An anxiety or panic attack is an acute manifestation of intense anxiety and fear associated with emotional and physical discomfort, which the individual is unable to control. The individual is often afraid of passing out or dying.
In a panic attack, anxiety symptoms are virtually mixed with physical symptoms that can be strong enough to evoke a heart attack or epileptic seizure. More often than not the diagnosis of a panic and anxiety attack is made in the Emergency Room after a complete medical workup rules out the existence of a medical cause.
This anxiety attack is particularly prevalent in less intense forms such as sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath.
Usually, it occurs in situations where the individual has the impression that escape might be difficult such as an elevator, train, plane, car on a highway, or business meeting.
The anxiety or panic attack lasts several minutes to several hours, at the peak of which the individual may experience dissociative phenomena such as de-personalization or de-realization. After a panic attack, the individual may be worried about the occurrence of a new panic episode: it is the anticipatory anxiety that leads them to avoid places where the crisis had occurred: hence the appearance of agoraphobia.
The causes of an anxiety or panic attack crisis are many: biological, psychoanalytic, learned, genetic.
Very often an anxiety or panic attack will occur out of the blue: its occurrence often signals a limit to the coping strategies that the individual has used thus far. The need to have one's emotions in check in certain professional contexts, the pressure to cope can only increase the likelihood of an anxiety or panic attack.
Often the anxiety attack or panic attack is associated with other psychological problems such as depression, phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia or public transportation phobia), generalized anxiety disorder, addiction problems, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating).
The onset of anxiety or panic attack necessitates evaluation and follow-up with a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, to work not only on the causes and triggers of anxiety attack but also on treatment modalities.
It is difficult to be on your own in a state where one panic attack succeeds to another. It is therefore recommended to contact a provider who is familiar with the condition, such as a psychiatrist with experience in psychotherapy treatment of anxiety disorders. This will usually entail a treatment strategy involving for example cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but also a trial of medication if your symptoms are severe (anxiolytics, antidepressants given for their anti-panic potential).
The psychotherapy follow-up treatments will help you manage your vulnerability regarding an anxiety or panic attack, challenge your coping strategy, and help you face triggers.
The treatment of anxiety attacks often involves the need to develop helpful coping strategies such as the practice of yoga, meditation, and the time to engage in leisure activities.
The onset of an anxiety or panic attack is often a "life-saving" signal that refocuses us on what is important in our lives!