Published April 15, 2011
You are about to speak before a large group of people at work. Your palms are sweaty and your heart is racing. Looking through your notes one last time, you feel butterflies in your stomach and notice your throat tightening up. As you approach the podium, your mind begins to race. You mutter a few incomprehensible sentences, and then you go blank. You stare at the audience feeling a detachment from your body only to realize that you are making a complete idiot of yourself in front of a room full of people.
Most of us have experienced this sort of anxiety attack at some point in our lives. Experiencing anxiety while speaking before a large group of people or before taking a plane is normal, but it can get out of hand. If you or anybody you know has ever had the urge to freeze, gasp or run away in terror over the most trivial of things, now you will finally understand the causes of and treatments for anxiety attacks.
What are anxiety attacks?
The term "anxiety attack" is rather vague and misleading and often refers to "panic attacks." Panic attacks are a subcategory of anxiety disorders, which include different anxieties like social anxiety, but for the sake of argument, let us simply call them all anxiety attacks.
An anxiety attack is an extreme form of uneasiness, while panic attacks are more severe and traumatizing forms of fright. Such attacks are often the result of uncontrollable fears, i.e. phobias. Both can interfere with everyday life. Sufferers of anxiety attacks can plan daily routines around the object of fear.
Though most of us experience anxiety on a daily basis, certain people cannot control their uneasiness. Today, public speaking is the most prevalent type of anxiety attacks—maybe because people are forced to speak before large groups more than ever before—but anxieties can range from talking to the opposite sex to being forced to make a left turn while driving.
why should we care?
It seems that this problem only aggravates as society progresses, with anxiety and panic attacks leading the way. While experiencing an anxiety attack, besides making a complete jackass of oneself, the condition affects our lives in many ways. Here are some interesting facts about anxiety attacks:
-20 to 30 million Americans have some form of anxiety disorder.
-Panic attacks alone affect up to 6 million Americans.
-Anxiety disorders lead to lower work productivity and absenteeism.
-Women are more affected by anxiety attacks than men.
-Untreated anxiety disorders cost the US economy $42 billion each year.
-According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America (ADAA), single poor males have more chances of developing an anxiety disorder.
-Stressed individuals might have a higher chance of developing panic attacks and anxiety disorders.
Causes of anxiety disorders
There are three schools of thought that explain the causes of anxiety attacks.
All humans have fears coded into their genes. It's what ensures we as a species carry on. In times of yore, the biggest, burliest and most importantly, courageous males did not always thrive.
Sometimes running away was a good thing, especially if you had a saber-tooth tiger running after you. It didn't impress the ladies, but after a display of shameless cowardice, you were still around to get the brave one's girl.
Having said that, the biological perspective believes that being afraid of spiders or talking in front of large crowds is just nature's way of making sure nothing bad happens to us. The perspective in question also believes that some people might have a chemical imbalance in the brain (where else?) that can cause abnormal fear. Wade Duck from Garfield and Friends would be a prime example of that.
Behaviorists believe that certain behavioral patterns teach us to act in a certain way. Little girls, for instance, are taught to be afraid of boys at a young age because little boys like to be mean to little girls. This can be carried over to adulthood, and some behaviorists will justify that this is why men can't pick up women in bars.
The psychodynamic theory believes that some fears are rooted in child abuse. Such fears can be forgotten only to resurface later on in life.
Are you having an anxiety attack?
Knowing what anxiety attack symptoms encompass can prevent some embarrassing moments. If feeling crappy isn't enough, some physical signs can alert others of your anxiety and bring more attention to your distress. Here are a few anxiety attack symptoms:
-Involuntary touching of the face and limbs
-Sensitivity to light and sound
And my favorite...Diarrhea
Most treatments are simple and do not require professional help. Here is how one can overcome anxiety attacks:
Don't think before an attack
Anxiety attacks can sometimes develop from the simple fear of experiencing an attack. One might recognize that a particular situation can cause an anxiety attack, and this alone can trigger it. This can lead to some pretty strange, even funny behavior, but it can also lead to more serious disorders. Agoraphobia, the fear of public places, is a result of over-anticipating anxiety attacks.
Think during an attack
When an anxiety attack actually hits, people do not realize what they are thinking or doing. One should understand that the feelings during an attack are "normal." This will help trivialize and rationalize the experience. Seeing yourself from a third-person perspective depersonalizes the condition and lowers its effects.
More from AskMen.com:
Breathing is vital to fighting anxiety. One must learn to breathe during an attack. Take deep breaths when experiencing an attack and concentrate on each inhalation. Taking long breaths takes emphasis away from the attack itself.
Do not take medication for too long
Many drugs can mask anxiety disorders, but none cure them. Furthermore, some drugs can be addictive. Anxiety disorders are not caused by a medical condition. Most are a result of repressed ulterior issues and angst, so learn to understand yourself instead of thinking drugs will resolve the problem.
You're not alone
Anxieties are a part of life, so don't overreact when experiencing them and do not anticipate them—that alone can cause anxiety attacks. Do not take drugs to cure anxiety and panic attacks. Learning what triggers them can be a good opportunity to get to know oneself, so in a sense, anxiety attacks are not all that bad.