Fight or Flight Mode: Our Body’s Response to Anxiety
Many people use the phrases ‘anxiety attack’ and ‘panic attack’ interchangeably, but those specific phrases can mean different things to different people. It’s important for the suffer to understand the difference between anxiety and panic disorders as this will help determine the necessary treatment. Here we break down the specifics of an anxiety and panic disorders and offer some helpful coping strategies and treatment recommendations.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger. The body’s automatic fight-or-flight response is triggered when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a challenging situation. Job interviews, exams and social settings are all commonplace for anxiety. When anxiety is persistent and begins to interfere with daily life, you’ve likely crossed the line from normal anxiety into the territory of an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder and anxiety attacks vary, ranging from mild to severe intensity. Symptoms often become gradually more intense over time.
Suffering from an anxiety attack can feel like a heart attack. You may feel a sense of increased heart palpitations and difficulty shortness of breath. Many people shut down communication with even those closest to them, as overwhelming thoughts are just too consuming and make it difficult to focus on anything other than the anxiety. Fear is often induced and a great example of this is when reliving a traumatic episode.
While having an anxiety disorder can be disabling, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues and are highly treatable. It’s also important to identify whether you are suffering from is an anxiety attack or a panic attack.
Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders:
Some ways to manage anxiety disorders include:
- Mindfulness techniques such as journaling
- Self-care activities such as taking a bath
- Relaxation techniques such techniques meditation and yoga
- Correct breathing techniques
- Dietary adjustments
- Exercise in any form, from walking through more intense forms
- Building self-esteem through self-love exercises
- Sessions with a psychologist who can provide coping techniques and Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Medication to alleviate the intensity of your anxiety can be prescribed by your GP or psychiatrist.
What is a Panic Disorder?
Approximately 5 per cent of people in Australia will experience panic disorder in their lifetime, with 2.6 per cent experiencing panic disorder over a 12-month period. It’s believed that more women than men will suffer a panic episode, which usually begins in their early to mid-20s or in mid-life.
During a panic attack, you’re suddenly overwhelmed by a monumental surge of physical sensations. Some sufferers liken a panic attack to the feeling of a heart attack. Panic attacks reach a peak within about 10 minutes and usually last for up to half an hour. The aftermath can leave you feeling tired and exhausted. Panic attacks may occur several times per day or may only happen once every few years,
Symptoms of a Panic Attack:
- Trembling or shaking
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling like you are choking
- Feeling nauseous or having butterflies or pain in the stomach
- Dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- Numb or tingly
- Derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings)
- Hot or cold flushes
- Scared of losing control or going crazy
- Scared of dying
What Causes a Panic Disorder?
There is no single cause for panic disorder. A number of factors are usually involved, including:
- Family history – People with panic disorder tend to have a family history of anxiety disorders or depressive conditions, and some studies suggest a genetic component.
- Biological factors – Some medical conditions (cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthyroidism, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and irritable bowel syndrome) are associated with panic disorder.
- Negative experiences – Extremely stressful life experiences, such as childhood sexual abuse, redundancy or bereavement, have been linked to panic attacks. Periods of ongoing, unrelenting stress are also a risk factor.
When to Seek Help
Seeking professional support for anxiety and panic disorders is the first step towards recovery. There is never a time too soon to seek medical help if you are having thoughts and feelings that are consuming your daily progress. Psychological assessment will generally be the first line of treatment by speaking with a trained counsellor or GP. In many cases, medication is effective and encouraged to help with relief in acute episodes of panic and anxiety.
If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of an anxiety disorder or panic disorder, know that you are not alone and that help is available. Lifeline provides Australian’s experiencing emotional distress to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services on their toll free number. And as always, our team at Sunnybank Obstetrics and Gynaecology are always here to help our patients suffering internally. We are just a phone call away.