Emotional Overload: Is it Anxiety or a Panic Attack?
We all, at some point in our lives, experience certain events that upset us to varying degrees and trigger a lot of anxiety. Sometimes you may feel so overwhelmed by your emotions that you lose control and experience a panic attack. Read on to learn more about anxiety and panic attacks, and when to consult a health professional.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that can become overwhelming
Anxiety is a bit like a smoke detector. It’s an important tool for protecting you from danger, but it can also be overly sensitive and be set off for no good reason.
Anxiety can manifest as worrying, apprehension, muscle tension, and nervousness. It can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased heartrate, rapid breathing, sweating, and trembling.
Anxiety occurs when a situation is perceived as threatening, stressful, or uncertain. When it works the way it’s supposed to, it is an adaptive response to a potential challenge or danger. Anxiety is often linked to future events and is not necessarily negative. In fact, it can be a source of motivation, prompting people to prepare for and tackle challenges.
Anxiety is usually a temporary reaction to a stressful situation. In most cases, it dissipates once the source of stress has been handled or resolved.
When does anxiety become a problem?
In some instances, anxiety can worm its way into your life to the point that it affects your quality of life. This is what is known as an anxiety disorder.
It’s time to consult a health professional when your anxiety…
- is disproportionately intense in relation to the actual situation;
- is creating concerns that are unrealistic or excessive;
- is causing significant distress.
Managing an anxiety disorder requires psychotherapy in order to understand the source of the anxiety and develop ways to bring it down to a more acceptable level. In some cases, medication may be necessary.
Panic attacks can leave you feeling completely overwhelmed
A panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of extreme fear that arises out of the blue, usually for no apparent reason. The feeling usually peaks within a matter of minutes, then subsides within about an hour, often leaving the person feeling drained from the intensity of their emotions.
What are the signs of a panic attack?
Panic attacks trigger a sudden, intense feeling of malaise that can be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations or racing heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Feeling of suffocating or breathlessness
- Choking sensation
- Feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness
- Numbness or tingling
- Trembling or muscle spasms
- Heavy sweating
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or abdominal discomfort
- Feeling of losing touch with reality or detachment from one’s body
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Fear of dying
While these symptoms can be very worrying, a panic attack is not dangerous to your health. That said, because of the similarity between some symptoms of a panic attack and heart problems, in certain circumstances, the person may need to be taken to the hospital for a medical assessment, as a precautionary measure.
When should you consult a health professional?
It is estimated that up to one-third of Canadian adults will experience a panic attack at some point in a given year. For most of them, the event will be without consequence. However, in about 1% to 2% of people, panic attacks can recur or lead to a persistent fear of experiencing another attack, which can result in avoidance behaviors or social isolation.
It is important to seek help from a mental health professional, to avoid the situation worsening and leading to a panic disorder or severe phobias such as agoraphobia. Panic disorders are treated using psychotherapy, often in conjunction with medication.
Worried about your mental health? Your pharmacist is there for you!
Your pharmacist can help you determine whether your anxiety or a panic attack requires treatment by a mental health professional. If you are prescribed a pharmacological treatment, your pharmacist will be there to answer all your questions. In most provinces, pharmacists can make adjustments to your medication to ensure that the treatment is effective and well tolerated.
Some pharmacies offer private consultations with a pharmacist. Talk to the pharmacy team to check if this service is available.
The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.