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

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated September 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety attacks can often be caused by stress, social anxiety triggers, and medical problems. They are typically less severe than panic attacks and usually occur in response to a known trigger. Anxiety attacks are normally treated with a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. You can get started with treatment by joining an online therapy platform and connecting with a licensed therapist.

What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

Learn To Manage And Cope With Anxiety Attacks

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 can 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 generalized anxiety disorder, then you might have difficulty handling stress. The intensity of your anxiety disorder could play a role in how well you cope with stress.

Anyone may experience an anxiety attack under the right conditions. Everyone typically 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 may be 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. Which types of social situations trigger an anxiety attack usually depends on the individual. Some people might have an anxiety attack when they’re faced with large crowds, while others might feel 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 may include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and respiratory disorders. Anxiety can also 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 terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are often confused or used interchangeably. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks can be similar in many ways, but some differences usually 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 panic disorder.

Panic attacks don’t necessarily have specific triggers like anxiety attacks tend to. 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 necessarily have to cope with anxiety or panic attacks alone, and there are likely licensed professionals who can help you. 

Potential Treatments

There may be many potential treatments for anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Some of the same treatments can work for both panic attacks and anxiety attacks. If you’re experiencing anxiety attacks for any reason, then it’s generally 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. Always consult a doctor before starting or stopping any form of medication.

Your doctor might recommend other treatment methods as well. 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 figure out why you’re feeling this way and lead you through various exercises to relieve anxiety. 

It may be 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 an online therapy platform, 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 typically get back to you as soon as they can. 

Lifestyle Changes

Learn To Manage And Cope With Anxiety Attacks

Another option for managing anxiety may be to reduce stress in your life. Stress is normally one of the most common reasons why people experience anxiety attacks. Some people reduce anxiety by changing jobs or 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 usually 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 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 work with a licensed online therapist with experience helping people reduce their anxiety. You may also wish to make various lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly, to relieve anxiety symptoms.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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