This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi (MBBS, MPH, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham in August 2021.
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are characterised by unexpected, sudden episodes of severe and debilitating anxiety, which can also be accompanied by a whole host of unpleasant and distressing physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can be so acute, that many first-time sufferers believe that they are experiencing a nervous breakdown, a heart attack, and some even worry that they are going to die. Over time, the fear of suffering from an anxiety attack can become embedded, and anxiety attacks may occur more frequently, which results in what can feel like a ‘vicious circle’.
At Priory, we are dedicated to delivering personalised, world class anxiety attack treatment, therapy and support, empowering you to overcome your unique anxiety attack symptoms, address the underlying causes for your anxiety attacks, and take steps towards a positive, anxiety-free future.
What are anxiety attacks?
Anxiety attacks can be defined as sudden and unexpected episodes of acute anxiety which can happen for no obvious reason and with no clear triggers. Anxiety attacks can happen in situations where you least expect it and can result in a wide range of distressing physical and psychological symptoms.
Anxiety attacks are one of the distinguishing symptoms of panic disorder, which is a specific anxiety disorder. Anxiety attacks may also be linked to a condition known as agoraphobia, which is a debilitating form of anxiety that causes individuals to have an overwhelming and irrational fear that they will suffer an anxiety attack in a location where there appears to be no escape.
Anxiety attacks can affect people differently; some individuals may be able to overcome an anxiety attack on their own and without other people observing, whereas others may require more intensive help to manage their anxiety attacks. It is not uncommon for individuals to believe that they are having a heart attack, a nervous breakdown or are ‘going crazy’, the first time that they experience an anxiety attack, because of the intensity of their symptoms. This can often prompt them to call an ambulance or seek emergency medical assistance.
What causes anxiety attacks?
Like most mental health conditions, research suggests that it is likely that there are a number of factors that may increase an individual’s vulnerability to suffering from anxiety attacks.
These factors include:
- Genetic/hereditary/biological factors
- Short-term emotional triggers, such as bereavement
- Lack of assertiveness
- Maintaining causes (dysfunctional beliefs, avoiding certain situations)
- Substance withdrawal
- Certain medications
- Chronic and/or serious illness
- Certain substances an also trigger anxiety attack symptoms, including caffeine and cannabis
At Priory, we recognise that suffering an anxiety attack can be an upsetting and frightening experience, and ongoing anxiety attacks can result in social isolation and constant worry. However, it is important to understand that with timely, individually tailored mental health treatment, help & support anxiety attacks can be managed and prevented, allowing you to address your concerns and take steps towards achieving a full and sustainable recovery.
If you think that you or someone that you know is struggling with anxiety attacks, the good news is that expert, established treatment is available, and you don’t have to suffer alone. Our highly trained team of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals are committed to delivering personalised treatment for your anxiety attacks at our specialist hospitals and wellbeing centres, empowering you to reduce your anxiety attack symptoms, and take steps towards resuming the healthy and fulfilling life that you deserve.
Physical symptoms of anxiety attacks:
Anxiety attack symptoms can include:
- Chest pains and shortness of breath - a tightness of the chest and feeling as though it’s a struggle to breathe
- A pounding or racing heart
- Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- Feeling as though you are choking
- Abdominal discomfort
- Muscle spasms and palpitations
- Trembling or shaking
- Excessive sweating
- Numbness and tingling, for example, tingling lips and numbness in your fingers and toes
- Fluctuating body temperature – feeling very hot or very cold
- Appetite changes – either increased or reduced appetite which may also result in weight fluctuations
Psychological symptoms of anxiety attacks:
- A feeling of being disconnected from your surroundings
- Feeling as though you have lost control
- Believing that you are having a heart attack, or that you’re going to die
- Worrying that you are ‘going crazy’
- Intense anxiety
- Hopelessness, confusion and frustration
- Constantly worrying about when your next anxiety attack will happen, which can prevent you from enjoying your day-to-day life
- Drugs and alcohol abuse as a way of self-medicating to help you to cope with your anxiety attacks. Substance abuse may lead to a harmful addiction which can hinder your recovery and lead to further problems
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling tearful – finding that you are crying more than usual and for no apparent reason
- Difficulty concentrating
Behavioural/social symptoms of anxiety attacks:
- Social withdrawal and isolation – not wanting to meet with family and friends, in order to try and hide your condition and reduce the chances of an anxiety attack occurring
- Inability to manage everyday tasks effectively
- Poor performance at work or school
- Seeing your GP more than usual
- Frequent visits to emergency departments
Treatment for anxiety attacks at Priory
It is important to understand that whilst anxiety attacks can be distressing and difficult to cope with, effective treatment can reduce and resolve your symptoms, and empower you to make a full recovery. Our Priory experts recognise that everyone experiences anxiety attacks in unique ways, and therefore, we are dedicated to providing bespoke treatment programmes in order to tackle the underlying causes of your individual condition, acquire effective coping strategies to help you to manage your anxiety attacks, and identify triggers before they manifest.
Anxiety attack treatment can be delivered in an outpatient, day care or inpatient (residential) capacity, depending upon the intensity of the support that you require, and the severity of your condition. You can read more about these different treatment options on our approach to mental health treatment page.
In addition, Priory’s expansive national network of hospitals and wellbeing centres mean that we are able to offer you the exceptional anxiety attack support that you need, in a way that can be flexible around your unique requirements, circumstances and commitments, and in a location that is convenient for you.
Tried and tested treatment for anxiety attacks may include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - CBT aims to address any unhealthy thought patterns that may be exacerbating your anxiety attacks, in order to re-evaluate these thoughts in a healthier way
- Medication – certain antidepressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or other medications, can be used alongside CBT to further support in the management of anxiety attacks
Highly skilled anxiety attack treatment specialists
Our highly qualified specialists have a wealth of experience and expertise in this area, and are able to implement a broad range of therapeutic techniques to help to alleviate your anxiety and panic. Our anxiety attack treatment experts are also able to prescribe medication for your anxiety attacks, if this is deemed as being suitable for you. We ensure that each individual who seeks support with us is involved in all decisions regarding their care, and is placed at the centre of their anxiety treatment and recovery journey. This means that you will benefit from a completely bespoke treatment experience, and achieve the most positive outcomes for you as an individual.
It is important to understand that without specialist support, your anxiety attacks may become more frequent, and can have an increasingly detrimental impact on your ability to function effectively on a day-to-day basis, your performance at work or school, your social life and hobbies, your interpersonal relationships, as well as your psychological and physical health. Therefore, whilst it can seem to be an overwhelming and daunting prospect to seek help for your anxiety attacks, it is likely to be a crucial step in helping you to overcome your anxiety attacks and regaining control of your life. You can be assured that our highly compassionate, supportive and therapeutic treatment environments provide you with the ideal setting in which to tackle your challenges, and take steps towards a healthy, happy and positive way of life.
Young people and anxiety attacks
At Priory, our experts are not only able to treat adults who struggle with anxiety attacks, but are also able to provide tailored anxiety attack treatment for patients who are under the age of 18 years. We also provide a full education programme for young people who are receiving inpatient treatment at Priory. This includes a comprehensive range of educational services and accredited on-site assessment facilities to ensure that your child receives continuous educational provision suitable to their needs and abilities.
More information on the mental health support that we offer for young people can be found on our young people’s services page.
What can I do to reduce anxiety attacks?
Seeking expert support for your anxiety attacks is hugely important in order to receive exceptional treatment and therapy for what can be a distressing condition. However, there are also a number of practical steps that you can take yourself, as a means of trying to reduce and control your anxiety attacks. These include:
- Reducing your alcohol, caffeine and/or cannabis intake
- Practising relaxation techniques such as yoga
- Exercising regularly
- Trying to get enough sleep
- Avoiding smoking
- Spending time with family and friends
Get in Touch Today
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here
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