Introduction to Acute Anxiety and Treatments

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated August 24, 2022

Introduction to Acute Anxiety and Treatments

Many people experience a type of long, drawn out, chronic anxiety that they live with every day. This type of anxiety reduces your quality of life, but it is manageable, in that it rarely gets too severe and instead provides this persistent feeling of unease that takes away from your daily activities.

But there is another type of anxiety - acute anxiety - that is so severe that it can cause you to feel like the world around you is collapsing. Acute anxiety often goes by another name: "panic attacks," and they're a type of anxiety that is extremely stressful and can cause you to feel like you are losing control.

Diagnosing Acute Anxiety

Acute anxiety is diagnosed through its symptoms, which are often extremely physical.

Don't let the name fool you. There is nothing mild about acute anxiety. Acute anxiety is moments of severe anxiety and panic that are so powerful it can feel like you are having a heart attack. Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pains
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling of doom/fear of death

They peak within about 10 minutes and then slowly decline, and throughout it all, you will find yourself over-aware of the way you feel, as though something is wrong with your health.

Acute anxiety is often brought on by stress. But it is possible for acute anxiety to be brought on by nothing at all, or for an attack to occur _because_ you're worried about acute anxiety. Acute anxiety may also cause a host of physical symptoms, and often land people in the hospital that are afraid that they just had a serious health attack.

Panic Attacks, Acute Anxiety, and Other

Acute anxiety is not necessarily a technical term, so in some cases, it may refer to any attack of extreme, significant anxiety that comes on suddenly. For example, in moments of intense fear - like when you're confronted with a phobia or even when you're truly in danger - it is possible to have a period of time with severe, intense anxiety that ultimately goes away. That may also be considered acute anxiety under the broad definition.

But most of the time, acute anxiety refers to a panic attack. When you have severe acute anxiety attacks or you constantly live in fear of an anxiety attack, you may be diagnosed with panic disorder.

How to Stop Acute Anxiety Attacks

Responding to acute anxiety attacks is a process. It involves making sure that you reduce the overall stress in your life, responding to some of the physical triggers that often lead to anxiety attacks, and learning how to prevent yourself from increasing the severity of the attacks.

Some doctors prescribe medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be incredibly valuable for those that suffer from severe anxiety. But there are other strategies you can use as well:

  • Exercise Regularly Exercise provides daily stress reduction that the body needs. There is a reason that those that don't exercise seem to suffer from acute anxiety more often. Exercise relaxes the brain, improves hormone function, and provides a host of different benefits that make it something you need to introduce into your life to control acute anxiety.
  • Learn to Breathe Many of the symptoms of acute anxiety come from hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is when you breathe out too much carbon dioxide, usually by breathing too quickly or breathing in more than your body needs without holding any air. It can feel like you're not getting enough oxygen, so you will have a tendency to want to breathe in more, but you need to fight that desire and instead try to have slower, calmer breaths where you hold your breath few a few seconds at its peak.
  • Get Used to Triggers Many acute anxiety attacks have physical triggers. For example, if you feel a little dizzy it may cause you to start automatically hyperventilating, thus creating an anxiety attack. Learn to get used to these triggers by causing them on purpose. Spinning in chairs, hyperventilating on purpose, drinking lots of coffee, etc. You may want to do this in the presence of a trained professional, but this type of exposure can help you improve your response to anxiety.

Each of these represents only the first step, however. Truly preventing acute anxiety requires a commitment to your own mental health and the ability to genuinely recognize what you need to control your panic.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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