Anxiety & Panic Attacks

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What is anxiety?

Everybody experiences general feelings of nervousness or a sense of being worried about something. For some people though, worrying and feeling anxious is chronic and can seem to take over.

To understand anxiety we must understand fear. Fear is the normal response to a dangerous situation. When we are facing a threat to our physical safety a series of changes automatically occur as our body prepares for vigorous activity to enable us to either protect ourselves or to escape from the dangerous situation. This reaction, is called “fight or flight” response. Our heart maybe faster than usual, we may feel tense or begin to breathe quickly. We may start sweating, get a dry mouth, and we will also feel more alert and on guard.

Some of us have a very sensitive nervous system. This means that a full-blown reaction to fear may be set off by situations that are not really dangerous, such as being in a closed space, a spider or insect, darkness, a crowded street or supermarket, eating in a restaurant or concerns about dust and possible germs. At times, merely a thought about dying or getting an illness, or thoughts about problems with work or friends, may trigger off a full scale attack of fear. This heightened reaction to minor fears is what we call Anxiety.

What is a panic attack?

A severe attack of anxiety is called a “panic attack”. It may help to know a little bit more about the sensations that we may experience during a panic attack, so that we can see that they are directly caused by our anxiety and not the other way around. It is usual that these feelings will pass quickly depending on how frightened we feel, and as soon as we can get our body to react normally again. The features of a panic attack are:

Unusual body sensations – here is a list of some of the things you might feel

  • lightheaded
  • dizzy
  • confused
  • breathless
  • tightness or pains in the chest
  • fuzzy sight
  • feelings that things are not real
  • fast heartbeat and skipping beats
  • numb or tingling feelings
  • cold hands and feet
  • sweating
  • stiff muscles
  • headaches
  • twitching muscles

Frightening thoughts about the sensations such as

  • Feeling like we are going mad
  • Feeling like we are losing control
  • Feeling like we are having a heart attack

There are also a number of other anxiety related disorders which occur less frequently however may also cause a significant impact on our ability to live our lives, some of these are, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Specific Phobias, Agoraphobias and Social Anxiety.