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What Does An Anxiety Attack Feel Like Physically

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What A Panic Attack Feels Like

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which a person experiences panic attacks. A panic attack is when someone has a sudden, intense physical response with a feeling of unexplained and paralyzing fear.

A panic attack can happen for no apparent reason and the person may have sudden and intense physical symptoms that may last 10 to 20 minutes. The symptoms can include:

  • pounding heart or chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness, hot flashes, or chills
  • nausea
  • sweating, shaking, or tingling in fingers or toes
  • feeling like a loss of control, or having a fear of dying or other unrealistic thoughts

Mild worrying in kids and teens is normal. But a panic attack may dramatically affect a students life by interrupting normal activities.

Many kids and teens have a single panic attack, which does not require intervention because it doesnt happen again. But students with panic disorder may:

  • have difficulty concentrating in class or completing classwork
  • miss class time due to problems coping at school, or needing to talk with a school counselor or therapist
  • need to visit the school nurse to take medication for anxiety
  • feel self-conscious or isolated, and avoid places and situations that they think they might cause a panic attack

Weakness Or Feeling Faint

A sense of weakness or faintness is another very common symptom of an anxiety attack, and one that causes many patients who struggle with anxiety excessive amounts of stress.

Patients with anxiety may display an irrational fear of fainting, which is often tied to the fear of losing control that is so common with anxiety disorders. Individuals experiencing an anxiety attack often feel dizzy, lightheaded, and weak, as if their legs are unable to support them. While these feelings are distressing, they are more often than not purely psychosomatic.

In fact, fainting is somewhat less likely to happen during an anxiety attack, as fainting most often occurs due to a sudden drop in blood pressure that prevents blood from adequately reaching the brain for a temporary period. While fainting itself during an anxiety attack is fairly uncommon, however, there are instances where it can occur. Some individuals may experience what is known as avasovagal syncope, which is a nervous system response to certain distressing stimuli.

While fainting is a frightening symptom for those struggling with anxiety, it is uncommon to experience it as a result of anxiety, and even in instances where this is the case, fainting as related to anxiety attacks are not considered dangerous or life-threatening.

Treatments For Anxiety Attacks

When anxiety attacks take control of your life and you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, your doctor may suggest two forms of treatment:


Talk therapy is the first approach to treating anxiety attacks. You and your therapist will discuss what might be the root cause of your anxiety disorder. Psychotherapy helps give you the skills to healthily cope with the symptoms of anxiety. The common types of therapy are cognitive-behavior therapy and exposure therapy.


There are several types of medication that help relieve anxiety attack symptoms. The type of medicine will depend on the anxiety disorder or other mental health issues you may be facing. Certain antidepressants can treat anxiety. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medicine, like buspirone.

Along with these two types of treatment, there are things you can try at home to help you cope when symptoms start to begin:

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How To Overcome The Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety attacks have been found by researchers to be something that almost everyone will experience at one point or another throughout their life.

If problematic, a small percentage of the population suffering from anxiety will develop panic attack disorder which is when they become problematic, interfering with normal daily life.

The best possible way to overcome anxiety attacks, manage your health and optimize your lifestyle is through a disciplined lifestyle which reduces stress.

The stress which causes an anxiety attack can be both voluntary or involuntary apprehensive behavior combined with a fear of something bad happening or an overly stressed body causing normal bodily functions to work improperly.

Below we have outlined several ways to overcome and stop anxiety attacks, helping you to live your best life, anxiety free!

This Is What A Panic Attack Physically Feels Like

When Anxiety Attacks

For the millions of American adults who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders, panic attacks may be one of the most prevalent and persistent symptoms. And while the experience of a panic attack is different for each individual, there is one universal truth for all who suffer from them: They’re terrifying.

“When someone suffers from one of these disorders, it’s completely debilitating,” Todd Farchione, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “Partly just because people recognize that what theyre experiencing is irrational, but they’ve learned to respond in a certain way in those situations so it’s a natural response to those experiences. It can be frightening.”

Perhaps one of the worst parts of panic attacks is the uncertainty of their appearance. They can occur at any time — even in your sleep. The fear-inducing experience peaks around 10 minutes, but the exhausting physical symptoms can extend far beyond that.

In an effort to understand what it’s really like to suffer from these conditions, we invited our and communities to explain what a panic attack physically feel like. We selected a few of their descriptions and illustrated them below:

“Mine are like I can’t stand up, I can’t speak. All I feel is an intense amount of pain all over, like something is just squeezing me into this little ball. If it is really bad I can’t breathe, I start to hyperventilate and I throw up.”

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Theres No Clear Cause Of Panic Attacks

Not every person who struggles with anxiety also has panic attacks, but there can be a genetic predisposition to them. People with anxiety disorders and mood disorders are at a higher risk, and panic attacks do tend to run in families.

Panic attacks are also associated with major life transitions , severe stress , and certain medical conditions. Panic attacks can be triggered by stimulant use, including caffeine, and withdrawal from medication.

Mental Health Treatment Program Locator

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at

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How I Cope With Panic Attacks From Chronic Anxiety

I have found that one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with chronic anxiety is coping with panic attacks. Even though Ive learned how to lessen the effects of panic attacks over time, I can still be unexpectedly blindsided by one.

To make matters worse, sometimes I anticipate having a panic attack, which causes you guessed it more anxiety. It can sometimes then become a vicious anxiety-inducing cycle. That is why it has become so important for me to be aware of what panic attacks feel like and what I can do about it.

What a Panic Attack Feels Like to Me

When I experience a panic attack, it feels like my body is slammed by an onslaught of anxiety symptoms in full force, all at once. I immediately experience a rapid heartbeat I suddenly have a hard time breathing I feel light-headed, nauseous, and I begin to tremble. I also feel a tremendous amount of fear, and often there is no logical reason for this. Sometimes, the momentary panic is so intense that I experience tunnel vision and cant focus. It is truly a terrible feeling that I find not only mentally hard to deal with, but physically hard to deal with as well.

Are All Panic Attacks The Same

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Not all panic attacks are experienced in the same way. The following describes one way panic attacks are categorized:

  • Expected panic attacks: These attacks occur when a person is subjected to or is anticipating a particular trigger. For example, a person with a fear of heights may have a panic attack when inside of a tall building.
  • Situational predisposed panic attacks: These attacks are similar to cued panic attacks, but do not always occur after subjection to a feared situation. These attacks also dont always occur at the time the person is exposed to the trigger. For instance, a person who has a fear of flying may not always have a panic attack while on a plane or may have one after being on a flight.
  • Unexpected panic attacks: These attacks occur suddenly without any internal or external cues.

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Can Your Mind Create Physical Symptoms

So if youre experiencing unexplained aches and pains, it might be linked to your mental health. According to Carla Manley, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author, people with mental illnesses can experience a range of physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, pain, headaches, insomnia, and feelings of restlessness.

Symptoms Of Anxiety Attacks And What They Feel Like

Anxiety attacks, while extremely distressing to an individual experiencing them, are ultimately harmless.

It is common, however, for those undergoing an anxiety attack to feel as if they are dying, going insane, or losing control of themselves. Because of the severity of these symptoms, it is important to understand exactly what an anxiety attack feels like to understand the distressing nature of this condition.

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Alternative Anxiety Attack Definition

Earlier we mentioned that “anxiety attack” is not a medical term, but rather a descriptive term for intense moments of anxiety. Most people, including some medical professionals, refer to panic attacks as anxiety attacks simply because it is easier for people to understand. When you say panic, people tend to think of someone running away from Godzilla. When you term them anxiety attacks, people tend to understand it better.

But because anxiety attack is not a medical term, not everyone uses it the same way. Some people use anxiety attack as a way of describing severe symptoms of other anxiety disorders. For example, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder may have an “anxiety attack” when they encounter a trigger of extreme anxiety that forces them deep into their compulsions. Those with an upcoming test in school may call their significant worry about the test an anxiety attack even though theyre really just talking about being very nervous.

Keep this in mind when people describe anxiety attack, as the term may lead to a bit of miscommunication. For the purposes of this article, however, were talking about panic attacks, because panic attacks are a very real, very common anxiety problem that most people are referring to when they say they have these attacks.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety Attack

Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety attacks can happen out of nowhere or gradually build into an overwhelming sense of fear and panic. They often get confused with panic attacks, and some symptoms do overlap. But anxiety attacks are different and have different indicators. It’s important to distinguish common anxiety symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack.

Common anxiety symptoms include:

  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

Anxiety attacks are a build-up of common anxiety symptoms and are intensified episodes of panic or fear. They usually peak within 10 minutes and should not last more than 30 minutes. The symptoms of an anxiety attack are:

Surge of overwhelming panic

You may feel like you are in danger or something bad is going to happen. This will occur out of nowhere, which may increase your feeling of panic or impending doom.

Feeling of losing control

Adding to the feeling of panic, you may feel like you are losing control of yourself or your surroundings.

Chest pain or heart palpitations

Anxiety attacks have physical symptoms like an increased heart rate, which can make you think you’re having a heart attack. The increased heart rate should last no more than 30 minutes, usually subsiding in 10 minutes.

Trouble breathing

The feeling of panic and increased heart rate may make you feel like you can’t breathe or are choking. You may also start to hyperventilate if you are gasping for breath.

Hot flashes or chills


A detached feeling from reality

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Why Does Anxiety Cause Physical Symptoms

Whether youre dealing with anxiousness or a diagnosable anxiety disorder, it can manifest in your body in multiple ways. From head to toe, almost every system can be impacted just by nature of your body releasing a lot of stress hormones, Mona Potter, M.D., medical director at McLean Anxiety Mastery Program in Boston, tells SELF. But why does it happen?

Well, you have your fight-or-flight response to thank for your physical anxiety symptoms. Typically, its supposed to help you survive a threat by escaping or fending it off. In way-back-then cave-people days, that threat might have been something along the lines of a lion. If you have anxiety, though, your fear and worry are that threat, prompting your sympathetic nervous system, which controls involuntary processes like your breathing and heart rate, to kick into high gear. This leads your adrenal glands to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, according to the Mayo Clinic. This domino effect is behind anxietys physical symptoms.

When a person experiences anxiety, its essentially the fight-or-flight system kicking in and saying, Danger! Neda Gould, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate director of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Anxiety Disorders Clinic, tells SELF.

So what are the physical symptoms of anxiety to look out for?

Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders

In addition to the primary symptom of excessive and irrational fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms include:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread.
  • Watching for signs of danger.
  • Anticipating the worst.
  • Irritability.
  • Feeling like your minds gone blank.

But anxiety is more than just a feeling. As a product of the bodys fight-or-flight response, it also involves a wide range of physical symptoms, including:

  • Pounding heart.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Insomnia.

Because of these physical symptoms, anxiety sufferers often mistake their disorder for a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is finally recognized.

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Cut Out Problematic Food And Substances

Drugs, medications, and even foods can lead to palpitations. If you identify a substance thats causing palpitations or sensitivities, remove it from your diet to stop palpitations.

For example, cigarette smoking can lead to palpitations. If you discover that you have more heart palpitations when you smoke, stop smoking for a period of time and see if the sensation ends. We reached out to readers for real and practical tips to stop smoking.

How To Handle A Panic Attack

What a Panic Attack Feels Like

Professor Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, says its important not to let your fear of panic attacks control you.

Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening, he says. Tell yourself that the symptoms youre experiencing are caused by anxiety.

He says dont look for distractions. Ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible, its important to try to remain in the situation until the anxiety has subsided.

Confront your fear. If you dont run away from it, youre giving yourself a chance to discover that nothings going to happen.

As the anxiety begins to pass, start to focus on your surroundings and continue to do what you were doing before.

If youre having a short, sudden panic attack, it can be helpful to have someone with you, reassuring you that it will pass and the symptoms are nothing to worry about, says Professor Salkovskis.

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Questions To Ask Your Doctor

Asking questions and providing information to your doctor or health care provider can improve your care. Talking with your doctor builds trust and leads to better results, quality, safety, and satisfaction. Visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website for tips at .

What Is Hyperventilation

Even though your body needs oxygen to survive, and turns that oxygen into carbon dioxide when it’s been used up within the bloodstream, your body also expects a healthy amount of carbon dioxide in your circulatory system as well. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing either too quickly or incorrectly in such a way that you’re taking in too much oxygen while breathing out too much carbon dioxide.

Interestingly, during this time it may feel as though you’re not getting enough air, and your instinct may be to take deeper breaths. But by responding to that sensation by trying to take in more air, you’re actually making your hyperventilation worse, which is why those that try to get deeper breaths often feel their symptoms getting worse, causing further panic.

When there isn’t enough carbon dioxide in your blood, you experience the symptoms of an anxiety attack, including:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and more

Notice how each of these symptoms are the same as when you’re suffering from severe anxiety, which is why it often feels like an “attack” and why the symptoms feel so physical. They build on each other to create an experience that feels like something is terribly wrong.

The most likely cause of hyperventilation is breathing too quickly, which is a common response to anxiety. But it’s not the only cause either. You may also hyperventilate because:

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What Is Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack.

A person with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because he or she cannot carry out normal routines like going to school or work, going to the grocery store, or driving.

Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.

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