People who live with anxiety and panic know that panic and anxiety attacks are real. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that panic attacks and anxiety attacks are legitimate physical and emotional experiences. Recently, I was watching a show in which a character’s doctor informed him that he had had a panic attack. When this character told his sister, she exclaimed in disbelief, “Are those a thing? I thought panic attacks were something made up by celebrities for attention.” To help increase understanding, I offer an explanation for why panic attacks and anxiety attacks are real.
What Are Panic Attacks and Anxiety Attacks?
Both anxiety attacks and panic attacks are the sudden onset of intense anxiety. Panic attacks occur seemingly without cause, whereas anxiety attacks occur in the context of specific worries, stressors, or situations.
Anxiety- and panic attacks have physical and emotional effects. Heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket. People experience breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, nausea, blurred vision, and profuse sweating (Step 1: Physical Disorders with Panic-Like Symptoms).
Emotionally, people experiencing a panic- or anxiety attack are gripped by fear, including the fear that they are dying. Further, they describe an intense yet vague feeling of dread and disquieting sense of impending doom. They describe feelings of depersonalization (the sensation that one isn’t real) and/or derealization (the notion that one’s surroundings aren’t real).
The effects of anxiety attacks and panic attacks aren’t fabricated for attention, the result of great acting. These effects happen because of tangible, measurable physiological changes in the brain and body.
What Happens After Panic Attacks or Anxiety Attacks?
Panic- and anxiety attacks come on suddenly and abate fairly quickly, typically after about 10 minutes. The emotional effects linger, and it’s normal for someone to continue to experience a sense of fear, dread, stress, worry, and, in the case of panic disorder, a fear of more panic attacks to come.
After an intense episode of anxiety and panic, people tend to experience heightened anxiety after the attack is over. It can seem as though all anxious thoughts, emotions, and sensations are intensified, brighter and louder than usual. To the great frustration of many who suffer from anxiety- and panic attacks, their anxiety gets a boost, but they get zapped. The person is exhausted, but anxiety is alert and restless. This experience has been described as tired and wired.
How to Move Forward After Anxiety Attacks or Panic Attacks
Anxiety- and panic attacks are real, and so are you. You are a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, and doing human being. Anxiety- and panic attacks have a behavior because they are legitimate. You have the right and the ability to take action to move forward and beyond anxiety- and panic attacks.
- Acknowledge that they are indeed real. Ridding yourself of the stress and worry about whether these things are real will free you up to focus on overcoming them.
- In panic disorder, the panic attacks relate to the fear of having more of them. Address your fear of additional panic attacks to help yourself move past them. It’s very useful to do this with a therapist.
- With anxiety attacks, pay attention to what they’re telling you. Look for patterns. Knowing what is going on in your life and in your mind when you have these anxiety attacks is a good starting point for overcoming them.
- Be bold. It is common for people who experience panic- and anxiety attacks to begin to avoid situations that they think might induce these episodes. Avoidance, though, not only limits your life but actually increases the likelihood of further anxiety- and panic attacks.
Rest assured. Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are real. If you have ever been concerned that you are “going crazy” or have had others in your life tell you to stop over-reacting, know that what you’re experiencing is legitimate both medically and psychologically. Know, too, that anxiety attacks and panic attacks are real, but they don’t have to control your life. You are just as real and able to work to overcome them.