What Is An Anxiety Attack? 10 Ways To Recognize And Cope With An Anxiety Attack

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Stephanie Deaver, LCSW

Knowing how to deal with anxiety is crucial because people experience different events that cause stress. Managing anxiety includes recognizing signs and understanding ways to cope. Whether you are adjusting to a new routine or experiencing a stressful situation such as a job loss or change in family dynamics, sometimes anxiety affects how you perceive and respond to difficult situations.  Dealing with stress is one thing, but when feeling uneasy and worried takes most of your attention, how you respond to situations may become exaggerated and lead to unhealthy coping.

Why Is It Important To Recognize Anxiety?

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Experiencing anxiety is part of life. It is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response that is triggered when you experience a situation that’s a threat, challenge, or form of pressure. There may be events happening that affect you, people you know, and people you don’t know that could leave a dramatic effect on your emotions. Anxiety occurs at different levels. It can help you stay focused, alert, and even motivate you. However, too much anxiety may lead you to feel overwhelmed, fearful, and worried about things that could signal a disorder.

There are different classifications of anxiety, and they may occur with or without warning. People react to situations differently, and their level of anxiety reflects how they respond. Some people may have generalized anxiety and not know it because they have a habit of persistent worrying. Some experience physical symptoms regularly when under stress, not realizing they could have an anxiety problem taking a toll on their health. A person may have an anxiety attack or an anxiety disorder that requires professional guidance. Because anxiety can influence how you live your life, it is crucial to recognize signs and manage symptoms.

Anxiety Attacks Defined: 10 Signs And Symptoms

Many may question if they have an anxiety disorder when they become aware of their thoughts and actions in certain situations. Some notice they are on edge or constantly worrying about something. They may notice anxiety affecting their relationships at home or work. Others may have a fear they can’t get rid of or believe something terrible will happen without proof. People may avoid certain activities or situations because they know anxiety will be a problem.

An anxiety attack is a form of anxiety that occurs suddenly. It could be triggered by a haunting memory or an upcoming action to perform, such as a speech. An anxiety attack happens without warning. It may last for several minutes to a half-hour. Some who have experienced an anxiety attack may recall feeling frightened and scared because of physical symptoms that include the following:

  1. Heavy breathing or hyperventilation
  2. Shaking or trembling
  3. Feeling unconnected or detached
  4. Feeling a loss of control
  5. An overwhelming feeling of panic
  6. Chest pain or heart palpations
  7. Chills, sweats, or hot flashes
  8. Stomach cramps or nausea
  9. Feeling like passing out
  10. Difficulty breathing

If you feel like you’re experiencing an anxiety or panic attack, seek help immediately. There are treatments for panic attacks that can reduce or prevent future attacks.

Forms Of Anxiety To Know

Understanding how anxiety affects people includes learning about different types of anxiety disorders. Reviewing different types gives an idea of how stress affects daily living. Some disorders require medication, therapy, or a combination. Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):  This form of anxiety may distract you from completing daily activities. A person may constantly worry about something or feel anxious often. A person with this disorder may experience fatigue, restlessness, and insomnia.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: A person with this disorder may fear to speak in public or have a social phobia. They may assume people will have negative thoughts about them. They may be seen as extremely shy or have stage fright.
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  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: (OCD). A person with this disorder may have obsessions related to objects or feeling troubled by certain actions. They may have a habit of doing repeated actions such as handwashing or constantly worry something needs to be done.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder:  This is common among children. It is an agitated feeling of being separated from someone or something.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: (PTSD).A person with this disorder may experience a panic attack related to a traumatic event from their past. It may also include nightmares or flashbacks of the event. A person may be startled, avoid situations that remind them of the trauma or withdrawal from being with others.

Whether you have generalized anxiety or other concerns about feeling anxious during certain situations, there are help options. People can experience an anxiety attack and not realize they have an anxiety disorder. Understanding different forms of anxiety make a difference when determining treatment options.

How To Help Yourself

Worrying is a part of life, but it doesn’t mean you have a disorder. Sometimes anxiety gets overwhelming, and you need to know how to control it. You may feel anxious about an event coming up or feel pressure to get things done at home or work. Such pressure may take a physical toll leaving you feeling uneasy. Here are ways to help yourself deal with anxiety:

Connect And Talk With Others: Isolating yourself may worsen symptoms or trigger additional stress. Take advantage of support groups or speak to a friend or family member you trust. Try to establish a social connection with someone you regularly know to keep an open line of communication. Have a buddy to talk to when you feel anxiety levels rising.

Learn Stress Management Techniques: Learn how to prioritize your responsibilities to keep stress levels low. Practice methods to help calm your nerves and thoughts. Things such as mindfulness, yoga, and meditation are good places to start. Such methods may help improve your mood and limit health risks. Relaxation techniques may also limit anxiety.

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Regular Exercise:  Physical activity regularly helps calm the nervous system. Exercise naturally boosts your mood with certain activities helping to calm your mind. Consider a routine that includes 30 minutes of exercise a few days a week, such as brisk walking or aerobics.

Take Proper Care Of Yourself: Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Avoid skipping meals. Take time out for yourself to do something you enjoy. Doing what you enjoy relieves stress while letting you invest personal time. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. These elements may contribute to your anxiety as a stimulate.

Know Your Triggers. Make a list of things that trigger your anxiety. Keep a journal to write down anxious thoughts. You can use this information to articulate your feelings in another perspective. Such details may also help explain your views when sharing with others that care. Also, consider noting what causes any chronic worrying or unhealthy thinking habits you want to break. You can obtain additional guidance challenging anxious thoughts with a therapist or counselor.

When Is It Time To Seek Professional Help?

When you notice anxiety is getting in the way of living your life, it may be time to seek professional guidance.  Working with a professional, along with self-help strategies, may provide the right balance of support necessary to cope. Many experience physical symptoms that should be followed up with a medical expert to rule out underlying conditions. Sometimes anxiety is brought on as a medication side effect.  Feelings of anxiety that affect your ability to work, care for yourself, or your family should be discussed with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend working with a therapist. If you’re not ready to work with a therapist in person, take advantage of online therapy services with trained mental health specialists.

Treatment Options For Anxiety

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Your doctor or medical professional may provide insight on how to deal with anxiety based on your symptoms. Therapy, medication, or a combination of both are standard options for treating anxiety symptoms. Situations such as generalized anxiety, phobias, and anxiety attacks benefit from therapy options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT.

CBT explores thinking patterns that trigger anxiety. You’ll work with a therapist to identify and challenge beliefs while working to develop methods to help change or improve thought patterns. Another form of therapy for anxiety, known as exposure therapy, enables you to confront fears with gradual exposure. You’ll learn how to tackle personal concerns and gain self-control through your actions.

Medication for anxiety varies depending on the severity of symptoms. It may provide relief, depending on how your symptoms affect your daily living. It is crucial to review medication options with your healthcare provider. Learn about potential side effects and anti-anxiety options. Medication may be combined with other treatment options such as self-help strategies and therapy to develop a productive plan to resolve your symptoms.

Understanding what happens when an anxiety attack occurs is significant. Many people experience anxiety attacks, and sometimes they could signal a more profound concern. Anxiety is normal, but when it interferes with how you live your life, it may be time to review your concerns with your doctor.


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