methods in managing anxiety symptoms. Appropriately prescribed and monitored anti-anxiety medications offer relief for many, while talk therapy equips individuals with practical tools to confront and manage root causes of anxiety.
More Anxiety Treatment Options
For some individuals, traditional treatment options can be enhanced with the help of new, innovative treatments for anxiety—especially for those who have not found relief from medication and therapy in the past. People who are navigating anxiety can now consider a range of advanced treatments, providing a more tailored and comprehensive approach to anxiety management.
Ketamine, traditionally used as an anesthetic, has emerged as a promising treatment for anxiety. Administered by a medicala professional in a controlled setting, ketamine-assisted therapy involves low doses of the drug followed by a guided therapy session. Research suggests that ketamine may influence certain neurotransmitters in the brain, offering rapid relief from symptoms of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Deep TMS is a unique method that uses electromagnetic fields to stimulate specific areas of the brain associated with mood regulation. This non-invasive procedure is FDA-approved to treat depression, OCD, depression, and more. In clinical research, this method has shown to be effective in treating anxiety and panic disorders, offering a potential alternative for those unable to find relief through traditional methods.
Neurofeedback uses a technique that involves real-time monitoring of brain activity, allowing people to better understand and self-regulate their own thought patterns. By enhancing self-awareness and promoting healthier brain function, neurofeedback shows promise in anxiety treatment. Many patients report immediate relief from symptoms of anxiety after sessions.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
For years, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been a reliable treatment for physical wounds, infections, chronic disease, and more due to its unique healing environment. Patients enter a specialized hyperbaric chamber, where they breathe 100% pure oxygen, stimulating the immune system, reducing inflammation, and improving brain function.
Stellate Ganglion Blocks
Initially developed for pain management, stellate ganglion blocks involve injecting anesthetic near the stellate ganglion nerves in the neck, causing a reset in the sympathetic nervous system—the same system that influences your body’s fight or flight emergency response. Emerging research indicates this reset has potential in treating anxiety, particularly in people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Complementing Therapies Can Work Together
New, advanced treatments don’t replace traditional methods; instead, they offer complementary options that can enhance effectiveness by working in tandem for better health outcomes. Your healthcare team can help figure out which treatments make the most sense for you, tailoring your treatment specifically to your unique situation. The mix of old and new approaches shows that the world of anxiety care is always evolving, bringing more hope and possibilities for everyone on the journey to feeling better.
Find Lasting Relief with Plus by APN
Navigating the complexities of anxiety, panic disorder, depression, or PTSD can feel like a maze. Find the right tools and resources you need by connecting with a mental health professional. At Plus by APN, our commitment extends beyond addressing symptoms; we’re dedicated to fostering long-lasting relief and improved well-being in mind, body, and soul.
In your unique journey, we strive to meet you precisely where you are. Our approach is not just about treatment; it’s about providing a space for your recovery, growth, and thriving. Call 424.644.6486 or complete our confidential online contact form to get started for free today.
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