If you suffer from anxiety, you may have also experienced an anxiety attack.
Commonly known as a panic attack, an anxiety attack is when feelings of dread or anxiety become extreme and a person experiences a physical reaction and intense fear. The physical symptoms are so strong that people believe they are having a heart attack or are dying, often causing them to seek help at an emergency room. Knowing what an anxiety attack looks like before it happens can help you recognize the attack, seek the proper treatment and equip you with the knowledge to prevent anxiety attacks in the future.
Anxiety Attack Symptoms: Physical
Anxiety attacks share many of the same physical symptoms as other severe health issues such as heart attacks. This can make it challenging to tell if what you are experiencing is anxiety, or if it is an emergency situation which requires a call to 911.
The most important difference is that an anxiety attack symptoms usually peak in 10 minutes, while a heart attack peaks within 1-2 minutes. If your physical symptoms persist for more than a few minutes, it’s likely an anxiety attack.
The physical symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
- Chest pains: These pains can feel sharp, burning, numb or tense. They range from affecting only one area of the chest to the entire chest.
- Difficulty breathing: Anxiety attacks often cause people to hyperventilate. The overwhelming fear experienced during the attack causes your body to increase demand for oxygen, causing you to breath faster. Hyperventilation can bring in too much oxygen and expel too much carbon dioxide, which throws off your blood’s natural pH levels. This can lead to feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness and headaches.
- Muscle tension or soreness: When you feel stressed, your body tends to hold on to that stress. Severe anxiety, as during a panic attack, can lead muscles being tense for a longer period of time. This can fatigue your muscles, leading to muscle weakness, body aches and soreness.
- Rapid heart rate or heart palpitations: Your heart starts racing when you feel anxious because of a surge of adrenaline that floods your body.
- Shaking and trembling: Trembling or shaking during an anxiety attack is common, and can make sufferers feel like they’ve lost control.
- Nausea and stomach ache: When you feel extremely anxious, your body shuts down functions that aren’t immediately necessary, including the digestion. Intense emotional stress can create intestinal distress, which in turn leads to nausea and upset stomach.
- Sweating: This is your body trying to avoid the need to urinate, as it believes you are in immediate danger and can’t be impeded by a trip to the bathroom. Your body’s attempt to shed itself of moisture leads to excessive sweating.
Anxiety Attack Symptoms: mental
Many of the mental symptoms of an anxiety attack are worsened by the physical symptoms. Because the physical symptoms are so real and seem to come from nowhere, many anxiety attacks can lead people to believe they are in mortal danger or losing their minds.
These mental symptoms are less visible but are just as problematic as their physical counterparts. Mental symptoms include:
- Catastrophizing: A full-blown panic attack can lead to the sufferer thinking that everything is collapsing around them. They become obsessed with going through worse-case scenarios, and unable to think through to even minor problems.
- Intense desire to leave: Anxiety attacks are physical and mental manifestations of your fight-or-flight response. A strong desire to leave the situation or environment you’re in while having an attack 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: Many people who suffer from anxiety attacks feel helpless. You may feel out of control because of the things that are happening to your body and unable to help yourself.
- Depersonalization: Depersonalization is what happens when you feel detached from your environment. Familiar people may feel like strangers and you’ll feel spaced out.
- Feeling like your brain isn’t working: During an anxiety attack, there is a lot going on. Trying to process all of it at once can be difficult and taxing. This may lead the sufferer to feel as though their brains are out of order.
- Fear of dying: Experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety attack can be a traumatic event, leading some sufferers to fear for their life.
- Restlessness, feeling wound-up or on edge: Feeling restless or on edge is a common symptom of an anxiety attack as your mind is on alert for signs of danger. This restlessness can also lead to difficulty sleeping once the anxiety attack is over.
Overcoming Anxiety Attacks
Being able to recognize that you are having an anxiety attack can help you understand that you may have an anxiety disorder. Instead of going to the ER, you’ll know to seek treatment from a mental health professional.
Some common treatments mental health professionals prescribe are antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of mental health therapy which helps people identify sources of their stress and learn to rationalize and manage them more effectively. You may also be referred to support groups if your anxiety is based on a past traumatic experience or current life situations.
Beyond mental health professionals, there are many steps you can take to improve the levels of anxiety and stress in your current life. Things like meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga contribute to overall wellness and stress management.
If you want to give your efforts further boost, consider incorporating the Spire tool into your life. Spire sends helpful signals to your phone to let you know when your breathing indicates that your body is entering a state of stress. This lets you take control over stress before it spills over into an anxiety attack.
Anxiety attacks are difficult. They are scary and physically taxing. By appropriately identifying these attacks and taking the right steps to address the underlying mental health issues, a cure is imminent.