What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like? [how to stop an anxiety attack]
Have you ever wondered what does an anxiety attack feel like? What are the symptoms, and what to do about it? I have so I found out. Read on so you know too.
Let me start by making it very clear we are not offering any type of medical advice at all. This article is purely informational. We are not doctors. Always consult a doctor for professional advice and guidance on medical issues.
Signs of an Anxiety Attack
- Fear You May Be Dying
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest Pains
- You Feel Your Heart Pounding
- Upset Stomach
- Feeling Nervous
- Hot Flashes
- A Feeling That You Are Going Crazy
Did I Just Have a Panic Attack
A little story to set the stage for why I wrote this article.
Has this ever happened to you? It was the middle of the night and all of a sudden I woke up and realized I had not paid one of my credit card bills! Geez, you know that meant I could not get back to sleep.
I got up early and jumped on the computer to double-check. Sure enough, I had missed the due date. After a quick check, the website showed me the bank had not only charged me a $35 late fee but an additional $79 in finance charges! My heart was beating fast by now.
Panic Attack Situations
So I quickly pay the bill online. Then get on the phone, calling the bank, while thinking about what I will say to try and a reversal of the late fee and finance charge. It was only one day late!
After waiting 30 minutes on hold I finally get someone and after some pleading for mercy, they actually reversed the fees. Yea! Can you relate? Has this ever happened to you?
So then my phone rings. My daughter’s car broke down and she is stuck in the middle of nowhere an hour’s drive from where I live. I am tired from no sleep after worrying about the credit card PLUS, I have to be at work in an hour!
Does this all sound hectic? Do you think it would cause a little bit of stress and anxiety? I can say for sure that it did with me!
Sometimes I find myself stressing out over many things beyond what I described above. There are a lot of stressors in our lives, especially over the past year.
Fears of catching COVID-19, dealing with lockdowns and quarantines, reentering the workplace, social and political unrest, natural weather phenomena. I mean, what can happen next???
Add in the normal ups and downs of everyday life and sometimes anxiety can strike anyone. Normal life often is enough to make even the most level-headed person anxious.
Some people become anxious because of all the stress in their lives, and in some cases that stress manifests itself in unsettling ways. You can feel like the world is closing in around you, or you start to find it hard to breathe.
However you experience it, the stress becomes too much (like with me!) and you go through what most people would call an anxiety attack.
We’ll go over the simple ways to understand an anxiety attack, how to identify when you are having one, and what to do to mitigate the symptoms and work toward preventing them in the future.
What’s the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks?
First of all, it can be easy to confuse an “anxiety attack” with a “panic attack.” These two may sound interchangeable, but in fact, they are quite different.
Panic attacks have a strong and sudden onset, with distinct physical symptoms like increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and nausea.
These symptoms are consistent with the majority of panic attacks, so people presenting with these symptoms generally receive the same diagnosis.
What Causes Panic Attacks
A panic attack may be brought due to an identifiable stimulus or phobia, or it may seem to come out of nowhere. In most cases, they will last no longer than 30 minutes per episode.
On the other hand, anxiety attacks may present with a variety of symptoms, and two people can be diagnosed with an anxiety attack but present with different symptoms than the other person.
What Causes Anxiety Attacks
The symptoms themselves are also more generalized and can include negative emotional states like worry and fear. While specific episodes may occur, anxiety attacks are typically experienced as part of a larger anxiety disorder as diagnosed by a professional.
In general, panic attacks have a more abrupt onset, as well as more severe symptoms. Anxiety attacks can be milder and last longer, although the severity may change from person to person.
Panic attacks tend to be diagnosed in episodes, although longer-term panic disorders can also be assigned to a patient with a history of such incidents.
Anxiety attacks are slightly easier to identify before and as they occur, and the diagnosis of anxiety itself is typically seen as “non-medical” since the symptoms and treatment are highly subjective.
While there are differences and similarities between panic attacks and anxiety attacks, both have physical and emotional repercussions for those who experience them, and they should both be taken seriously.
Constant State of Anxiety
Like all conditions that affect the body and mind, there will be one or more root causes for an anxiety attack. Again, because “anxiety” is a highly subjective state, it may look different from person to person.
In general, however, a person can experience a state of anxiety because of specific fears, worries, or stressors in their life. They may have a phobia, or fear of a specific thing (whether irrational or justified by past experience).
They may become anxious due to the accumulation of stress over time, such as an unpleasant work environment, an unhealthy relationship, or a feeling of dissatisfaction or instability.
Some people seem to be in a state of anxiety all the time.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack
While it can be hard to tell if you’re having or have had an anxiety attack, you can classify the symptoms into two major categories.
Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
First, there is the mental and emotional state that accompanies most anxiety attacks. Fears that don’t make sense but can’t be pushed aside are one symptom.
You may avoid everyday situations, even those in which you typically feel comfortable, because of your anxiety. You might be unable to deal with your normal responsibilities and obligations because you are preoccupied with your anxiety.
This preoccupation can put you into a constant state of distress, worry, and fear. You can become hyper-aware of your surroundings, always ready to react or run at a moment’s notice.
This can also make you feel restless and unsettled, and it can be difficult to feel stable or balanced.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Next, there are physical symptoms. Once again, many of these symptoms are shared with panic attacks, and in most cases, a panic attack will have a more severe onset of these symptoms.
Common physical signs of an anxiety attack include an accelerated heart rate and/or pulse, a flop sweat, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest and throat, or numbness or tingling in your extremities.
Your mouth may become dry, and you could experience either chills or hot flashes. Your hands may start shaking, you may have a headache or become dizzy and lightheaded, and you may become nauseous.
Long Term Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
In addition to the short term symptoms of anxiety, you should be aware of the fact that there are many long term physical symptoms. These can include muscle tension, insomnia, and frequent urination.
Definition of Anxiety
One way to look at these symptoms is to consider one of the ways anxiety can be defined. The experiences of internalizing and failing to release our fears, worries, and tension.
We can internalize the stresses that affect us, and our bodies and minds have to deal with and process all of that in some way. Unfortunately, the negative repercussions of holding onto our anxieties can overwhelm us.
Separately from an individual anxiety attack, you might be wondering about a particular anxiety disorder if you have a history of experiencing such attacks. In addition to generalized anxiety and panic disorders, some specific causes may be identified when talking with your doctor.
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder Symptoms
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is characterized by some kind of thought or behavior that is difficult or impossible to control. Most of the time, we think of someone diagnosed with OCD as highly organized or clean, or someone who repeats phrases or actions multiple times in succession.
These compulsive actions or thoughts can become obsessive, and we can feel like we are unable to stop ourselves from doing them.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is another common diagnosis related to anxiety. This usually appears after a traumatic event, so the diagnosis is almost always made after a specific incident in someone’s life.
The trauma could be physical, mental, or emotional. If a person struggling with PTSD feels threatened or triggered by something that sends them back to the moment of their trauma, they can experience intense anxiety attacks. They may also deal with a permanent state of anxiety over certain conditions or fears.
Examples of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A person may develop a phobia or a fear that revolves around a unique stimulus often based on past negative experiences. Fear of flying, drowning, spiders, heights, public speaking, or any of a number of causes may send a person into states ranging from mild discomfort to a trauma state.
Phobias can also be caused by specific life events such as war, experiencing the unexpected death of a loved one, traumatic accident, sexual abuse, etc. PTSD can also come from seemingly irrational and unfounded places, but the fear is nonetheless real for the person suffering from it.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety and separation anxiety are two other diagnoses. They center around our relationships with others. Social anxiety is usually more generalized. You may avoid social situations due to some kind of fear or self-doubt, or feel uneasy around crowds.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety, on the other hand, is highly focused on a specific person. You may feel like you are unable to function if you are away from that person. There may be specific reasons for these fears, or they may have no apparent cause.
Someone with separation anxiety may shows signs of sadness when they are away from certain loved ones or people who are important to them in life. They may find it hard to focus on work or even things that are important to them.
How to deal with an anxiety attack
While it can be difficult to process an anxiety attack while it is happening, there are some techniques and healthy coping mechanisms that can help to alleviate the symptoms you are experiencing.
Such techniques should be tailored to your needs, and you should always remember to ensure that your coping mechanisms are healthy and will not cause other problems, such as addiction or self-harm.
I always recommend you seek professional guidance.
Breathing Exercises for Panic Attacks
Some of the ways you can train your body to deal with the onset of an anxiety attack can start with simply closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Focus on nothing except your breathing.
Think about each breath slowly in and out. You can also lie down and place your hand on your stomach and focus on the slow movement up and down with each calm breath.
Techniques to Deal with Anxiety Attacks
If it is safe to do so, you may remove yourself from a stressful environment, and go into an environment with lower lighting and fewer stimuli.
How to Calm Anxiety Attack
- Prepare a comforting meal
- Enjoy your favorite beverage
- Go outside for a walk
- Watch a favorite movie
- Take a bath or shower
- Just relax and close your eyes
- Practice mindfulness techniques
- Try to step outside of yourself
- Ground yourself with your reality
- Recognize what you are experiencing
- Create a momentary distraction
- Read a book
- Focus your mind on some other activity
- Surround yourself with a trusted friend or loved one
- Talk things over with someone
- Ask for help
Remedies for Anxiety Attacks
While there is no “one size fits all” remedy for or prevention for anxiety, there are some ways you can lessen the severity of your symptoms and prevent some instances of anxiety from occurring.
Anxiety Attack Triggers
Identifying some triggers or causes is a great first step. If you are reasonably able, try removing them from your life. Something as simple as cutting back on caffeine, sugar, or salt can help your body deal with the physical symptoms better.
Common Sources of Stress
If you can remove sources of stress from your life. Examples are too many tasks at work, unwanted relationships, or other causes of stress. Try to see if there are ways that you can make positive changes and eliminate the common sources of stress in your life.
Exercise for Stress Relief
There are also ways to improve your quality of life without directly addressing the causes of anxiety. Adding an exercise regimen has tremendous benefits for body, mind, and spirit.
Joining a gym, taking up yoga, or going for a daily walk or run is a great first step.
There are many healthy outlets like sports, hobbies, and other activities that can give you a constructive outlet for any nervous energy you may feel.
Meditation for Anxiety
Other relaxation techniques and therapies can also ease your mental and emotional state while also providing positive physical side effects.
Practices like meditation can be helpful. Mediation can help you determine and possibly eliminate the sources of your anxiety. Just a few minutes each day helps many people.
Meditation helps you bring attention to your inner self, your body, and helps you forget about the outside world at least for a period of time.
Tips for Anxiety
Coping with anxiety can be tough. It varies with each person but here are some tips that may help.
- Go to bed a little earlier
- Don’t be a perfectionist, just do your best
- Try to put some humor in your daily life
- Reach out to others. Talking about your anxiety can help
- Eat well
- Don’t drink things with caffeine
- Stand up tall and breathe calmly
- Focus only on what you can control in your life
- Stay off social media
- Don’t watch the news
- Find a quiet place outside, close your eyes and focus on the little sounds you hear
Religion and Anxiety
Religion can also provide a sense of peace and stability to answer the fears you may have.
Many people claim that being devoted to their religion in their lives significantly reduces the amount of anxiety they feel. Many religions state that God is in control of their destiny and thus there are some things out of your control so you need not worry so much about daily events.
Scientific studies have shown this to be true even suggesting that religious practices can change the way a person’s brain functions in a positive manner.
One of the most important things you can do is to recognize that you do not have to suffer alone. People around you can help you deal with your anxiety.
It is important to trust those that can genuinely help you from a place of love and concern. Family members, close friends, or a coworker may be of great support in times of anxiety and stress.
You can seek out medical assistance or work with a therapist to find relief.
It can be uncomfortable to open up to others, particularly if your anxiety is social in nature. Ironically though, inserting yourself into social situations, and removing yourself from isolation can prevent some of the fears you are experiencing.
As we’ve seen, there is no single root cause for anxiety. We all live with different forms of stress and can become anxious about a wide variety of things. Life is not easy or fair. That is just a reality.
Everyone processes fears and doubts differently and that is ok. We each find our own unique ways of coping with the things that weigh us down.
Being overwhelmed with daily life is NOT unusual for many people so don’t feel alone if this is happening to you.
However, learning more about the root causes of your particular anxieties, identifying the specific fears that you struggle with, and learning how your symptoms manifest themselves can be a great help to rid yourself of these concerns.
Most importantly, by finding out what helps you deal with your anxiety, you can learn to find healthy outlets and resolutions to the stress and fear in your life.
Note: This article is just my opinion on this subject based on my research after experiencing what I felt was an anxiety attack. Nothing more is implied. I just felt that me sharing my thoughts and experiences may be of use.