Site Map
Eating DisordersMood DisordersAnxiety DisordersTrauma & AssaultRelationshipsSubstance AbuseOther Issues
Abby Penson, Phd Anxiety Attacks Image


To schedule an appointment or for more information, please contact
Dr. Penson at 323-580-3383 or by email
Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety Disorders >> Anxiety Attacks And Disorders

We all know what it's like to feel anxious. Most of us experience anxiety when we're faced with stressful situations or traumatic events. Our heart pounds before a big presentation or a tough exam. We get butterflies in our stomach during a blind date. We worry and fret over family problems or feel jittery at the prospect of asking the boss for a raise. Anxiety is part of our natural "fight-or-flight" response. It's our body's way of warning us of possible danger ahead.

However, if anxiety is overwhelming you with fear and worry, preventing you from living your life the way you'd like to, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for anxiety attacks and disorders. Therapy, relaxation techniques, and a balanced, healthy lifestyle can help you reduce your anxiety and take back control of your life.

Anxiety disorders can take many forms. You may experience free-floating anxiety without knowing exactly why you’re feeling that way. You may suffer from sudden, intense panic attacks that strike without warning. Your anxiety may come in the form of extreme social inhibition or in unwanted obsessions and compulsions. Or you may have a phobia of an object or situation that doesn’t seem to bother other people.

Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders share one thing in common: persistent—and often overwhelming—fear or worry. The frequency and intensity of these fears can be immobilizing, distressing, and disruptive. Characteristics of an anxiety disorder include:
  • Anxiety which is constant, unrelenting, and all-consuming
  • Anxiety which causes self-imposed isolation or emotional withdrawal
  • Anxiety which interferes with normal activities like going outside or interacting with other people
The toll an anxiety disorder takes on your life can lead to other problems as well, such as low self-esteem, depression, and alcoholism. Anxiety can also negatively impact your work and your personal relationships. But the good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. With the help of a qualified mental health professional, you can get relief from your worries and lead the life that you want.

Anxiety attacks, also called panic attacks, are unexpected episodes of intense terror or fear. Anxiety attacks usually come without warning, and although the fear is generally irrational, the perceived danger is very real. A person experiencing an anxiety attack will often feel as if they are about to die or pass out.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations or pounding heart
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or stomach distress
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Hot or cold flashes

  • Apprehension, uneasiness, and dread
  • Impaired concentration or selective attention
  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Avoidance
  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Behavioral problems (especially in children and adolescents)
  • Nervousness and jumpiness
  • Self-consciousness and insecurity
  • Fear that you are dying or going crazy
  • Strong desire to escape

  • Heart palpitations or racing heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Cold and clammy hands
  • Stomach upset or queasiness
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors, twitches, and jitters
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

Because of the many physical symptoms involved in anxiety disorders, anxiety sufferers often mistakenly believe they have a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is diagnosed. In fact, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, people with anxiety disorders are 3-5 times more likely to go to the doctor than non-sufferers. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of the unexpected, physiological forms anxiety can take.

There are a number of complex factors that contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. Your environment, personality, family dynamics, brain chemistry, and genetics all can play a role. In addition, major life stressors such as financial difficulties, marital problems, or bereavement often trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder. It is important to realize that no single factor causes an anxiety disorder. The various anxiety risk factors are interrelated and can interact with and impact one another.
Environmental factors A person’s environment can play a huge role in the development of anxiety disorders. Difficulties such as poverty, early separation from the mother, family conflict, critical and strict parents, parents who are fearful and anxious themselves, and the lack of a strong support system can all lead to chronic anxiety
Personality traits Personality differences can affect whether or not an anxiety disorder develops. People with anxiety disorders often view themselves as powerless and the world as a threatening place. This pessimistic perspective can lead to low self-confidence and poor coping skills.
Brain chemistry Some studies suggest that an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA, and epinephrine may contribute to anxiety disorders. Abnormalities in the stress hormone cortisol have also been found. Many medications prescribed for anxiety disorders aim to readjust the brain’s chemical balance.
Heredity Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. People with anxiety disorders often have a family history of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or substance abuse. Although this is often due to the home environment, researchers also believe that there are genetic factors which represent an inherited risk for anxiety disorders. One risk factor may be a biological vulnerability to stress.
Trauma An anxiety disorder may develop in response to a traumatic event, such as a car accident or a marital separation. Anxiety may also have its roots in early life abuse or developmental trauma. Trauma in infancy and early childhood can be particularly damaging, leaving a pervasive and lasting sense of helplessness that can develop into anxiety or depression in later life. For more information, see Helpguide’s Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Causes, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatments @ www.helpguide.com

There are several major types of anxiety disorders, each with its own distinct profile and set of symptoms.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from GAD. People with GAD feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Anxiety related to GAD often manifests itself in physical symptoms like headaches, stomach upset, and fatigue.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – OCD is characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. You may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your hands over and over.

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks strike without warning and usually last a terrifying 15 to 30 minutes. Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls or confined spaces such as an airplane.

Phobias – A phobia is an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals such as snakes and spiders, fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing you fear.

Separation Anxiety – Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development. It consists of crying and distress when a child is separated from a parent or away from home. If separation anxiety persists beyond a certain age or interferes with daily activities, it may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder.

Social Anxiety / Social Phobia – If you have a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia.

Melinda Smith created this article with contributions from Gina Kemp, M.A., Heather Larson, Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last modified on 12/13/07.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/. C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.

You can find the original article at

SOURCE: www.helpguide.org

Helpguide.org: Mental Health, Healthy Lifestyles, and Aging Issues

Licensed Clinical Psychologist - PSY21602  |  Disclaimer
copywrite 2006 abbypenson.com
All Rights Reserved