What Is an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks are scary and common. They are an offshoot of anxiety disorders, which affect up to 18 percent of the U.S. population. Indeed, one of the worst parts of anxiety disorders are the resulting anxiety attacks.

During anxiety attacks, sufferers can feel like they have lost all control. Some may even feel as though they are dying.

If you’re worried you might have had an anxiety attack or want to understand what they are, this article will help you learn about them, how they manifest, and how you can deal with them.

What Is an Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack is an episode of extreme anxiety. Your mind starts racing, you undergo a physical reaction, and you feel like you are in danger.

An anxiety attack makes feelings of worry so severe that you can’t focus on anything else. Your ability to think goes out the window, and you become consumed by apprehension. These emotional reactions affect your body, which displays symptoms during an attack. While most anxiety attacks end within 10 minutes of starting, your mind and your body will still feel exhausted from the experience for the rest of the day and it can be hard to focus on your environment.

Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack

There are many symptoms you might experience during an anxiety attack. If you are worried that you might be suffering from anxiety attacks, you should seek help as soon as possible. Seeking help from a therapist or psychologist is one of the best ways to deal with severe anxiety.

Physical Symptoms

There is a range of physical symptoms someone might experience while going through an anxiety attack:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Racing heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Nausea
  • Intestinal distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Tingling sensations or numbness
  • Muscle tension

Many of the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks overlap with other serious diseases. For example, people suffering from an anxiety attack fear they are experiencing a heart attack and will go to the emergency room.

Psychosomatic Symptoms

There are various psychosomatic symptoms sufferers may experience during an anxiety attack. These intense feelings can sometimes be more overwhelming than the physical sensations and include:

  • Feeling like things around you aren’t real (this is also called derealization)
  • Feeling like you are detached from yourself (this is also called depersonalization)
  • Fear of going crazy or losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Racing or uncontrollable thoughts
  • Having an almost uncontrollable urge to run away or fight

What Is an Anxiety Attack?What’s the Difference Between Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

An anxiety attack is a symptom of anxiety disorder. We can think of them as severe manifestations of an overlying anxiety disorder.

Many people experience anxiety on an everyday basis, such as while they are giving a presentation at work or taking a difficult test at school. Anxiety disorders go beyond everyday feelings of anxiety. An anxiety disorder is when these feelings interfere with a person’s ability to live their lives. Anxiety disorders can ruin one’s ability to work, go to school, have relationships, or be in social situations.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, notably:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD worry about a wide variety of things and find it difficult to control those worries. Those suffering from GAD expect the worst out of situations and find themselves constantly apprehensive, even when these feelings don’t make sense.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder is anxiety surrounding social situations. People with the disorder suffer from an intense fear of being judged by other people. The fear can become so severe that people refrain from relationships altogether.

Panic Disorder

Panic and anxiety attacks are not the same. The biggest difference between them is that anxiety attacks will usually have a trigger that causes them to occur, whereas panic attacks can happen for no reason. Anxiety attacks are also considered to be less severe than panic attacks and are easier to recover from.

What Is an Anxiety AttackHow to Recover from Anxiety Attacks

Scientists are still trying to figure out what exactly causes anxiety and anxiety attacks. Poor sleep or sleep debt can aggravate anxiety symptoms and cause you to have an anxiety attack in a situation you might normally be able to deal with.

While there aren’t definitive causes, here are some common things that may trigger attacks:

  • Dealing with money and finances
  • Being in crowds
  • Being away from home
  • Seeing people you love struggle
  • Doing something unfamiliar to you
  • Being alone
  • Dealing with death
  • Feeling closed in or claustrophobic
  • Having too much pressure at work
  • Driving

You need to figure out your anxiety triggers. Think back to your last attack. Did someone say something that caused you to worry to an extreme degree? Or were you exposed to something you have excessively worried about in the past? Identifying your anxiety triggers is a good way to help prevent anxiety attacks from happening in the first place.

If you are in the middle of an anxiety attack, one of the best ways to calm down is to focus on your breathing. This can settle your mind and bring you back down from a state of heightened anxiety.

Enhancing relaxation in your life can help prevent anxiety attacks from occurring in the future. Here are some stress reduction techniques to incorporate into your routine:

  • Adult coloring books. Coloring books give your brain something other than your anxiety to focus on. Coloring helps calm our amygdala, the fear center of our brain.
  • Physical activity. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Even simple exercises such as yoga and going on a walk can be highly beneficial.
  • Spire. Spire can help you take control of your overall anxiety levels. Spire detects when you are tense and reminds you to do breathing exercises before your anxiety spills over into an anxiety attack.
  • Grounding techniques. These are excellent as an everyday practice and for calming down during an anxiety attack. Grounding techniques focus on physical, present objects, which helps people come back to reality. There are many grounding techniques available.

While you are in the middle of an anxiety attack, it can feel like the world is ending and there is nothing you can do about it. And despite the many options available for anxiety treatment, only one-third of sufferers seek help. But anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. It has a number of treatments which have been proven to work. There is light at the end of the tunnel — all you need is a bit of initiative to get there.

About the Author

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Spire is dedicated to helping you live a happier, healthier lifestyle with an easy-to-use device for mindful breathing techniques. Learn more about the benefits of breath-tracking at Spire.io.


Anxiety, Breathing, Stress

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