“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Anxiety Attack Symptoms And Signs: Disorder, Cause, How To Stop

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: anxietycentre.com.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 7, 2019

Anxiety Attack Symptoms and Anxiety Attacks: Symptoms, Causes, Descriptions, Treatment

Symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack:

An anxiety attack is an intense fear with strong symptoms such as palpitations, pounding & racing heart, sweating, trembling, and feeling it is out of 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.

What do anxiety attack symptoms feel like?

Symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack (panic attack) can include:

The above anxiety attack symptoms can be accompanied by:

This list is not exhaustive. As you can see, there are many physical, psychological, and emotional signs and symptoms of anxiety attacks (panic attacks). Visit our anxiety symptoms section for a more comprehensive list of anxiety symptoms, signs, and descriptions of what they feel like.

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 anxiety attack symptoms don’t exactly match this list, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety attacks. It could mean your body is responding to anxiety attacks differently than others.

For example, one person might experience only a few minor signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack while another person might experience all anxiety attack symptoms and to great severity. All combinations and variations of symptoms are common for anxiety and panic disorder.

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning anxiety symptoms be discussed with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including this anxiety symptom. If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety-related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause. Generally, doctors can easily determine the difference between anxiety symptoms and those caused by a medical condition.

Doctors aren't infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you can seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured anxiety is the cause of this symptom.

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 and severity of the anxiety attack is generally determined by how frightened the person is and how they react to what it is they are afraid of, or how they react to the anxiety attack itself. Typically, the greater and prolonged the reaction, the longer the anxiety attack.

Are anxiety attack symptoms serious?

Even though the signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack can seem powerful and even feel 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 anxiety and fear that are accompanied by high degree stress responses.

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.[1]

In other words, if we become concerned (afraid) that something could harm or endanger us, this concern (fear) creates the state of being anxious.

The moment we believe we could be in danger, the body activates the stress response, which secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it. This survival reaction is the reason why it’s often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).[2][3][4]

anxiety attack symptoms stress response

Chapters 3 and 14 in the Recovery Support area of our website describe the intricate actions of the stress response 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 anxiety attacks: where the stress response 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 whereas high degree anxiety will produce high degree fight or flight changes. Again, high degree fight or flight response changes are called anxiety attacks.

To gain a better understanding of anxiety, the stress response, and how they work together, see our Anxiety 101 section.

You can also visit our anxiety symptoms, signs, disorders, causes, and treatment section for more information about the common symptoms associated with anxiety.

Anxiety attacks (panic attacks) are episodes of high degree stress responses precipitated or followed by high degree anxiety.

What causes anxiety attacks and their symptoms?

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.

Once these changes are initiated, we can react to them with more fear, which causes more stress responses, which can cause more physiological, psychological, and emotional changes, and so on.

Overly apprehensive behavior - the ways we think and act in overly anxious ways - is the most common cause of anxiety attacks.

2. Chronic stress

When stress is kept within a healthy range, the body functions normally. When stress is allowed to build with no opportunity for it to de-stress, the body can become chronically stressed. Research has shown that chronic stress can lead to involuntary panic attacks – an involuntary high degree stress response that wasn’t caused by behavior.[7][8]

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 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 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 or their symptoms

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 yourself down can end anxiety attacks, as well as reduce 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 and their symptoms?

Anyone can learn to stop 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 anxiety and panic attacks and how to stop them in the Recovery Support area of our website. Our support area contains a wealth of self-help information on how to treat 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.

Here are some simple tips to help stop and prevent anxiety attacks and their symptoms:

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 2.7 percent of the North American adult population experiences anxiety attack disorder.[9] 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 anxiety 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 extremely debilitating.

Anxiety attack disorder often starts with one or a few unexplained attacks that are accompanied by distressing symptoms. The profound nature of these “episodes” can cause a person to become concerned. As other attacks occur, fear of having anxiety attacks can increase. The escalation of fear about having another anxiety attack is often the catalyst that brings on the attacks. This can set up a vicious cycle where the fear of having an anxiety attack causes a panic attack, which increases a fear of having another anxiety attack, which causes another anxiety attack, and so on. For some people, the fear of having an anxiety attack can bring on many anxiety attacks each day.

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.)

Anxiety attacks can last anywhere from 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, and so on. Even though anxiety attacks eventually end, it’s common for the symptoms and the 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, since stress can heighten anxiety and cause involuntary panic attacks.

The highest incidence of the onset of anxiety attack disorder occurs in the 17 to 25 years of age group. 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.

Anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack can tell you that they can be frightening and debilitating. But anxiety attacks, including anxiety attack disorder, can be successfully resolved. Anxiety attack disorder (panic attack disorder) is highly treatable. Getting the right information, help, and therapeutic support is vital.

Similar to anxiety disorder, Panic Attack Disorder is best treated early. Conditions that allowed to persist often become more complicated, and consequently, require more time and effort to resolve.

Nevertheless, anxiety attack disorder (Panic Attack Disorder) at ANY stage can be successfully addressed.

How to overcome anxiety attacks and symptoms naturally

Research has shown that the most effective treatment for anxiety attacks is the combination of good self-help information and therapy.[10][11][12] Since the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety are learned, a professional anxiety disorder therapist is required to help uncover, identify, and successfully address them. Working with a professional therapist ensures that these underlying factors are effectively treated.

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. Anxiety attacks can be effectively treated. There’s no reason to suffer needlessly.[14]

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 be successful, as we have. When you do the right work, you get the right results.[14]

If you are experiencing anxiety attacks, you can regain control of your health...naturally. 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. Anxiety and anxiety attacks can be treated successfully.[14]

Anxiety attack symptoms in men

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. That said, anxiety and the accompanying stress responses affect everyone in a similar manner. If there are differences in symptoms, that is due solely to the behaviors of each person and how each body responds to stress.

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?

Anxiety attacks can occur anytime and anywhere, even at night.

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 treat anxiety attacks and their signs and symptoms. We provide more detailed information in the Recovery Support area of our website, such as how to extinguish fear, what “containment” is and why it’s vital for lasting success, and why anxiety symptoms can take such a long time to subside.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Anxiety attacks can be powerful and overwhelming experiences. But there is help available. We encourage you to explore our website for a comprehensive understanding of anxiety, anxiety attacks, disorders, and their signs and symptoms.

Also, for more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; information about Anxiety Attacks, Symptoms, and Treatment options; the signs and symptoms of panic attacks disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:

Anxiety Counseling
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Available Therapists
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Book An Appointment
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Anxiety Symptoms
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Anxiety Attack Symptoms
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Panic Attack Symptoms
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Anxiety 101
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1. Cambridge Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/anxiety

2. Selye H. Endocrine reactions during stress. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 1956;35:182–193. [PubMed]

3. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

4. "The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis." DUJS Online. N.p., 03 Feb. 2011. Web. 19 May 2016.

5. Sobanski, Thomas, et al. "Functional neuroanatomy in panic disorder: Status quo of the research." World Journal of Psychiatry, 22 Mar. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5371170/

6. Lueken U, Straube B, Reinhardt I, Maslowski NI, Wittchen HU, Ströhle A, Wittmann A, Pfleiderer B, Konrad C, Ewert A, et al. Altered top-down and bottom-up processing of fear conditioning in panic disorder with agoraphobia. Psychol Med. 2014;44:381–394.

7. Guilliams, Thomas, et al. "Chronic Stress and the HPA Axis: Clinical Assessment and Therapeutic Considerations." Point Institute of Nutraceutical Research, 2010, http://www.pointinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/standard_v_9.2_hpa_axis.pdf

8. Schreiber W, Lauer CJ, Krumrey K, Holsboer F, Krieg JC. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenocortical system in panic disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology. 1996;15(1):7-15.

9. “Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2018, adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

10. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.

11. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.

12. Driessen, Ellen, et al. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mood Disorders: Efficacy, Moderators and Mediators." Psychiatry Clinics of North America, Sep. 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933381/

13. "CBT can be recommended as a gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders." - Otte, Christian. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the Evidence." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Les Laboratoires Servier, Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

14. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.

Yes, anxiety attack symptoms can feel awful, intense, and threatening. But they aren’t harmful and generally pass when the body calms down. And yes, they can range in number, intensity, and frequency, with each person experiencing a unique set of anxiety attack signs and symptoms.