Day to day anxiety can be hard to cope with. Every day you experience nervousness, tension, and a variety of symptoms that disrupt your day and damage your mood. Persistent, chronic anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the world, and one that many people are forced to manage.
But many people experience something much worse - an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks are severe, intense feelings of anxiety that cause a host of symptoms that in some people are so disabling, they can actually cause hospitalization.
What is an Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety attacks are a combination of physical and mental symptoms that are intense and overwhelming. The anxiety is more than just regular nervousness. The anxiety is often a feeling of immense, impending doom that makes many people feel they're about to die, or that everything around them is breaking down.
It creates physical symptoms that are so severe they actually mimic legitimate, serious health problems. If you haven't done so yet, take the free 7 minute anxiety test to see the symptoms that affect you.
Those that haven't had an anxiety attack before often have no idea that what they're experiencing is anxiety. That's because the symptoms of anxiety attacks and panic attacks mimic extremely serious issues, such as:
- Heart attacks and heart failure.
- Brain tumors.
- Multiple sclerosis.
Yet despite how intense these things can feel, anxiety attacks are not remotely dangerous.
The Difference Between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack
Anxiety attack is not a clinical term. It's a term used to describe periods of more intense anxiety that go beyond traditional anxiety experiences.
That differs from the term panic attack. Panic attacks are severe anxiety attacks like what is described above - attacks that are often so disabling that many people struggle to cope with them, and develop panic disorder, health anxiety, and possibly agoraphobia.
Traditionally, the term "anxiety attack" is used to discuss weaker versions of panic attacks. If you have multiple panic attacks, you have panic disorder. Anxiety attacks can affect anyone - even those without panic disorder or an anxiety disorder - and so the term is used to encompass all of these types of attacks.
For the purposes of this article, we'll discuss anxiety attacks as the weaker version of a panic attack. But in life, people do use the two terms somewhat interchangeably, and both are related to the same feelings of doom, along with relevant symptoms.
Another Way of Defining Anxiety Attacks
In some cases, anxiety attacks may also be used to describe any severe version of an anxiety disorder. For example, if you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, an anxiety attack would be any time that the anxiety temporarily becomes so pronounced that the obsessions and compulsions appear to be impossible to stop. Or if you have social phobia, and your anxiety attack forces you to leave all social situations shaking.
These types of anxiety attacks are not necessarily "attacks" so much as exacerbated versions of already occurring anxiety disorders.
How to Tell if You're Having an Anxiety Attack
Recall that anxiety attacks can mimic other health problems. If you haven't been to a doctor, it's often a good idea to go at least once to rule out any more serious issues. Make sure your doctor knows about anxiety, however. Not all doctors are aware of the severity of anxiety attack symptoms.
Also, if you haven't yet, take my 7 minute anxiety test to see how your symptoms related to anxiety disorders.
The symptoms below are often experienced differently by different people. During an anxiety attack, your body experiences a wave of stress that is so profound, it's difficult to know exactly how your individual body will react. Yet below are some of the most common symptoms of an anxiety attack:
- Rapid, pounding heartbeat.
- Feeling of your heart being squeezed or pressured.
- Chest pains, often sharp pains in the center of the chest.
- Intense sweating with possible hot/cold sensations.
- Lightheadedness, possibly with confusion.
- Feeling as though you cannot get a deep breath.
- Weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms and legs.
- Dizziness, possibly along with feeling faint.
- Burning sensations that travel through the skin and muscles.
- Intense feeling of doom - as though something terrible is about to happen.
- Trouble concentrating or focusing on anything other than your symptoms.
- The impulse of feeling like you need to escape, or you need a doctor.
- Trouble listening/hearing, sometimes while feeling as though your ears are plugged.
- Overwhelming fear - a level of anxiety that can convince you of something terrible.
- Depersonalization, also known as feeling as though you're watching yourself.
- Feelings of going crazy or that your mind is failing you.
- Nausea and stomach discomfort, possibly with pain.
- Head pressure as though your head is being squeezed.
- Pressing need to urinate or defecate.
- Trouble holding your head up.
You may not experience all of these symptoms at once either, and each one may cause various degrees of severity. You may also feel as though there is no way that it is an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are often so severe for people, that it causes tremendous health anxiety - many people develop a degree of health anxiety that causes symptoms to worsen, and a significant fear of the symptoms coming back.
Do These Symptoms Sound Like You?
Have you ever looked at a list of all of your symptoms and seen how badly they affect you? I have a 7 minute anxiety test that can help you get an idea of how your anxiety symptoms are controlling your life and what you can do to treat it. Click here to take the test now.
Anxiety attacks also tend to peak around 10 minutes (though because anxiety attacks are not as severe as panic attacks, they may peak differently). Then as they dissipate, they often leave you feeling fatigued and drained, possibly fearful of another attack.
What Does Anxiety Attacks Mean
Anxiety attacks often have triggers, although they can be triggered by nothing at all. Some people experience anxiety attacks during periods of intense anxiety, but many others experience them "out of nowhere," usually as a response to a physical sensation. For example, it's not uncommon to have your first anxiety attack simply because your heartbeat speeds up, because anxiety has caused you to be hypersensitive to these changes.
The causes of anxiety attacks are everything from severe stress to hyperventilation to a need to regain control. It differs for different people, which is why treating it has a great deal to do with identifying triggers. Once you've experienced an anxiety attack, the fear of another anxiety attack may actually trigger an attack, because those that are afraid of getting a panic attack again often pay too much attention to their own body, and react to any changes in sensations.
What to Do When You Have An Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks often need to run their course. Once they've started, there is very little that you can do to stop them completely. They're a reaction that your body has that is somewhat beyond your control. They can be prevented, and their severity can be lessened, but they are very hard to stop.
Reducing its severity has to do with reacting correctly to the symptoms. Remember - the physical symptoms you experience are very real, and very disruptive. But they're not related to any health problem, and solely a result of your anxiety. If you believe you feel an anxiety attack coming or you're certain you're in the middle of the one, try the following:
- Don't Try to Fight it Completely Anxiety attacks can be prevented, but stopping them is extremely difficult. If you try to fight it and try to force yourself to not experience a rush of anxiety, you'll often find that you're making your symptoms worse.
- Distract Yourself You can lessen the severity of the symptoms by finding some type of distraction. The severity of an anxiety attack is often related to how focused you are on the experience. If you can distract yourself, it will often be slightly weaker. If possible, call someone on a cell phone, turn on the TV, or walk around. All of these provide some level of distraction that can be useful for reducing the anxiety attack's severity.
- Control Breathing One of the most common symptoms of an anxiety attack is the feeling that you cannot get a full breath. Often you react by trying to breathe deeper, or yawn. But the reality is that shortness of breath feeling is often caused by breathing in too much oxygen, not too little. Even though it feels like you cannot get a deep breath, it's likely you have breathed in such a way that your carbon dioxide levels are actually too low. Take slower breaths, and hold your breath for a second or two before slowly exhaling to regain the right oxygen/CO2 balance.
- Don't Hold it In If you have someone around you that you care about, consider telling them you're having an anxiety attack and explaining to them what you feel. Many of the worst panic attacks occur when someone is trying to deal with them on their own in the company of someone else. They stay inside their own mind, and end up making the anxiety attack worse.
- Face Your Fears It may sound counterintuitive, but if you seem to get anxiety attacks in specific situations or places, go back to them on purpose. Anxiety attacks are often fueled by reinforcement. When you stay away from a place that gives you anxiety attacks, it reinforces the idea that you have something to fear, and you're more likely to get an attack again somewhere else. Avoiding every place that causes an attack is one of the reasons many people with persistent panic attacks develop agoraphobia - or the fear of going outdoors.
Drinking water may also calm the mind, and if you feel strong enough, a good jog can get your body to breathe better and use oxygen at a healthier pace.
Preventing Anxiety Attacks
Remember that one of the key issues with anxiety attacks is that once they start, they tend to trigger a cascade of reactions that are nearly impossible to stop. What you can do, however, is prevent your anxiety attacks from coming back.
Prevention is a slow process. It starts by going to the doctor - for your own mental health, you do need to make sure that you've ruled out any of your health concerns. Anxiety attacks tend to create serious health anxiety, and health anxiety is not something that can easily be stopped if you don't at least go in for your annual checkup.
Afterward, the key is to learn how to react to your symptoms. Often you'll find that the following are the reasons that you start to deal with more anxiety attacks:
- You're responding to sensations in your body with severe anxiety.
- You're breathing poorly and/or thinking too much about your breathing/health.
- You're experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety naturally, causing a higher stress baseline.
All of these need to be addressed to control your anxiety forever.
I developed a 7 minute anxiety test that I've used to help thousands of people dealing with anxiety attacks. The goal of the test is to first show you which symptoms of yours are due to anxiety and what anxiety disorder they fall under. From there, you'll be able to:
- Compare your symptoms to other people dealing with anxiety.
- See a graph of how your anxiety is affecting you.
- View relevant treatment choices based on your anxiety type.
It's a completely free test, and it's very important for understanding your anxiety better, and stopping your anxiety attacks once and for all.
Take the test here before you do anything else.