“Panic attacks are a lot like being drunk in some ways; you lose self-control. You cry for seemingly no reason. You deal with the hangover long into the next day.” – Sara Barnard, A Quiet Kind of Thunder
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an anxiety attack is the “abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four … symptoms like accelerated heart rate, dizziness, derealization, and the fear of losing control.”
This definition is echoed by the quotation mentioned above by Sara Barnard. Simply stated, the onset of an attack feels as though your life is spiralling out of control. And you have no way of regaining control. Furthermore, it can happen in a short time span.
The validity of an anxiety attack
At this juncture, it is vital to note that, no matter how you are feeling, it’s essential to realise that your feelings when you are in the middle of a panic attack are valid and should not be brushed aside.
An anxiety attack is part of more than one recognised psychiatric illness. And, should it occur regularly, it should be diagnosed, treated, and managed with the help of medical professionals such as a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
The anxiety attack: Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment
As noted at the outset of this article, an anxiety attack is defined by a specific type of symptom. Additionally, it is linked to a particular event as opposed to a panic attack that is part of a psychiatric illness known as Panic Disorder.
Just to complicate matters, an anxiety attack can occur even when you are diagnosed with Panic Disorder. The primary difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack is that a panic attack is not necessarily related to a specific event where an anxiety attack is most often linked to a specific event.
It is vital to note that many psychiatric illnesses have overlapping symptoms. And if, for no other reason, this is why it is critical to consult with a medical specialist instead of self-diagnosing your condition.
Furthermore, an anxiety attack can form part of recognised psychiatric illnesses like Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Panic Disorder.
Apart from the blood tests and a physical check-up conducted by a medical specialist to rule out physical conditions, these illnesses are primarily diagnosed by using specific tools such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-Panic Disorder (PHQ-PD) and the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Disorders (SCID-I) Interview.
It is also important to note that reaching an accurate diagnosis might take more than one visit to the medical specialist. And, the diagnosis might change as specific symptoms become more prevalent over time. However, modern science is very good at identifying the differences between each of these closely linked disorders.
Treatment and management
The treatment of a psychiatric illness includes both medication and psychotherapy. Psychiatric medication like anti-depressants, anxiolytics, and anti-psychotic drugs are used as a frontline defence against the symptoms of the condition.
Secondly, psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy is an equally important part of the treatment programme. It is vital to be cognisant of the fact that psychiatric illnesses do not get better (or improve) on their own. And, medication used without therapy will not cure the illness. Therefore, a good treatment regime must include the management of the condition and its symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to the diagnosis of psychiatric illnesses. Thus, it takes a great deal of courage to follow the route of diagnosis, treatment, and management of the condition. Finally, the most important point that must be highlighted is that, the courage that drives a mental health sufferer to seek treatment can be used to manage the ill to improve a patient’s overall quality of life.