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Anxiety Attack Help

Determining whether your symptoms are a panic attack or a sign that you're going mad


Question: My fear is whether I’m having a panic attack or just going mad. I feel as if there is no way out of this fear. I could be driving home and I get a feeling over me and I get very scared. I have not been told by docs that I suffer panic attacks but had blood tests and all come back fine.   What tests are there for panic attacks anxiety…will I ever get my life back to normal?"


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To begin, I find that a welcomed form of anxiety attack help can be provided when people are first describing their anxiety or panic attacks to me.


The belief about anxiety and fear of going crazy are very scary but it is just like many other false beliefs of anxiety and panic attack sufferers. 


As a former sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks, let me emphasize that while anxiety can be very distressing, it does not mean that you are losing your mind. I can also tell you that such a belief is very common for sufferers.  As the National Institute of Mental Health notes, sufferers might believe that they are having heart attacks, losing their minds, or on the verge of death1


Now, more specifically, this person asked if there is a test for anxiety.  From here on in let’s call him Tim for ease of reference.  (Obviously a person’s true identity will be held in confidence).  Tim indicated that his blood tests are normal. I assume the doctors would have also done a physical exam. If this is the case then this is very reassuring news.  


Tim should now proceed to a psychologist who can diagnose the panic attacks and anxiety. He/she will do an assessment as part of their process and can then make the diagnosis. 


For the purpose of offering a learning example, I am going to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to analyze the thoughts behind Tim’s statement.  This process first involves locating the cognitive distortions and then substituting healthier thoughts in their place - that can make us feel better.


The key points of Tim’s statement are:


“I feel as if there is no way out of this fear. I could be driving home and I get a feeling over me and I get very scared.”


First I recommend that you click here and look at the list of Cognitive Distortions(Don't worry: A seperate webpage will open up so you don't lose this page and can easily come back) and then try to locate what possible distortions might be present in Tim’s thinking before continuing to read directly below. Hint: There is more than one distortion present. Once you’ve done this, write them down or type them out and then come back to this spot.


Okay, welcome back (I really hope you have given this a try yourself – without doing so you will not get the full benefit)


If you guessed that the following four distortions are present then you’re right: 1. All-or-nothing thinking, 2. Overgeneralization, 3.Emotional reasoning, 4. Making should statements.


Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see all of the distortions.  The more you carry out the process the better you’ll become.  Also with feelings you might have had a long time it might be harder to pin point the distortions at first. 


Now look specifically at how each distortion is actually present in this statement and then we will look at some alternative more realistic thoughts.


1. All-or-nothing thinking - By stating that there is no way out of the fear (or feeling this way) Tim is making an absolute statement – which is exactly what All-or-nothing thinking refers to.


2. Overgeneralization – Tim is taking this episode and generalizing it to the rest of his life, thus making a wide generalization.  Tim fears this “crazy anxiety” that we have discussed.


3. Emotional reasoning – Notice one key word that Tim uses is “feel.” This is significant because emotional reasoning is making an argument on the basis of how one feels not on objective evidence.


4. Making should statements – The premise behind Tim’s argument is that he shouldn’t feel this way when driving home. The truth is that by beating himself up by stating he shouldn’t feel this way he is actually exacerbating his anxiety. (Should statements refer to the way one thinks a situation should unfold rather than the actual situation one is faced with.) 


Now try to generate some alternative, more accurate thoughts that we can substitute in place of the ones containing distortions. Again, before reading on, try to generate some on your own.Once you’ve done this, write them down or type them out and then come back to this spot.


Okay here are some alternatives:


Just because at the present time Tim cannot think of techniques to deal with his panic attacks, in reality, it does not mean there is no way out of them. There are many techniques out there and many people that have indeed gotten over panic.


Rather than Tim concluding that there is no way out of the fear, he can acknowledge that while he is definitely feeling anxious, there is no real evidence to suggest that he will always feel this way.  There is also no real evidence that he is going crazy.


Just because Tim “feels” that there is no way out of the fear does not make it so. He is reasoning on the basis of his emotions not according to objective reality.


Tim has a “should” rule in is mind that he should not feel anxious doing simple tasks like driving. However the truth is he is feeling anxious and that’s okay. This does not mean he is inadequate in any way nor that he will always be anxious doing routine tasks. The truth is: by “buying into” the belief that he shouldn’t feel anxious, he feeds his anxiety. Simply by learning to accept his anxiety, it will lessen.


As you are probably starting to see the cognitive distortions in your thinking, you can see that they represent a “locked-in” belief that can be changed – and for the better!


Now it’s certainly not realistic to think that you can do this once and instantly get better, but over time this process can definitely be a great way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks.


A great thing about doing cognitive behavioral therapy is that it tends to draw your thinking into the present instead of racing into the future. 


I really liked one of the points made about CBT on the website of Dr. Virginia Chow, Psychologist:  “CBT deals with the ‘here and now,’ focusing on factors that are maintaining the problem, rather than what started it. Since you cannot change the past, CBT deals with factors in the present that you can control”1


Being in the moment can be very relaxing and beneficial and is perfectly complemented by doing activities that induce relaxation. Over time this combination can not only help with panic attacks but it can improve the quality of one’s life!


Just remember this information whenever you feel “crazy anxiety” that many have reported to me.  Better yet why not keep it on hand for future reference? 

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 References (Anxiety Attack Help: Determining whether your symptoms are a panic attack or a sign that you're going mad)

1. National Institute of Mental Health. Panic Disorder.
Retrieved December 29, 20111 from National Institute of Mental Health website.

2. V. Chow. Frequently Asked Questions: What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Retrieved November 1, 2010 from Dr. Virginia Chow’s website: