Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger, the body’s automatic, adrenaline-fuelled fight-or-flight response that is triggered when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation.
When it interferes with relationships and daily activities, we’ve moved from normal reactions into the territory of an anxiety disorder. Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders illicit an intense fear that outweighs the situation at hand.
Episodes of intense panic or fear, anxiety attacks usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger—getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give—but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.
Anxiety attacks usually peak within 10 minutes, and they rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during that short time, the terror can be so severe that you feel as if you’re about to die or totally lose control.
The physical symptoms of anxiety attacks are themselves so frightening that many people feel like they’re having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may be worried about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isn’t available or you can’t easily escape. As a result, you can feel like you are in a constant loop of anxiety from a panic attack, to being afraid of having a panic attack.