Dr. Karin Ryan Joi, a psychologist with Nystrom & Associates, joins us to discuss and answer common questions about anxiety and panic attacks.
“What causes anxiety?” Whenever we experience a threat, our brain sends an alert to our body. Then our body reacts with physical and emotional symptoms. This is fully adaptive if the threat is physical, such as jumping out of the way if a train is coming or being chased by a tiger and it bites your arm.
We tend to minimize how our minds/anxiety can impact our bodies. Here are some ways we can physically feel our anxiety:
- Numbness or tingling (especially in our hands or arms – this is part of the adaptive response)
- Feeling hot
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded from a change in breathing or blood pressure drop from our fight or flight response
- Head pounding, due to blood rushing to the brain
- Tightened muscles, especially in the neck, scalp and shoulders
- Difficulty breathing, due to shallow breaths and holding tension in
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea due to the body not wanting to waste energy on digestion to save energy for fight or flight
“What are panic attacks?” A sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
- When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying
- Panic attacks come on fast, are very intense and are primarily physical
“How do I support someone with a panic attack?”
- If any concern is a heart attack, such as a first panic attack, call 911.
- Stay calm
- Stay with the person
- Gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them
- Reassure them that it will not last forever
- Express that what they’re feeling is scary, but it is not dangerous
- Keep them grounded by focusing on a repetitive task such as counting, wiggling toes or raising arms
- Lastly, encourage professional help
Therapy can help you to recognize anxious thought patterns and change them. It can help you recognize triggers or a buildup of anxiety with awareness and understanding. It will also teach you skills to manage and decrease those physical symptoms in your body.