Pandemic Drove Spike in Panic Attacks

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Symptoms of anxiety include: feeling restless, on edge, worried or irritable, getting easily fatigued, having trouble concentrating and experiencing sleep problems. To be considered a generalized anxiety disorder, these symptoms must last at least six months.

The difference between many anxiety symptoms versus panic attack symptoms has to do with intensity and duration, Wright explained. Panic attacks are very intense, but the episodes are separate events.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed information from Google trends to look for searches that mentioned panic attack or anxiety attack from January 2004 through May 9, 2020.

The biggest jump in those searches occurred between March 16 and April 14, 2020. The number of searches was the highest ever recorded, the researchers said. During that time, social distancing guidelines were put into place, states shuttered businesses and schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended face masks, and the United States surpassed Italy for the highest number of deaths.

After April 14, searches for panic and anxiety attacks returned to their expected levels.

“In the beginning, COVID-19 was a huge unknown. It could be that over time, people became more resilient,” Nobles suggested.

Wright agreed. “In that beginning period when everything had to shut down quickly, there were anecdotal reports of increased requests for benzodiazepines [sedatives that may be prescribed for panic]. But we’ve come to a new normal and are figuring it out. While there’s still uncertainty, people aren’t in quite the flight-or-fight mode they were,” she said.

Wright’s advice if you’re still feeling a bit anxious? “It’s really important to focus on what’s in our control — our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Identify negative patterns, like constant scrolling on your phone, looking at the news and hoping for new info. Take breaks from your devices. Take breaks from the news. Don’t watch it constantly. Social media is an anxiety bomb, so limit the time on there,” she recommended.

And take care of yourself, Wright advised: “Get enough sleep, eat healthy, be active and maintain social connections [in a safe, socially distant way]. While the anxiety may not go away, all of these things help.”




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