What Causes Anxiety Attacks And How Can I Cope With Them?

Updated December 23, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Millions of people around the world experience anxiety. Current statistics show that nearly 40 million people in the United States alone have some type of anxiety disorder. Some of those 40 million people also experience anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks can be scary, and many people feel as if they’re having a heart attack or an extreme asthma attack. If you’ve suddenly started having anxiety attacks, then you could be wondering what causes them to happen.

What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

Explore Anxiety Attacks And Ways To Cope.

There are many things that can cause anxiety attacks, and triggers for anxiety attacks can vary from person to person. One individual might have an anxiety attack because they are speaking in public, whereas someone else might have one in the middle of taking an exam. It may help to learn what your triggers are. Read on to explore some of the common reasons why people have anxiety attacks.


Stress can be one of the most common causes of anxiety and anxiety attacks. You may have several sources of stress in your life, and all of them could contribute to anxiety. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, then you might have problems handling stress. The intensity of your anxiety disorder could play a role in how well you cope with stress.

Anyone can be experience an anxiety attack under the right conditions. Everyone experiences stress in life, and sometimes particularly trying moments occur, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. Anxiety attacks aren’t necessarily an indication that you have an anxiety disorder, but you might talk to your doctor about what is happening to get help.

Social Anxiety Triggers

Social anxiety triggers are another thing to consider. Many people with generalized anxiety disorder experience social anxiety as well. If you feel uneasy when you’re out in public, then you may have problems with social anxiety. Sometimes this social anxiety can present itself as an anxiety attack. You might feel your heart start to race or you might become short of breath. 

You might feel fine in some social situations while having significant difficulty in others. What types of social situations trigger an anxiety attack depends on the individual. Some people might get an anxiety attack when they’re faced with large crowds, while others might feel more uneasy around particular people. You may be able to recognize your social anxiety triggers if you think about the moments that tend to make you feel anxious.

Medical Problems

Some medical problems can cause people to experience anxiety as well. These include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and respiratory disorders. Anxiety is also something that can be a side effect of certain prescription medications. You might talk to a healthcare provider to ask about any potential side effects of your medications.

Differences Between Anxiety Attacks And Panic Attacks

The term panic attack often gets confused with an anxiety attack. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are indeed similar in many ways, but some differences set them apart. Panic attacks tend to be more severe than anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks can be very startling, but a panic attack can make a person feel like they’re severely distressed. Having panic attacks regularly can cause significant challenges, and someone who experiences them could be diagnosed with a type of panic disorder.

Panic attacks also don’t necessarily have specific triggers like anxiety attacks do. You might experience an anxiety attack due to breaking up with your significant other or failing an exam. However, you may not always be able to pinpoint the reason for a panic attack. 

Whether you’re having an anxiety attack or a panic attack might not matter to you, though. Anxiety attacks can be frightening because you might not know what is going on. Even if you’re not having full-blown panic attacks, you might want to talk to a mental health professional. You don’t have to cope with anxiety or panic attacks alone, and there are always licensed professionals who can help you. 

Potential Treatments

There are many potential treatments for anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Some of the same treatments work for both panic attacks and anxiety attacks. If you’re experiencing anxiety attacks for any reason, then it’s recommended that you talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor may determine whether you’re going through a specific anxiety or panic disorder. You might have a condition such as generalized anxiety disorder, or you could be experiencing something else. Depending on what you’re going through, your doctor may be able to recommend different treatments.

Some people take medications to help with anxiety. Anti-anxiety medications can be helpful and make coping with anxiety much easier. There are a variety of prescription medications out there that can help people who experience anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Your doctor might recommend trying other treatment methods besides just medication. For many patients, therapy can be a great way to alleviate anxiety.

You could be experiencing underlying challenges that are causing you to have anxiety attacks. A therapist may help you to figure out why you’re feeling this way and lead you through various exercises that can help to relieve anxiety. Licensed therapists are experienced at helping people cope with anxiety, and you could learn to control your anxiety symptoms over time. 

It’s even possible to work with an online therapist if you would prefer that option. Online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy for anxiety, and it may be especially helpful if anxiety makes it difficult to leave home at times.

With BetterHelp, you can talk to a therapist via video or live chat. You can also contact your therapist via in-app messaging in between sessions if you’re experiencing anxiety, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can. 

Lifestyle Changes

Explore Anxiety Attacks And Ways To Cope.

Another option for managing anxiety is to take steps to reduce stress in your life. Stress is one of the most common reasons why people experience anxiety attacks. Some people reduce anxiety by changing jobs if possible or by cutting negative activities out of their lives. It can also be helpful to practice mindfulness or some other form of guided meditation. 

You might also consider making other lifestyle changes. For instance, research shows that anxiety often improves with regular exercise. Exercising releases positive endorphins in your body that may help you feel more positive overall.

Changing the types of food that you eat might help as well. Many people feel more anxious and irritable when they are not feeling physically well. If you’re not eating a balanced diet, it could have an impact on your overall mood. You might incorporate more healthy foods into your diet and focus on staying well hydrated. If you combine this new healthy approach with getting enough sleep at night, you may find that you experience less anxiety.


If you’re experiencing anxiety attacks, you don’t have to face them alone. You can speak with a licensed online therapist with experience helping people reduce their anxiety. Take the first step to addressing your anxiety by reaching out to BetterHelp today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Triggers An Anxiety Attack?

Different situations can trigger anxiety for different people. For example, some people have specific phobias related to an object or situation that may trigger their anxiety. For example, if someone has a fear of heights, they may have an anxiety attack when they are at the top of a large stairwell or when they're in a very tall building. On the other hand, someone else may feel no anxiety related to heights but experience fear when in crowds. If someone has social anxiety disorder, social situations could trigger an anxiety attack.

What Does An Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

During an anxiety attack, someone might experience worry, emotional distress, trouble concentrating or focusing, restlessness, and fear. They may also experience physical symptoms, such as trembling, heart palpitations, shaking, sweating, facial flushing, a rapid heartbeat, and more.

How Do You Calm An Anxiety Attack?

There are a number of ways to calm an anxiety attack. Here are some strategies to try:

  • If possible, take yourself out of a situation that triggers anxiety.

  • Step outside for some fresh air.

  • Use calming mantras that are relevant to the situation, such as, "All that I have to do right now is be…," or "I can only do what I can do, and that is good enough."

  • Use mindfulness techniques.

  • Engage in a healthy distraction, such as seeking peer support by calling a trusted friend.

Seeing a counselor or therapist may also provide skills to manage anxiety. 

What's The Difference Between A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks differ in the sense that panic attacks sometimes come on out of the blue, where anxiety usually builds up over time. Panic attacks are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a specifier, but anxiety attacks are not. 

What Is The Best Medicine For Anxiety Attacks?

Therapy is often the first line of treatment for those living with symptoms of anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a well-known and effective form of therapy used for people with anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be conducted in person or online. 

Stress management can be another important part of coping with various types of anxiety disorders. Forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy may help you with stress management, as can lifestyle changes and changes to your routines or obligations.

In terms of medication, there are several classes of medication that can be used to treat anxiety and anxiety attacks. Doctors may prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs), benzodiazepines, or other medications. For advice regarding specific medications, you can speak with a psychiatrist or primary care provider who is qualified to prescribe medication. The best treatment for anxiety and anxiety attacks may vary from person to person. 

What Should I Do After An Anxiety Attack?

This may vary from person to person depending on a number of factors, such as the cause of the anxiety attack, but there are some approaches to keep in mind after you have an anxiety attack. If you have social anxiety (social phobia), for example, and you have an anxiety attack due to the volume of people around you or due to a social situation, it might be beneficial to step aside and take a breather. Taking deep breaths, engaging in mindfulness activities, calling a friend or loved one, and using positive self-talk may all be helpful. 

If you notice that you have frequent anxiety attacks or want to know how to address and manage future anxiety attacks, seeing a mental health professional can help. A mental health professional may be able to guide you through what to do after an anxiety attack with a list of go-to actions to take. Remember to be gentle with yourself when you experience anxiety or intense fear.

What Happens After An Anxiety Attack?

After an anxiety attack, it is common for someone to feel fatigued. You may also feel more on edge than usual following an anxiety attack due to residual anxiety.

Is It OK To Sleep After A Panic Attack?

It is okay to sleep after a panic attack. Panic attacks can be draining and exhausting, and maintaining a good sleep schedule may be part of the management of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder.

What Is The Aftermath Of An Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks can be physically and mentally draining. After an anxiety attack, you might experience residual anxiety and physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and tension.

How Do I Stop Feeling Jittery?

Suppose you believe that you may have a mental health condition that is causing you to feel shaky or jittery, such as general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder or social phobia, separation anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In that case, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional. Once you have the right support in place, you can work through the concerns that are causing you to feel shaky or jittery and cultivate coping skills that will help you in the long term.

Why Does My Body Feel Shaky Inside?

Feeling shaky could be a symptom of anxiety. The different types of anxiety disorders currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and agoraphobia.

Why Do I Feel Shaky And Weak?

In the absence of other causes, such as low blood sugar, feeling shaky or weak could be attributed to anxiety. However, if you feel shaky or weak, it may be important to rule out any other potential causes. If you experience symptoms such as intense fear or excessive worry paired with shakiness and weakness, these symptoms may be due to anxiety. 

Why Do I Feel Jittery And Shaky?

Anxiety disorders can cause a number of physical symptoms in addition to cognitive and psychological symptoms. Potential symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, for example, include excessive worry, shaking or trembling, fatigue, restlessness, muscle tension, feeling on edge, irritability, hypervigilance, trouble concentrating, nausea, and gastrointestinal distress. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, includes the full set of criteria for diagnosing all disorders currently recognized as anxiety disorders. If you experience symptoms of anxiety, such as excessive worry on a regular basis, you may have an anxiety disorder. You might take note of anything that seems to cause frequent or consistent feelings of anxiety so that you can mention it to a mental health professional. Even if it doesn't go away entirely, awareness may help you prevent, manage, and understand anxiety.

What Causes A Person To Shake?

There are a number of things that could cause a person to shake, including anxiety or intense fear. Mental health conditions like social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, can also cause symptoms such as shaking. Other symptoms include sweating, trembling, intense fear, shortness of breath, an increased heart rate, and the avoidance of social situations. Although symptoms of anxiety may include physical symptoms like shaking, you might see a doctor to rule out any other health condition that could be causing it. For example, if you have a health condition that causes drops in blood sugar, this can cause shaking.

Are Shaky Hands A Sign Of Anxiety?

Shaky hands can have a number of causes, including anxiety. If you feel nervous and notice that your hands are shaking, it may be due to anxiety.

Other Commonly Asked Questions

What is the main cause of anxiety attacks?

What do anxiety attacks feel like?

What are 5 symptoms of anxiety?

How do I stop having anxiety attacks?

Is anxiety a mental illness?

How long do anxiety attacks last?

What is the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks?

Is anxiety a chemical imbalance?

What are weird symptoms of anxiety?

How do you know you suffer from anxiety?

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