Anxiety Attack Symptoms
Anxiety attacks can feel awful, intense, and frightening. Because they can be powerful experiences, it can seem like anxiety attacks are out of our control.
Those who experience anxiety attacks quickly learn that they can be highly unpleasant experiences. Even so, anxiety attacks and their symptoms can be successfully overcome with the right information, help, and support. No one needs to suffer needlessly. More on this in a moment.
What do anxiety attack symptoms feel like?
Symptoms of an anxiety attack can include:
- A feeling of overwhelming fear
- Feeling of going crazy or losing control
- Feeling you are in grave danger
- Feeling you might pass out
- A surge of doom and gloom
- An urgency to escape
- Heart Palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pressure or pain
- Turning pale
- Feeling detached from reality
- Weak in the knees
- Burning skin
- Pins and needles
- Hot and cold flushes
- Numbness and tingling sensations
The above anxiety attack symptoms can be accompanied by:
- Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing, it feels like something is stuck in your throat
- Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
- Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
- Emotional distress
- Emotional upset
- Inability to calm yourself down
- Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
- Panicky feeling
- Pounding, racing heart
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Sudden urge to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
- Feel like crying
This list is not exhaustive. As you can see, there are many physical, psychological, and emotional signs and symptoms of anxiety attacks. For a more comprehensive list of anxiety symptoms and descriptions of what they feel like, visit our anxiety symptoms list..
There is a long list of signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack. But because each body is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety attacks can affect each person differently. Consequently, anxiety attack symptoms can vary from person to person in type or kind, number, intensity, duration, and frequency. If your symptoms don’t exactly match this list, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety attacks. It simply means that your body is responding to them slightly differently.
For example, one person may experience only a few minor signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack, while another person may experience all of them and to great severity. All combinations and variations are common.
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety attack signs and symptoms, such as the strong sensations and feelings associated with anxiety attacks, it’s wise to discuss them with your doctor. If your doctor has attributed your anxiety attacks to stress and anxiety, you can feel confident that your doctor’s diagnosis is correct. Anxiety attacks and their signs and symptoms are relatively easy to diagnose and aren’t easily confused with other medical conditions.
NOTE: The Symptoms Listing section in the Recovery Support area of our website contains detailed information about most of the symptoms commonly associated with anxiety and panic. This information includes the sensations commonly experienced, whether it is an anxiety symptom or not, what causes them to occur, and what you can do to reduce and eventually eliminate them. Much of this information isn’t found elsewhere.
How long can anxiety attack symptoms last?
Anxiety attacks and their signs and symptoms can last from a few moments to many hours. The length of attack is generally determined by how frightened a person is and how they react to what it is they are afraid of and/or their anxiety attack. The greater the reaction, the longer the attack.
Are anxiety attack symptoms serious?
No. Even though the signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack can seem powerful and even out of control, they aren’t harmful. Anxiety attacks and their signs and symptoms are the same as panic attacks and their signs and symptoms.
What are anxiety attacks?
Anxiety attacks (panic attacks) and their signs and symptoms are episodes of high degree stress responses accompanied or precipitated by high degree fear and anxiety.
To gain a better understanding of anxiety attacks, a little background about anxiety is required.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as: A state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a real or imagined event, situation, or circumstance that we think might be threatening.
In other words, if we become concerned (afraid) that something could harm or endanger us in some way, this concern (fear) creates the state of being anxious.
When we’re anxious, the body produces a stress response. The stress response is designed to give us an extra ‘boost’ of awareness and energy when we think we could be in danger. The stress response causes a number of physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a perceived threat – to either fight or flee, which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight response.’For more information about the stress response, see the stress response or Anxiety 101 sections in our public pages. Or, become a member of the Recovery Support area and visit chapters 3 and 14, where the stress response is described in great detail.
The degree of accompanying stress response and its physiological, psychological, and emotional changes are directly proportional to the degree of anxiety. For example, if you are only slightly concerned, such as being slightly nervous about meeting someone new, the body produces a small degree stress response. The small degree stress response can be so slight that you don’t even notice it.
If you are greatly afraid, however, such as being terrified that there is a burglar in your home that is about to harm you, the body produces a high degree stress response. We generally experience high degree stress responses as being anxiety attacks: where the changes are so profound they get our full attention. The greater the degree of anxiety and stress response, the more changes the body experiences.
Low degree anxiety will produce small fight or flight changes in the body. High degree anxiety will produce high degree fight or flight changes. Again, high degree fight or flight response changes are called anxiety attacks.
You can also visit our anxiety symptoms section for more information about the common symptoms associated with anxiety.
Anxiety attacks (panic attacks) are episodes of high degree stress responses either precipitated or accompanied by high degree anxiety.
What causes anxiety attacks?
There are two main causes of anxiety attacks (panic attacks):
1. High degree anxiety
The most common cause of anxiety attacks is thinking you are in grave danger. Believing you are in extreme danger causes the body to produce a high degree stress response. A high degree stress response can cause profound physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body, which can be unnerving to the unsuspecting person.
And once these changes are initiated, many anxious personalities react to them with more fear, which causes more stress responses, which can cause more physiological, psychological, and emotional changes, and so on.
So, the most common cause of anxiety attacks is overly anxious behavior (the ways we think and act in overly apprehensive ways).
2. Chronically elevated stress
When the body’s stress is kept within a healthy range, the body functions normally. When we allow stress to build up with no relief, the body can cause an involuntary panic attack – an involuntary high degree stress response that wasn’t caused by behavior.
When we experience an involuntary high degree stress response, the sensations can be so profound that we think we are having a medical emergency, which anxious personalities can react to with more fear. And when we become more afraid, the body is going to produce another stress response, which causes more changes, which we can react to with more fear, and so on.
Most people experience panic attacks when they’ve either become very afraid or due to unrecognized chronic stress.
For more information about how stress affects the body, how elevated stress can cause involuntary anxiety attacks, and why just knowing this information may not be enough to stop anxiety attacks, you can read Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, and 14 in the Recovery Support area of our website.
You are diagnosed as having Panic Attack Disorder when anxiety attacks interfere with a normal lifestyle. Remember, anxiety attacks and panic attacks are the same.
You don’t have to be afraid of anxiety attacks
Even though anxiety attacks can cause a wide range of strong anxiety attack symptoms, you don’t have to be afraid of anxiety attacks since they are merely high degree stress responses that were either triggered by overly apprehensive behavior or chronic stress.
Calming oneself down can end anxiety attacks, as well as can reducing the body’s stress. It may take time, however, for a once started anxiety attack to end, but it will…in time. All anxiety attacks end…eventually.
Behaving less anxiously and keeping your body’s stress in a healthy range can prevent anxiety attacks. Therefore, anxiety attacks needn’t be a cause of concern.
How can I get rid of anxiety attacks?
Anyone can eliminate and prevent anxiety attacks. It’s a matter of learning more about them and knowing how to control and prevent them. Most people struggle with problematic anxiety attacks because they don’t understand them, and therefore, fear them…which is a common catalyst into Panic Attack Disorder. The more you know, the better off you’ll be.
You can learn more about this in the Recovery Support area of our website. Our support area contains a wealth of self-help information on how to resolve anxiety disorder, including anxiety attacks. Many find it to be their “one stop” destination for anxiety disorder help. You can click here for more information about our Recovery Support area membership options.
For now, here are some simple tips to help stop and prevent anxiety attacks and their symptoms:
- Relax diaphragmatic breath (breathing with your abdomen). This will help bring an end to an anxiety attack.
- Calm yourself down. Calming yourself down will also bring an end to an anxiety attack…in time.
- Relax your body as much as you can. Relaxing causes your body to shut off the stress response, which will cause an anxiety attack to end…in time.
- Go for a walk. Leisure walking can shut of the stress response.
- Remember, anxiety attacks aren’t harmful. They are just strong reactions to worry and fear.
- Remember, anxiety attacks ALWAYS end. The more you calm yourself down, the faster they end.
- Reduce stress, increase rest, and give your body time to calm down. The more relaxed you are, the less likely it is you’ll have an anxiety attack.
- The most important is learning to stop scaring yourself with worry. Worry is the number one cause of anxiety attacks. Containing your worry – which we explain in the Recovery Support area – is a great way to eliminate problematic worry and anxiety attacks.
- Keep your stress in a healthy range can prevent involuntary anxiety attacks.
- Keeping stress in a healthy range can also reduce your sensitivity and reactivity to danger, which can also prevent anxiety attacks. For more information, see Chapter 14 in our Recovery Support area.
Anxiety Attacks statistics and more information:
The National Institute of Mental Health categorizes anxiety attacks under the classification Panic Disorder. Anxiety attacks are often also referred to as Panic Attack Disorder or Anxiety Attack Disorder. Anxiety attack disorder is included in the overarching category of Anxiety Disorder.
Those who experience anxiety attack disorder are not alone. It’s estimated that 19 percent of the North American adult population (ages 18 to 54) experiences an anxiety disorder, and 3 percent of the North American adult population experiences anxiety attack disorder. We believe that number is much higher, since many conditions go undiagnosed and unreported.
While everyone experiences brief episodes of intense anxiety from time to time, and a great many people experience one or two anxiety attacks over the course of their lifetime, anxiety attack disorder occurs when these attacks become frequent or persistent, begin interfering with or restricting normal lifestyle, or when the individual becomes afraid of them. Once established, anxiety attack disorder can be very debilitating.
Anxiety attack disorder generally starts with one unexplained attack that can include a number of intense anxiety attack symptoms, which causes the individual to become concerned. As other attacks occur, fear of having anxiety attacks, what they mean, what the associated symptoms mean, and where the attacks and symptoms may lead, increases. This escalation of fear is often the catalyst that brings on the attacks, causing the individual to be seemingly caught in a cycle of fear then panic, then more fear, then more panic, and so on.
An anxiety attack can be described as a sudden attack of fear, terror, or feelings of impending doom that strike without warning and for no apparent reason. This strong sensation or feeling can also be accompanied by a number of other symptoms, including pounding heart, rapid heart rate, sweating, lightheadedness, nausea, hot or cold flashes, chest pain, hands and feet may feel numb, tingly skin sensations, burning skin sensations, irrational thoughts, fear of losing control, and a number of other symptoms. (While other symptoms often do accompany anxiety attacks, they don’t necessarily have to.)
As mentioned previously, see our anxiety attack symptoms section for more information about anxiety attack symptoms.
Anxiety attacks can last anywhere between a few moments to 30 or more minutes. It’s also common for subsequent anxiety attacks to follow, causing the overall anxiety attack experience to last much longer as one episode is followed by another. Even though anxiety attacks eventually end, it’s common for the symptoms and after effects of an anxiety attack to linger for hours or even days, depending upon the severity of the attack and the level of stress your body is under.
The highest incidence of the onset of anxiety attack disorder occurs in the 17 to 25 years of age range. But people from all age groups can experience anxiety attacks. Many people remember having them as children (anxiety attacks that occur in childhood are often misunderstood as feeling “sick” or the onset of the flu).
Women are thought to experience a higher prevalence of anxiety attacks than men, however, the statistics may be misleading because men are more reluctant to seek professional help.
Anxiety attacks are often misunderstood. Many sources claim that anxiety attacks are genetically or biologically caused, or both, because they commonly occur in families. But independent research and practical evidence has disproven these claims.
For example, based on our personal and professional experiences with anxiety, anxiety disorders, including anxiety attacks, we know that the factors that cause anxiety disorders are learned, and therefore, are behavioral and NOT genetically inherited or biologically caused.
Yes, anxiety disorders DO have a biological component, but the biological component is a RESULT of our behaviors and NOT the CAUSE of them.
And yes, it’s common for anxiety disorders to run in families. But this is due to learned and passed on behavior, NOT due to genetic factors (children who grow up with anxious parents most often see, learn, and adopt their anxious behavioral style).
Anyone who has experienced anxiety attacks can tell you that anxiety attacks can be frightening and debilitating. But anxiety attacks can be stopped and prevented. Anyone can do it with the right information, help, and support.
Similar to anxiety disorder, Panic Attack Disorder is best treated early. Conditions allowed to persist often become more complicated, and consequently, require more time and effort to resolve.
Nonetheless, Panic Attack Disorder at ANY stage is fully resolvable. When the right information, help, and support are combined with effort and application, anyone can succeed.
How to overcome anxiety attacks naturally
Our experience has shown that the most effective treatment for anxiety attacks is the combination of good self-help information and Personal Coaching/Counseling/Therapy. Since the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety are learned, generally a professional therapist is required to help uncover, identify, and successfully address them. Working with a professional therapist ensures that these underlying factors are effectively resolved.
Because the underlying factors associated with anxiety disorders, including anxiety attacks, are learned, there are no ‘quick-fix remedies or cures.’ Treatments that claim “miracle or secret cures” are deliberately misleading and should be avoided.
That said, we want to encourage you. Everyone can overcome anxiety attacks. There’s no reason to suffer needlessly.
All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced anxiety disorder. We understand the hardship and challenges of overcoming it. But we also know you can overcome it for good, as we have. When you do the right work, you get the right results.
If you are experiencing anxiety attacks, you can regain control of your health...naturally and permanently. You can live a normal life again...and medication free!
Anxietycentre.com was established to help anxiety sufferers succeed. Because of our own experiences with anxiety disorder, we are passionate about helping others regain their health and normal lives.
Again, don’t suffer needlessly. You can overcome your issues with anxiety…and for good. We are committed to helping you do that.
Anxiety attack symptoms in men
While it may seem like men and women experience different anxiety attack symptoms, they don’t. Since each person is somewhat chemically unique, signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack can vary from person to person, and even from men to women.
Anxiety attack symptoms in teenagers
People of all ages can experience anxiety and panic attacks, including children, teenagers, and the elderly.
Anxiety attack symptoms vs heart attack
Anxiety attacks symptoms and heart attack symptoms can seem similar because their signs and symptoms can be similar. But most medical professionals can quickly tell the difference as heart attacks have distinct symptoms that aren’t anxiety-like. If you are unsure of which is an anxiety attack symptom and which is a heart attack symptom, seek immediate medical advice. If the doctor diagnoses your symptoms as anxiety attack symptoms, you can feel confident the doctor’s diagnosis is correct. Therefore, there is no need to worry about a heart attack.
Can you have anxiety attack symptoms at night?
Yes, anxiety attacks can occur anytime, even at night.
For more information about anxiety attacks, such as what they are, what causes them, and what you can do to eliminate them, visit our anxiety attacks page.
Yes, anxiety attacks and their signs and symptoms can feel awful, intense, and threatening. But they aren’t harmful. They pass when the anxiety attack subsides. Getting the right information, help, and support is the best way to overcome anxiety attacks and their signs and symptoms. We provide more detailed information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
If you would like personal assistance with your anxiety disorder recovery, you can find more information about our anxiety personal coaching/therapy option here.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated July 2016.