If you suffer from anxiety, you may have also experienced an anxiety attack. Some people who don’t deal with anxiety disorders can get anxiety attacks if stress and worry gets to an unmanageable level.
An anxiety attack is when feelings of dread or anxiety become so extreme that the sufferer cannot focus on anything else. This overwhelming experience can lead people to believe they are dying, and seek out medical attention. When you’re in the midst of this state of frenzy, it’s hard to realize that what you’re experiencing could be an anxiety attack. These heightened periods of anxiety share many symptoms with heart attacks, so it’s easy to think the worst is happening.
Knowing what an anxiety attack looks like before it happens can help you recognize anxiety and seek the proper treatment for what you’re experiencing.
One of the challenging things about anxiety attacks is that they share many of the same physical symptoms as other severe health issues. These symptoms are just as real as if you were having a heart attack, or other health challenge. This can sometimes make it challenging to tell if what you are experiencing is related to anxiety, or if it is because of something more serious.
Many people mistake anxiety attacks for heart attacks because of how similar the symptoms are. Those who have not suffered from an anxiety attack can have a hard time understanding the physical side of the experience. Anxiety attacks are much more physical than people think they ought to be, with many of the symptoms showing up in your body as much, if not more than, in your head.
One of the biggest differences is that an anxiety attack usually peaks in 10 minutes, while a heart attack peaks right away. If your physical sensations persist for more than a minute, it’s likely due to anxiety.
An anxiety attack doesn’t necessarily come with all of the symptoms listed below. Rather, they are a range of symptoms you might experience while suffering from an anxiety attack.
Physical symptoms include:
- Chest pains
These pains can feel sharp, persistent, burning, numb, or tense. They are also described as a radiating pain, and range from affecting only one area to the entire chest.
- Difficulty breathing
Anxiety attacks often cause people to hyperventilate. Going into fight or flight mode can cause your body to suddenly increase demand for oxygen. However, when this turns into hyperventilation, it brings in too much oxygen and expels too much carbon dioxide. This throws off your blood’s natural pH levels, which can also lead to feeling light headed, or feeling like you are about to faint.
- Muscle weakness, tension, or soreness
When you feel stress, your body tends to hold on to that stress. If your feelings of worry and stress get to an unmanageable level, such as the levels common in anxiety attacks, your body can become hypersensitive to your stress, leading to high levels of tension. Being tense for a long period of time can lead to muscle weakness, body aches, or soreness.
- Rapid heartbeat/heart palpitations
Doctors don’t know exactly why your heart starts racing when you feel anxious. It is likely due to the surge of adrenaline that floods your body when your brain believes it is facing danger. If you are worried about your heart palpitations, it never hurts to get checked out.
- Shaking and trembling
Trembling or shaking during an anxiety attack is incredibly common. These kinds of tremors come because of the fight or flight response often responsible for an anxiety attack. Trembling or shaking that comes with an anxiety attack is often uncontrollable, and can make sufferers feel like they’ve lost control.
- Nausea and stomach ache
Intense emotional stress can create intestinal distress, which in turn leads to nausea. When you feel extremely anxious, your body shuts down functions that aren’t necessary to dealing with immediate danger, including the digestive tract. Anxiety attacks are incredibly stressful on your body, and when you’ve had enough, it can turn into nausea.
Feeling dizzy is a common symptom of having an anxiety attack. Most of the time, dizziness is caused by hyperventilation. When you are breathing too quickly, your balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is thrown off, making it difficult for your body to process what’s going on. Anxiety related dizziness can also be caused by dehydration.
When your feelings of anxiety are allowed to run unchecked, your body’s stress response is activated, which can lead to excessive sweating. This is because your body is trying to avoid the need to urinate, as it believes you are in immediate danger and might need to run at any moment.
Many of the mental symptoms of an anxiety attack are worsened by the physical manifestations of anxiety. Because the physical symptoms are so real, and seem to come from nowhere, many anxiety attacks can lead people to believe they are dying or are in mortal danger.
In addition to the physical symptoms, anxiety attacks bring a host of mental complications to the mix. These symptoms are less visible, but are just as real and problematic as their physical counterparts.
mental symptoms include:
Anxiety attacks are what happen when you let your worries get the best of you. Worrying about what is going on in your life is normal, but if you frequently find yourself imagining the worst case scenario, then your anxiety has gone too far. Assuming that the worst is called catastrophizing, because you jump to the conclusion that a catastrophe is imminent no matter what you do.
- Intense desire to leave
Anxiety attacks are physical and mental manifestations of your fight or flight reflex. If you find yourself with an overwhelming desire to leave the situation, that is your reflex kicking in. Your body is reacting to what it perceives as a mortal threat and is trying to get you out of danger.
- Feeling helpless
Being suddenly overcome with all of these symptoms can be overwhelming. Many people who suffer from anxiety attacks feel helpless to change their situation. You may feel like you can’t do anything to address what you are worried about, or you may feel out of control because of the things that are happening to your body.
Derealization is what happens when you feel detached from your environment. The people around you may feel like strangers and you might feel spaced out. This is a complicated symptom that mental health professionals are at a loss to explain. It could be the brain’s way to trying to cope with an extremely stressful situation by detaching from it completely.
- Feeling like your brain isn’t working
Anxiety makes it hard to concentrate on the important things going on in your life. Instead of being able to focus at work or school, your mind is instead caught up in all of the what ifs and worst case scenarios that anxiety leads us to obsess over. During an anxiety attack, there is a lot going on. Trying to process all of it at once can be difficult and taxing, not to mention extremely frustrating.
- Fear of dying
Because of the scary symptoms happening while you are having an anxiety attack, you might be afraid that you are going to die. Often the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack can be so severe that you become convinced it will lead to death. This is also an example of catastrophizing.
- Restlessness, feeling wound-up or on edge
Feeling restless or on edge is a common symptom of an anxiety attack. Your mind is on alert for signs of danger to match the problems you are so worried about. This restlessness can also lead to difficulty sleeping once the anxiety attack is over.
Anxiety attacks are scary, and can feel like the end of the world when they are happening. Being able to recognize that you are having an anxiety attack can help you seek treatment from a mental health professional. Getting the right kind of treatment can reduce the likelihood of you having an anxiety attack, and will give you ways to cope with them while they are happening.