Anxiety and panic attacks

Tension, irritability, fear, stress, exaggerated concern for our own or others’ well-being: anxiety comes in many ways.

Why do we get anxious?

Everyone of us, in the course of our lives, has felt anxious in specific situations and that’s because anxiety is an essential physiological condition. On the other hand, it’s important to separate functional anxiety from its pathological counterpart.
Anxiety is useful when:

  • It helps us improve our performances. Within certain levels, anxiety can be a powerful ally, because it allows us to deploy the resources necessary to take on our tasks and goals.
  • It facilitates survival. When we perceive a situation as dangerous, anxiety activates the entire body, getting it ready to attack or flee.

In these cases, anxiety acts like a natural defensive mechanism, because it allows us to properly react to the emotion that we are facing in that specific moment.
Anxiety is NOT useful when:

  • It’s excessive. Beyond a certain level, anxiety results in a state of psychological discomfort, that can interfere with our ordinary everyday activities. In these cases, people live in a constant state of tension and alert, that can lead to physiological responses like tremor, palpitations and nausea.
  • It’s unjustified or disproportionate compared to the actual situation. For those who suffer from an anxiety disorder, even situations that most people don’t see as dangerous can lead to extreme psychological and physical responses.

In all these scenarios, fear isn’t caused by the outside world, but is connected to the anticipation and prediction of present and future dangers.
In these cases, a psychologist’s help can be crucial in effectively facing and managing the situations that lead to anxiety and overcoming adversities.

Panic attacks: symptoms

Anxiety can sometimes turn into panic.
A panic attack leads to sudden and intense feelings of worry, terror and impending disaster, associated with physical symptoms like palpitations, chest pain, nausea, sense of suffocation, asphyxiation, difficulty breathing, dizziness, sweating and tremors.

Symptoms tend to escalate quickly and to peak very strongly in a short amount of time; this is why people who are experiencing this kind of attack feel the uncontrollable need to flee, no matter where they are.
Among the symptoms that can be experienced during a panic attack, there is also the sense of depersonalization (feeling “outside” our body) and derealization (feeling like the world is unreal), fear of losing control, of going crazy or even dying.

What usually pushes people suffering from panic attacks to seek psychological help is the fear of experiencing more episodes and the complexity of facing everyday life: they often refuse to get out of the house (unless they are assisted by someone), to drive, to be among other people.

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