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What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like

signs your having an anxiety attack

One day you receive a call from your supervisor telling you that they’ve had to downsize and let you go. After you hang up, you feel lightheaded, and there’s a sudden feeling of everything spiraling out of control. You might have experienced an anxiety attack.

Identifying Symptoms and Learning How to Manage an Anxiety Attack

An anxiety attack is a reaction to a particular stressor. This reaction is often characterized by fearfulness, overwhelming hopelessness, and a racing heart. Anxiety attacks are commonly used interchangeably with panic attacks, but the conditions are different even though they share many similarities.

General feelings of anxiety, when faced with an unfamiliar situation, are common and happen to everyone. This kind of anxiety may feel like uneasiness in the stomach, often referred to as feeling butterflies in your stomach. However, anxiety attacks are more severe reactions than general feelings of anxiety. 

anxiety attackAnxiety attacks cause a physical and mental response to a specific stressor, fear, or circumstance. For example, receiving sudden and unexpected bad news from a relative could trigger an attack, or hearing footsteps while in a dark alley could also prompt a reaction.

Anxiety attacks are usually shorter episodes than panic attacks. They typically subside once the stressor or anxiety-provoking situation is out of the picture. Once an individual walks past that dark alley and makes it through to a location where they feel safer, the symptoms will lessen.

The symptoms of an anxiety attack are closely related to the fight or flight response phenomenon. When an individual is faced with an uncomfortable or threatening situation, the body reacts to try and protect itself. When this response is triggered, an individual can experience symptoms like rapid breathing and a fast heart rate. 

Anxiety Vs Panic Attacks

Panic attacks, on the other hand, do not require a stressor. A panic attack can happen at any time and often has more severe symptoms than an anxiety attack. Panic attacks are episodes of overwhelming fear where the individual may have trouble breathing, chest pain, and feel as if they are going to have a heart attack or lose control.

The best way to begin learning how to manage these attacks is to recognize the symptoms and track any stressful circumstances that could serve as triggers. By taking the time to understand your condition and triggers better, you will be better equipped to handle these episodes. Both physical symptoms and mental symptoms can occur.

Signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack can include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling easily frightened or jumpy
  • Worry and distress
  • Feeling a need to escape from the current situation
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Blank mind
  • Perceived loss of control
  • Irritability

Experiencing frequent anxiety attacks can take a toll on your life. You may be wary of certain situations and be especially careful around any known triggers. This avoidance, while useful in preventing some anxiety attacks from occurring, can make going about a daily routine difficult. Certain places and situations that are ordinary chores or responsibilities may be difficult to fulfill.

How Can You Tell If You’re Having an Attack?

The main component of identifying an anxiety attack is singling out a responsible trigger. Anxiety attacks, unlike panic attacks, are brought on by a certain circumstance. Suppose, you were recently in an anxiety-causing situation or a circumstance that could provoke fear, you could be experiencing an anxiety attack alongside some of the listed symptoms.

Anxiety attacks tend to disappear once the stressor is removed. Suppose you distance yourself from the stressful situation and find that your symptoms have lessened and you feel less overwhelmed and fearful. In that case, you can identify the trigger for that anxiety attack.

It’s important to note that anxiety attacks also share similar symptoms to conditions like panic attacks and heart attacks. If you find that the attacks are brought on out of the blue without an identifiable trigger, you could be experiencing a panic attack instead.

Heart attacks, meanwhile, can only be diagnosed through medical testing. If you are at a higher risk of a heart attack, consulting with your primary doctor about your experiences can be beneficial. Your medical provider will be able to identify your condition better and help you distinguish between a heart attack and an anxiety attack.

Ensuring that your condition is properly diagnosed is an important part of seeking help. It is especially important to receive a medical diagnosis if you have other medical conditions that require attention.

What Should I Do If I Am Having an Anxiety Attack?

If you think you might be having an anxiety attack, the first step to handling it is to recognize that you are having one. This is why knowing about triggers and symptoms of an attack is important in the long-run. Once you can identify that you’re having an anxiety attack, you can carry out steps to help you cope with it.

After recognizing that you are having an anxiety attack or are about to have one, you should take deep breaths. Deep breaths can help prevent hyperventilation and slow a racing heartbeat. Try to relax your muscles at this time and don’t tense up too much. By taking deep breaths and allowing your muscles to be loose, you can encourage your body to be more relaxed and decrease the feeling of losing control. 

Because anxiety attacks happen in response to a certain situation or circumstance, removing yourself from that situation, if possible, can be helpful in moving past the symptoms of an attack. Symptoms usually subside once the stressor has been removed.

Overall, the most important idea in helping yourself during an anxiety attack is to try a variety of techniques to keep yourself calm. Taking deep breaths is one of the most widely used relaxation techniques. It is also useful to take some time to understand how you respond to anxiety and develop ways to lower anxiety and promote calm.

anxiety attack feelingAfter an attack has passed, take some time to reflect on any circumstances or stressors you think could have been triggered.

If you cannot identify any triggers and the attack seems to have happened randomly, you may have had a panic attack instead. If you have these episodes multiple times without any clear trigger, it’s advisable to consult a medical professional, as this could be a sign of an untreated panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are recognized medical conditions that can be treated by a doctor. 

Other anxiety disorders include social phobia, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorders. These conditions can provoke feelings of anxiety or panic in an individual. Excessive worry and avoidance of situations often accompanies these conditions.

How Do I Get Treatment for Panic or Anxiety Disorders?

Avoiding triggers can be an effective way to prevent future anxiety attacks. However, some triggers may involve places or circumstances that you need to access regularly. This can pose a challenge to those trying to avoid those circumstances. As a consequence, daily routines can be interrupted, and daily tasks become difficult to complete. Avoiding situations that may cause someone to feel anxious can make completing tasks difficult.

If you have had multiple anxiety attacks, it can be highly beneficial for you to seek help from a medical provider. You may have an underlying anxiety disorder that can be treated. Therapy and medication, if needed, can be helpful tools in treating your condition. Your doctor will help determine the best course of action for you based on your needs.

Besides seeing a doctor, there are some steps you can take on your own to help with anxiety attacks. Opening up to others about your anxiety attacks and learning and gathering information about them and other anxiety disorders can help you better understand the best coping methods for your experiences. Joining an anxiety support group can also be highly beneficial by providing a secure space to compare experiences and learn from others.

Living a healthy lifestyle by getting an appropriate amount of quality sleep each night, exercising regularly, and eating well can also positively affect your mental health. Likewise, cutting back or quitting regular alcohol consumption, smoking, or caffeine can reduce the potential for anxiety attacks. Alcohol consumption, smoking, and caffeine are all contributors to worsening anxiety levels.

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for anxiety attacks, SUN Behavioral Columbus is here to help you! Our team will listen to your needs and provide customized treatment that is targeted to your specific concerns. Call us today at 614-706-2786 to get started with your treatment.

Read Our FAQs:

What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

A panic attack and anxiety attack share similar symptoms. The difference is that a panic attack does not need a particular trigger, stressor, or circumstance. Panic attacks can happen out of nowhere. Anxiety attacks happen due to a specific circumstance, such as anticipating a steep drop on a roller coaster.

Anxiety attacks also tend to end once the stressful situation or trigger is removed or distanced from the individual.

How long do anxiety attacks last?

Anxiety attacks can last up to a couple of minutes. Typically, they do not last very long and are shorter episodes than panic attacks. They will end when the trigger is removed from the equation.

What triggers an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack can be triggered by a highly stressful incident or exposure to fear, including stress and fear of something like an amusement park ride.

How to know if you are having an anxiety attack?

Suppose, you were exposed to a highly stressful incident or intense fear. You began experiencing tightness in your chest, a rapid heartbeat, shaking, an inability to concentrate, chest pain, and shortness of breath. In that case, you might be having an anxiety attack.

The attack will usually subside once you move away from the stressful incident or fear. If the attack seems to happen out of the blue, you might be having a panic attack instead. Panic attacks do not need a trigger to occur.

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