Panic Attacks – How Can You Help?



Answering a question I was asked about panic attacks. Enjoy!

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Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something bad is going to happen.[1][2] The maximum degree of symptoms occurs within minutes.[2] Typically they last for about 30 minutes but the duration can vary from seconds to hours.[3] There may be a fear of losing control or chest pain.[2] Panic attacks themselves are not typically dangerous physically.[6][7]

Panic attacks can occur due to a number of disorders including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, drug use disorder, depression, and medical problems.[2][4] They can either be triggered or occur unexpectedly.[2] Smoking, caffeine, and psychological stress increase the risk of having a panic attack.[2] Before diagnosis, conditions that produce similar symptoms should be ruled out, such as hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, heart disease, lung disease, and drug use.[2]

Treatment of panic attacks should be directed at the underlying cause.[6] In those with frequent attacks, counselling or medications may be used.[5] Breathing training and muscle relaxation techniques may also help.[8] Those affected are at a higher risk of suicide.[2]

In Europe about 3% of the population has a panic attack in a given year while in the United States they affect about 11%.[2] They are more common in females than males.[2] They often begin during puberty or early adulthood.[2] Children and older people are less commonly affected.[2]

Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behaviour such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints, and rumination.[1] It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death.[2][need quotation to verify]

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing.[3] It is often accompanied by muscular tension,[4] restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration. Anxiety can be appropriate, but when experienced regularly the individual may suffer from an anxiety disorder.[4] Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat; anxiety involves the expectation of future threat.[4][4] People facing anxiety may withdraw from situations which have provoked anxiety in the past.[5]

Anxiety can be either a short-term “state” or a long-term “trait”. Whereas trait anxiety represents worrying about future events, anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear.[6] Anxiety disorders are partly genetic, with twin studies suggesting 30-40% genetic influence on individual differences in anxiety.[7] Environmental factors are also important. Twin studies show that individual-specific environments have a large influence on anxiety, whereas shared environmental influences (environments that affect twins in the same way) operate during childhood but decline through adolescence.[8] Specific measured ‘environments’ that have been associated with anxiety include child abuse, family history of mental health disorders, and poverty.[9] Anxiety is also associated with drug use, including alcohol, caffeine, and benzodiazepines (which are often prescribed to treat anxiety).

There are various types of anxiety. Existential anxiety can occur when a person faces angst, an existential crisis, or nihilistic feelings. People can also face mathematical anxiety, somatic anxiety, stage fright, or test anxiety. Social anxiety and stranger anxiety are caused when people are apprehensive around strangers or other people in general.

Anxiety disorders often occur with other mental health disorders, particularly major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, or certain personality disorders. It also commonly occurs with personality traits such as neuroticism.

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