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

Updated February 11, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Maria Abada, LPC

Millions of people around the world suffer from anxiety. Current statistics state that nearly 40 million people in the United States alone have some type of anxiety disorder. Some of those 40 million people also deal with anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks can be incredibly 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.

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What Causes Anxiety Attacks Anyway?

There are actually many different things that can cause anxiety attacks to occur. 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 could have one in the middle of taking an exam. Why anxiety attacks are occurring can be very personal and it’s important to learn what your triggers are. Read on to explore some of the common reasons why people have anxiety attacks.


Stress is one of the most common causes of anxiety and it can also be a huge problem when it comes to triggering anxiety attacks. Many people will experience a panic attack or an anxiety attack when stressed. You could have many different sources of stress in your life and all of them could contribute to your anxiety. It’s unlikely that you will be able to completely eliminate stress from your life and this makes getting your anxiety under control more problematic. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, then you might have problems dealing with stress. Some people with anxiety disorders can cope with small stressors and others will not. The intensity of your anxiety disorder could play a role in how well you cope with stress.

Anyone can be vulnerable to experiencing an anxiety attack under the right conditions. Everyone deals with stress in their lives and sometimes particularly trying moments will occur. You might experience an anxiety attack due to the stress of losing a loved one. Having an anxiety attack while going through a divorce wouldn’t be strange either. Anxiety attacks aren’t necessarily an indication that you have an anxiety disorder, but you should go to your doctor to speak about what is happening to get help no matter what.

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Social Anxiety Triggers

Social anxiety triggers are another thing that you need to look at. Many people with generalized anxiety disorder suffer from social anxiety as well. If you feel uneasy when you’re out in public, then you likely 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. This can make it tough to get through your day when you’re just trying to go to school or do your job.

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

Medical Problems

There are actually some medical problems that can cause people to experience anxiety as well. Many medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and respiratory disorders have been linked to anxiety issues. Anxiety is also something that can be a side effect of certain prescription medications. If you’re having anxiety issues that lead to anxiety attacks or panic attacks, then you could have a medical problem that is contributing to things.

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. The first thing to know is that a panic attack is going to be more severe than a traditional anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks can be very startling, but a panic attack can make a person feel like they’re going to die. Having panic attacks regularly could cause a person a lot of problems and they will most likely 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. Panic attacks aren’t always sensible and you won’t always know why you’re experiencing them. Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks can make a person feel really bad, but they’re very different in terms of what causes them.

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Whether you’re having an anxiety attack or a panic attack might not matter to you, though. Anxiety attacks can be very frightening for people going through them because they might not know what is going on. Even if you’re not having a full-blown panic attack, it’s still wise to get checked out by a mental health professional. You don’t have to try to cope with anxiety attacks alone and there are always people who can help you. Treatments are readily available and anxiety attacks can be controlled.

Potential Treatments

There are many potential treatments for anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Some of the same treatments will 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 can determine whether you’re suffering from a specific anxiety or panic disorder. You might have a condition such as generalized anxiety or you could be suffering from something else. Depending on what you’re going through, your doctor will be able to recommend different treatments.

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

You could be dealing with underlying issues that are causing you to have anxiety attacks. A therapist can help you to figure out why you’re feeling this way and they can go through various exercises that will help to calm you down. 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 to go that route. Online therapy is especially appealing because of how discreet and affordable it is.

Just taking the time to talk to a therapist is going to be good for you. If you’re having a hard time coping with anxiety attacks and or panic attacks, then a therapist can truly help. You will be able to reach out whenever you’re having a tough day and they can help you develop positive coping skills to avoid anxiety triggers. You’ll be more informed about your anxiety and you’ll have the right tools to take care of things when you’re having a bad day.

Lifestyle Changes

Another option for coping with anxiety is to take steps to reduce stress in your life. You know that stress is a big problem for many people and that it is one of the most common reasons why people experience anxiety attacks. If you can reduce your stress levels, then you’ll be able to feel better in many circumstances. Some people reduce anxiety by changing careers and cutting negative activities out of their lives. It can also be helpful to practice meditation or prayer.

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Learning to be a calmer person can help some people to alleviate anxiety symptoms. You might notice fewer anxiety attacks if you take these steps and it can also help you to manage generalized anxiety disorder. It’s also worthwhile to consider making other healthy life changes. For instance, exercising and getting into shape might help you to cope with anxiety better and it can make you feel good. Exercising releases positive endorphins in your body that will 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, then this could have an impact on your overall mood. This could lead to more stress and that could trigger anxiety attacks. Eating a healthy diet might not seem like it’s going to make a big difference at first, but it can actually help you out more than you might realize. Try to start eating more salads and drinking more water. If you combine this new healthy approach with getting enough sleep at night, then it could make controlling anxiety attacks a simpler task.

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