Man coping with stress and anxiety

Anxiety: Dealing with Symptoms That Can Lead to a Panic Attack

By Nina Bradshaw is a professionally qualified social worker and therapist in the UK. She earned a Master's Degree in Personality Disorder Studies, a Master's Degree in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and a Master's Degree in Sociology/Social Policy/Social Work.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

Man coping with stress and anxiety

Anyone can suffer from anxiety. In fact, I would go so far as to say that everyone suffers from anxiety at some point. It's a natural response to a perceived threat. It is also a normal response to pressure, be it the pressure of an exam or a presentation at work. Any stressful situation can evoke anxiety, and this can affect our performance.

Fight or Flight Response

In the past, hunter-gatherers would often come across situations that were literally life-or-death. If a sharp-toothed predator or another tribe presented danger, we had to fight or run away.

There are several methods for managing stress and preventing anxiety.

In modern times, anxiety becomes a problem when it causes more distress that it prevents and keeps us from living our lives. If we feel the need to run away from an exam hall or a conference room due to performance anxiety, then our anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder.

Key Features of Anxiety Disorder

One key feature of an anxiety disorder is that it keeps a sufferer awake at night, tossing and turning, unable to sleep as his or her worries swirl in their mind.

There are also physical features of anxiety: our bodies tense up and may suffer from maladies such as headaches, gastrointestinal disorders and raised blood pressure.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are an extreme form of anxiety. They are sudden, unexpected and overwhelming. Many people believe that something catastrophic is occurring, such as a heart attack. It is normal when first experiencing a panic attack to be convinced that you are about to die. The physical and psychological symptoms of panic attacks are similar to other anxiety disorders, only much more intense.

Frequent panic attacks that interfere with one’s life indicates panic disorder. The frightening nature of panic disorder can lead to some people avoiding any situation in which they may suffer a panic attack. They may stop going out altogether and become agoraphobic.

People who suffer from anxiety in any form may at some point suffer a panic attack if faced with an overwhelming situation. It may occur once, and the panic attack may never reoccur. However, some people may go on to develop panic disorder, which can further complicate their existing condition.

Managing Stress

Anxiety can be seen as a continuum, with unobtrusive anxiety at one end and panic attacks at the other. Treatment is available and can be very effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most common treatment. Medication may also be helpful if the anxiety is severe. An antidepressant, or an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication for short-term use, can be prescribed by your physician.

Basic lifestyle factors can also make a huge difference, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing stress and talking to others who have been through and can relate to similar experiences. One should also take time to relax, commune with nature, meditate or just do nothing but decompress. These are things that we often forget to do, but they can make a difference in how we manage our day-to-day stress and reduce the likelihood of developing a disorder.

Anxiety is increasingly common in today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world. What were once life-saving reactions to stressors can now form life-altering disorders.

If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety or panic disorder, you can look at a directory of anxiety-and-panic-disorder treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to discuss more options.

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