Anxiety can is defined as a state of intense apprehension or fear resulting from a threatening event. This state of worry can be a normal part of an individual’s life on an occasional basis. When life stressors occur such as a change in job, family stress, preparing for a big exam or planning a major event, one may feel overwhelmed and anxious. These anxious feelings will dissipate when the event ends, or the life stressor is resolved. In individuals with anxiety disorders, these anxious feelings never go away and will often become worse over time. The most commonly recognized anxiety disorders according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), range from generalized anxiety (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and specific phobias to panic disorder and agoraphobia. There is a difference between panic disorder and anxiety. An individual diagnosed with an anxiety disorder does not necessarily mean that they will experience panic attacks, as there is a broad spectrum of anxiety disorders ranging from generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder with many other disorders in between.

Many individuals live in excess and worry and fear but are slow to seek help because they assume living with anxiety is normal. Having feelings of anxiety on a regular basis is not a normal way to live.

What does a panic attack feel like?

Panic attacks mimic life-threatening situations where the individual feels they are dying. They will often present with chest pain and shortness of breath that typically peaks within 10 minutes. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is diagnosed when individuals experience recurrent panic attacks followed by at least one-month duration of having a fear of an oncoming panic attack. The following are common signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks:

  • Palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Being detached from oneself
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying

Treatment for panic disorder

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recommends treating patients with panic disorder when symptoms cause dysfunction or significant distress in aspects of an individual’s life as their such as work, family life, social obligation, and leisure activities. Benzodiazepines such as Valium are not a first-line recommended treatment approach for individuals with panic disorder and are for individuals who have panic disorder that has not been successfully treated with any other psychotherapy or pharmacological treatment. The first-line treatment for panic disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy with or without medication. Medications that are recommended include antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Types of anxiety disorders

Social anxiety disorder: An excessive and lasting fear of social performances in front of individuals. Examples include having feelings of humiliation, excessive worry, fear, and embarrassment while using a public restroom, eating in public or speaking in public. Individuals will go to extreme measures to avoid these situations.

  • Specific phobias: An extreme worry or fear of particular surroundings that can create disabling thoughts and emotions to the extent that the individual will avoid these situations at all costs. Examples include heights, flying, snakes, blood, spiders, and needles.
  • Panic disorder: Feelings of extreme worry that mimics a life-threatening situation. Symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, trembling, shortness of breath, feelings of choking, chills or heat sensation, dizziness, feeling out of control, extreme fear of dying and numbness or tingling sensation.
  • Agoraphobia: Excessive worry or fear in a place where escape is difficult such as a closed space, a large crowd, a bridge, tunnels or heights.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: characterized by excessive worry over everyday occurrences that usually do not produce worry in the general population. The worrying is almost impossible to control and must occur the majority of days for at least a six-month duration.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: thoughts carried out by repetitive compulsions are the mainstay of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) These obsessive thoughts are intrusive and unwanted, and individuals will try to suppress or neutralize these thoughts or relieve anxiety and fear associated with these thoughts through repetitive compulsions.