Repeated attacks of fear that can last for several minutes, and recur over periods of time, anxiety aka panic attacks are a form of anxiety that can begin in the late teen years or early adulthood. The intensity of panic attacks can bring on difficult breathing, clammy skin, chest pain, a racing pulse and a sense of sheer terror. The physiological responses trick the suffering person into mistakenly believing that they’re experiencing a heart attack. The truth, though, is that the symptoms indicate the level of fear aggravating the person’s physiological response to a mindset that “something is wrong.”
Anxiety Attacks aka Panic Attacks can be based on justified or unfounded fears, but the crux of the problem is the person’s tempestuous response to fear. It prevents them from being able to consider things objectively as they struggle to “hang on for dear life” or fall apart (“decompensate” in psychological terms) over the alleged problem bothering them.
A legitimate health issue, anxiety attacks are recognized throughout the medical world. Medical diagnoses of “Panic Disorder” are assigned an International Classification of Diseases Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification-designated code, Panic Disorder F41.0. The ICD-10, like its predecessors, was created by the World Health Organization in Geneva. The system of medical coding is used throughout the US medical industry for billing and statistical purposes. Mental health professionals, however, use The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to designate billing codes to mental health issues. Those codes are also used for statistical purposes. Panic Disorder would be entered into a person’s medical record as DSM-5 300.01. Both sets of codes would normally appear in a diagnosed person’s medical records, indicating the legitimate necessity to help panicked/anxious persons.
Anxiety attacks were the topic of a recent New York Times article which mentioned that “According to Michel Dugas, a psychologist at the University of Quebec, feelings of anxiety are closely connected to an inability to handle uncertainty. What might make human beings less anxious, it seems, is having a firmer sense of what in the world is happening and what’s likely to happen next.” The article also cited the reality that “It’s possible to be anxious about things that will almost certainly never affect you; it’s possible for anxiety to prevent you from accurately assessing danger and making plans to address it. (This is how we remain more panicked by terrorism than medical bankruptcy.)…”
Treatments for anxiety include the advice to stop ingesting caffeinated items such as coffee and chocolate, avoiding illicit drugs, and to invest in aerobic activities such as walking, biking and gym workouts. Mental health therapy is also recommended. Therapists might prescribe improved diets, medication such as anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants and/or stress-management techniques. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of those techniques. CBT can help anxiety attack sufferers to recognize the “triggers” that set off cascades of negative thinking patterns which can be reversed with willpower. CBT helps a person to distinguish between certainties and uncertainties, and how to deal with both. That can be quite calming. All of the above requires self-discipline that develops over time.
As all of the above is being addressed by the panic-prone person and/or their therapist, family members, friends and colleagues can promote safety and calmness by learning and using specific response mechanisms that help an anxious person to calm down without feeling insulted, abused or misunderstood. Read that sentence again. Someone experiencing Panic/Anxiety Attacks needs to be supported by people who do not negate or insult their suffering, who do not abuse the sufferer with threats or compromising situations and who instead embrace the panicked person with sympathy, patience plus helpful insights. Those insights can be gained in discussions with a therapist and by reading books on the topic. The New Yorker magazine recently reviewed several. Librarians and booksellers can recommend materials, too.