What characterizes anxiety is the maladaptive fear that occurs during anxiety attacks. You might have read somewhere that anxiety is man’s basic response to various stress-provoking experiences that are directly connected with the fight-or-flight response. This mechanism usually saves man’s continuity since the early evolution.
Maladaptive fear is when the fear felt or perceived is not proportionate with the actual amount of fear being produced by the stressor. Also, it could be the unrealistic concerns involved.
For example, people who are aware and fearful that they might hit some on the road could be categorized as realistic fear. However, people who have constant fear that they could be attacked by vampires no longer have healthy minds and thus, manifest symptoms of unrealistic fear.
Also, maladaptive fear is characterized by the duration of response to anxiety stimulus. Usually, a person under the normalcy of behavior would feel that the anxiety subsides after a threat ends. But people having symptoms of anxiety disorders and attacks are incapable controlling persistent anxiety. Also, their symptoms of anxiety would extend to considerable periods of time, often until the manifested fear can no longer be connected to any apparent reasons.
Anxiety and anxiety attacks are prominent symptoms that could be associated with many psychological disorders. For example, people suffering from schizophrenia report of experiencing anxiety attacks. Or, the majority of people with serious depression also undergo series of anxiety attacks. Phobia patients and those suffering with generalized anxiety disorders could also experience anxiety attacks. In fact, it was recognized by Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis that anxiety (or neurosis) is the underlying cause of all psychopathologic disorders. It is no wonder therefore, that anxiety attacks could be observed in a wide range of mental disorders.
But how does anxiety attacks begin?
There are diverse explanations as to what causes anxiety attacks or what are the root causes. As in most cases, anxiety attacks seem to come out of the blue. However, this is not a concrete explanation since the mind could not produce internal tension on its own, unless some biological factors intervene such genetic pre-disposition of chemical imbalances in the brain.
Anxiety attacks could also be situationally predisposed. Therefore, certain situations may trigger the attacks of anxiety and sometimes, panic but it is not necessary that they will always have anxiety attacks when exposed to the same situation.
For example, a patient with anxiety attacks may feel severe dread, trembling and fear of going crazy whenever he crosses a relatively harmless chicken. (Note: Anxiety attacks and the stimuli that trigger them are commonly irrational. So having extremely uncomfortable feelings around a chicken may elicit erratic behaviors.) OR, she may have feelings of reliving the same traumatic experiences she had ten years ago. The sensations and images in his mind are so real that she really can feel the same pain she had during the actual event. And every time she has attacks, the same feelings will flood her.
The frequency of panic attacks differ n case to case basis. But observably, some people seem to have sporadic attacks that may occur during a very short period of time say, everyday in a week. This will then be followed by a period of rest and the symptoms would reoccur sometime later. However, for some patients attacks could be regular but less frequent such that there may be anxiety attacks once in a week in a period of two months. In between anxiety attacks, the patient may have minor bouts of anxiety.
Another common observation with people suffering from anxiety attacks is that they often believe that they have life-threatening diseases. Indeed, some patients feel that they will die of heart attack, seizure and other types of physical crisis if no immediate actions are taken. They also commonly believe that they are about to lose control or they would go crazy if they could not release the tension that resides in them. Thus, people with panic attacks are often observed to perform irregular behaviors that might not have logical meanings in the eyes of the observers.
Despite of the eccentric symptoms that patients of anxiety attacks display, this disorder is still not considered as psychosis since the person is aware of the irrationality of his thoughts and behaviors.