Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks
Everyone feels a little anxious, or worried about something at some time in the lives.
That is only “normal.” But when that worry or feeling of anxiety involves outright fear, then that is a different
story. When that happens to someone they are said to have Anxiety Disorder. But it doesn’t always end there. For
when that anxiety reaches its highest point it becomes a Panic Attack, a feeling so intense you feel like you are
dying. There is a big difference between anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and that is what we
will be exploring here...
Anxiety disorder and panic attacks are interrelated, and both born of the same emotion:
There are many types of anxiety disorder, but generally it is a condition that causes a
person to feel nervous, worried, or apprehensive every day. But whereas normally most people who experience the odd
nervous moment at a job interview, or butterflies in the stomach before an audition only have that jittery feeling
for a few minutes, people with anxiety disorder feel like that all the time – only much, much worse – and during
many every day social situations. They are simply racked with intense fear. That can then become a panic attack
when the overwhelming anxiety and fear appears in a sudden surge leaving the person with a pounding heart,
struggling for breath, feeling dizzy and sick to the stomach. It’s so bad, you feel like you are going crazy...or
even dying. “It’s just like having a heart attack,” is the most common description of the feeling given by those
who suffer them.
The term “anxiety disorder” covers several different forms of irrational fear, and fear based
on the anticipation that something bad is going to happen to threaten or harm a person’s emotional state of being.
The range of emotions present in anxiety disorder stretches from simple shyness to outright bouts of terror. The
types of anxiety disorder include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, General
Phobia, Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder,
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Separation Disorder, and Childhood Anxiety Disorder. Last but not least, there is
Panic Attacks (Panic Disorder, and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia).
But what causes anxiety disorder and panic attacks? No one knows for sure, as it could be any
number of psychological and biological factors, or a combination of elements of both. One theory is that low levels
of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) play an important part in causing anxiety. GABA is a neurotransmitter in the
brain that reduces activity in the central nervous system. Researchers also believe that lack of serotonin is also
key, as studies have indicated that serotonin has a positive effect on the GABA neurons, thereby alleviating the
feeling of anxiety in patients suffering anxiety disorder.
Further research has been carried out concerning the brain and how it may trigger anxiety,
particularly an area called the “amygdala” which is core in the processing of fear and anxiety. It is the amygdala
that forms and stores memories associated with emotional events. Whatever it is that stimulates the sense of fear
during an incident, or situation, is logged by the amygdala forming a link between the stimuli and the feeling of
fear. It is therefore the belief of some researchers that people who experience anxiety disorder and panic attacks
do so because there is some sort of imbalance with the neurons in the brain that causes the sensation of anxiety.
Stress is another factor, and it is also thought that anxiety problems tend to be a trait in certain families with
a history of anxiety through the generations. Poor diet, lack of friends, family and a sedentary active life might
also be a reason for some people experiencing anxiety disorder.
Other studies have found that severe anxiety and depression can be the cause of sustained use
of alcohol, even at moderate levels. Caffeine too, has been found to heighten anxiety, and even cause panic
attacks. There is also a theory that over-exposure to organic solvents in the work place (such as paint, varnish,
and glue) has an effect of anxiety. Research is also being conducted into the role of genetics.
As for those people who say they feel like they are having a heart attack during a panic
attack, some studies suggest that there may well be a biological link between the two. A report published by the
European Heart Journal looked at more than 400,000 patients in Britain, and found a distinct correlation
between heart disease and panic attacks. Interestingly though, it was also shown that those having panic attacks
were less likely to actually die from heart disease. The researchers think this maybe as a result of panic attack
sufferers going to their doctors more often, and having more heart tests which subsequently reveal any heart
abnormalities more quickly than those who perhaps don’t get a check-up.
It is important to remember that anxiety disorder and panic attacks, while being a very
distressing, and alarming condition for those who suffer from it, are treatable, and are not life-threatening
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