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A panic attack often comes unexpectedly and is experienced as an intense fear, along with symptoms such as palpitations, tremors, difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness. It is very unpleasant but is not dangerous and there is treatment. Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks.

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Symptoms of panic disorder

A panic attack comes unexpectedly and is experienced as an intense fear, along with symptoms such as palpitations, tremors, difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness. Here you can read more about this form of anxiety, and what can be helpful.

Panic disorder is a condition in which you suddenly and unexpectedly have panic attacks with intense fear or discomfort. Panic attacks can occur from many times a day to only a few attacks per year. During the attack, you are afraid of going crazy, of dying, or of losing control of yourself.

What happens during such an alarm reaction is not dangerous. It is a normal reaction, no matter how unpleasant we experience it. The body actually works properly when there is danger on the move. 

A panic attack is a "false" alarm, which is maintained and amplified by catastrophic thoughts, where the reactions in the body are interpreted as danger signals. The first fear reaction can thus often not be controlled. It can come automatically in a situation where you feel insecure. But if you overcome your anxiety for anxiety, you can quickly regain control. 

 

Anxiety for anxiety 

It is experienced as very uncomfortable, and for many, experiencing an anxiety attack is the beginning of starting to feel anxiety for anxiety. Then the road can be short into for example agoraphobia, which is about a fear of being alone outside the home.

When you feel anxiety for anxiety, you can also become very aware of feeling in relation to everything big and small that happens in the body, and just "feeling" in this way tends to intensify discomfort. 

In short, we can say that anxiety attacks are a self-reinforcing process: Being anxious about getting anxious makes you feel extra vulnerable to being scared. This vulnerability intensifies the discomfort in the body, and raises the anxiety level - consequently the symptoms of anxiety increase - and one reinforces this further by being very aware of the anxiety. 

That is why we also say that panic disorder is the natural atomic bomb of the psyche. 

 

Symptoms of anxiety attacks

For it to be called a panic attack, you must meet four of the following symptoms:  

 

  1. High heart rate and palpitations
  2. Sweat
  3. Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  4. Feeling of suffocation
  5. Chest pain and discomfort
  6. Dizziness and instability
  7. Nausea and upset stomach
  8. Tingling or numbness
  9. Freezing and hot flashes
  10. Tremors or shaking
  11. Feeling of unreality

 

The duration of anxiety attacks

The duration of an anxiety attack can vary from person to person, but it is in the nature of things that the anxiety attack has a limited duration - just as a nuclear explosion has a limited duration - but on the other hand, being extremely powerful.

The panix attacks occurs suddenly, reaches its maximum within ten minutes, and passes within minutes, according to Norwegian Health Informatics.

However, it may to be too comforting for those who struggle with panic disorder that the anxiety attacks have a relatively short duration. The problem is that the anxiety is also there - before the anxiety attacks - and that it is there after the anxiety attack is over. As mentioned, part of the problem is that one becomes incredibly afraid that the panic attack is coming - sooner or later. 

 

Reasons for anxiety attacks

There can be many reasons why you (or someone you know) is struggling with recurrent anxiety attacks. Here are some common reasons: 

 

  1. Too much stress over too long
  2. Anxiety about anxiety
  3. Underlying psychological problems that can peak in the form of anxiety attacks 
  4. Negative thought spirals characterized by catastrophic thinking around having anxiety

 

How are anxiety attacks related to stress?

Stress has a lot to say in relation to anxiety attacks. The reason is that stress increases the activation in the body, and sooner or later the "cup can be filled" if you experience too much stress for too long. Then the body will be able to react with a kind of meltdown process, which often may manifest itself through an anxiety attack.

If you also have anxiety about anxiety, being stressed could be an opportunity to develop an anxiety attack - even when the stress level may not have by extremely high in the first place.

Many people can misinterpret the body's signals and misinterpret the bodily discomfort by being stressed or tired, and thinking "there is something wrong with me", "I knew it, here comes the anxiety attack", or the like. With such thoughts, you are already well on your way into the panic cycle. 

Therefore, we can say that stress does not lead to anxiety attacks at all, but people with a tendency to think catastrophically about anxiety, can be triggered by the state of the body when one is stressed.

 

Anxiety attacks and dizziness

Another common question is how anxiety attacks and dizziness are related. The simple answer to this is that everyone can experience a certain amount of dizziness at times, for example if you are stressed, tired or exhausted. However, a person who does not have a tendency to panic may interpret dizziness as a harmless symptom and may take it as a signal that one must rest.

In contrast, a person with anxiety may interpret dizziness as a sign that something is seriously wrong, e.g. "I am about to get crazy", "Oh no, here comes the anxiety attack again," or "Something is completely wrong with me. "

Conversely, anxiety can also contribute to an increased feeling of dizziness. Anxiety activates the fight-flight system in the brain, and when this system "fires" one can feel a number of bodily symptoms. These are completely natural and harmless - but if you misinterpret the signals as something dangerous, it increases anxiety, and it can be part of the vicious circle that we often see precisely in anxiety attacks.

It is common to become dizzy during an anxiety attack, and this is interpreted by many as a sign that they are on the brink of fainting. However, it is very unusual for one to faint as a result of panic attacks. Fainting is usually associated with drop in blood pressure while blood pressure on the contrary increases under severe anxiety as part of the body's natural alarm response. The likelihood of fainting actually decreases. An exception here are those with blood phobia or injection phobia, which is a completely separate type of anxiety disorder. They react with a drop in blood pressure at the sight of blood, and may therefore faint. 

If you are bothered by dizziness, it is a good idea to contact your GP, as there can be a number of reasons why you are very dizzy. It is important to uncover or have physical reasons for the problem denied. 

 

Anxiety attacks and nausea

In the same way, anxiety attacks and nausea are linked. Being anxious can make you feel unwell, have a stomach ache, or become nauseous. Everyone who has taken the exam knows that nervousness can be great in such situations, and that it often leads to upset stomach and nausea. 

Here again, it is important to emphasize that everyone can feel bodily discomfort, including nausea and abdominal pain. However, how one interprets these signals is of great importance. Perhaps such symptoms may indicate that you need to stress down a bit - but if you encounter the symptoms with disaster thinking, it has the opposite effect. You become more stressed and anxious, your physical discomfort increases, and you in turn become even more stressed and anxious. 

As with dizziness, it is also advisable to consult with your GP if you suffer from nausea. Many reasons other than anxiety itself can contribute to such symptoms.

 

Treatment and help with anxiety attacks

As can be seen from the points above, much of the solution in the face of anxiety attacks / panic attacks lies in dealing with anxiety, discomfort and stress in a different way. One needs to understand more of what is happening in the body and psyche during a panic attack, as well as find new ways to relate to oneself. 

Several types of psychotherapy can be helpful in anxiety attacks, and one of the most common forms is cognitive behavioral therapy. Simply put, through cognitive behavioral therapy, you will learn to understand and manage your anxiety symptoms in new ways, which means that you will no longer be so afraid of having these attacks. And once you are no longer afraid of anxiety, there is no longer any basis for panic attacks to build up. 

Another form of therapy that can be offered is psychodynamic therapy. This therapy tends to focus more on the underlying conditions, and what you are "unconciously" struggling with. By gaining more control over relationships, and new ways of understanding oneself and others, anxiety can easily disappear. 

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Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
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