Understanding anxiety and panic attacks

By: Dr Aallya Qureshi

Raffles Hotel Arcade
Posted on: 7 Sep 2023

What is anxiety, and how does it affect us?

Anxiety is a natural human response to perceived threats. It can manifest through thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, often arising in anticipation of future events or situations that may impact our lives significantly.

When we sense danger, our bodies release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make us more alert and increase our heart rate, helping us respond quickly. This is a helpful and necessary process from a survival stand-point as it gets us ready to escape from danger (for example running away from a lion)!

Thoughts can create the symptoms of anxiety, for example, the memory of being chased after by a lion can release the same hormones as if one was actually being chased by one. These days, its rare to be chased after by a lion, but other perceived threats cause a similar ‘fight or flight’ response, for example, work, financial or relationship difficulties.

When does anxiety become a mental health problem?

Anxiety can become a mental health concern if we are experiencing it to the extent that it interferes with your daily life. This might include experiencing intense and prolonged anxiety – often in the absence of real threat, irrational fears, avoiding certain activities, people or environments, feeling regularly distressed, having panic attacks, or difficulty engaging or focusing in everyday activities.

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can have various physical effects, such as stomach discomfort, dizziness, pins and needles, restlessness, headaches, increased heart rate, sweating, sleep problems, teeth grinding, and more.

How does anxiety impact our mental state?

Anxiety can affect your mind in numerous ways, including feeling tense, experiencing dread, time distortion, excessive worrying, seeking reassurance, fearing loss of touch with reality, low mood, rumination, and dissociative feelings.

Are there other effects of anxiety on one’s life?

Yes, anxiety can have a lasting impact on daily life, making it challenging to self-care, maintain employment, build relationships, try new things, or enjoy leisure activities. It can also affect your ability to work, potentially leading to workplace challenges.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

GAD involves regular and uncontrollable worries about various aspects of daily life. It’s a broad diagnosis as symptoms can differ significantly between individuals. It is one of the more common types of anxiety disorders.

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder involves recurrent, unprovoked panic attacks. The fear of having another panic attack can become so intense that it triggers panic attacks itself.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD can develop after experiencing traumatic events. It may involve flashbacks or nightmares, or mimic generalised anxiety, making you feel as if you’re reliving the traumatic experiences. Sometimes it can become so in-built that one is not aware they are suffering from PTSD.

Do you need help?

If you are considering whether you need help or not, it is wise to speak to a trained family doctor who can explore your symptoms in the context of your unique life circumstances and share their opinion and offer appropriate advice on how to overcome them.

Generally, it is important to seek help;
– if your emotions interfere with personal or professional relationships
– you feel isolated from others
– you no longer experience pleasure from the things you used to (this is called anhedonia)
– you experience difficulty falling or staying asleep or waking up in the morning
– you struggle to concentrate
– you are feeling badly about yourself or feelings of worthlessness
– if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Dr Aallya is a British trained GP doctor located in Osler Health Raffles clinic. Dr Aallya has a special interest in caring for patients with mental wellbeing concerns. Please visit our appointments page to arrange a consultation.
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