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I've been dealing with anxiety attacks for about three years now. Explaining how they feel is fairly easy, but trying to explain why they happen is another issue. If you have ever been (or can imagine being) in a hospital emergency room waiting for "the news", that's pretty close to what it feels like. Your mind races, your thoughts blur, and anything you think of you begin to worry about. It makes it very hard to function because you feel like any piece of your world could suddenly collapse around you. Sometimes they last all day, relentlessly making you feel like something horrible is about to happen, even though you don't what that something is. Other days they last for an hour or two and suddenly disappear. Whenever they stop, they leave you feeling ecstatic and ready to take on the world. Until, of course, it comes back again the next morning or afternoon or two days later. You never can tell. The randomness of duration and frequency are what can drive you insane. You can have two perfect days, and crash the third. Or, have a perfect day interrupted at various intervals. Like I said, you never can tell.

Why do they happen you ask? That's an even better question, because in three years I haven't figured out a good answer. Sometimes it can be something as small as being hungry or having someone or something scare you accidentally. Sometimes it's something more obvious like a midterm or a paper or missing your girlfriend. I've gotten pretty good at closing my eyes, taking deep breaths and trying to relax until they go away, but that doesn't always work. Sometimes you just have to ride them through. Another characteristic of anxiety attacks, after you've had them quite consistently, is that nearly every time you get one you think that "this is it", and you just might have a breakdown or be put in a permanently anxious state this time. Another contributing factor is probably the way I think. I took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) this past summer, and it indicated that my primary personality factor was ruminant thinking. In other words, I think things over endlessly without getting anywhere (chewing the cud or getting something stuck in your head are other ways to say it). Getting a particular issue stuck in a circle in your head doesn't help to let go or relax very much.

I'm quite sure that my anxiety attacks are related to(perhaps a miniature version of) the full blown panic attacks that I'm almost certain to get in my mid to late 20's. My dad's whole side of the family, all of his brothers and sisters, have had panic attacks. The way my dad explained panic attacks to me a few years ago is that people think they're having a heart attack when they get one. You get blurry, tunnel vision, staggered breathing, and a huge adrenal kick, among other things. They have medicine for it, but you don't know when you'll need the medicine until you actually get that first panic attack, if you ever do. It's basically a waiting game. My dad was somewhat concerned about telling me about them as early as he did. Personally, I'd rather know in advance than have a panic attack spring on me and have no idea what's going on. For the rest of you, remember, I KNOW I have a genetic predisposition for it so relax, I'm not trying to scare you.

One thing that can help with panic attacks (and presumably anxiety attacks) is triptophan. Triptophan is a chemical found naturally in such foods as turkey and asparagus that has been found to help reduce symptoms of panic attacks. It was formerly available in a pill form by prescription. However, from my understanding, it has been taken off the market in the U.S. by the FDA due to a "bad batch" that was created somewhere down the line. My uncle used to get triptophan, and my dad has actually eaten turkey when he's felt stressed and on the verge of panic.

At any rate, there's some basic information about anxiety and panic attacks from personal experience.

P.S. Writing or talking about them can help get rid of them sometimes.