What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

Reviewed on 5/6/2021

Anxiety attacks involve feelings of anxiety that happen gradually and can also include physical symptoms. An anxiety attack feels like fear or worry, usually triggered by actual or perceived threats or potential dangers.
Anxiety attacks involve feelings of anxiety that happen gradually and can also include physical symptoms. An anxiety attack feels like fear or worry, usually triggered by actual or perceived threats or potential dangers.

Anxiety attacks are a type of heightened anxiety that comes on gradually and involves feelings of increased anxiety or stress, along with physical symptoms. People who have anxiety attacks may have a baseline low level of anxiety that is increased with certain triggers. 

An anxiety attack is not the same as a panic attack, which comes on suddenly and involves intense feelings of fear or an impending sense of doom that lasts for a short time, usually only a few minutes. 

An anxiety attack feels like fear or worry, usually triggered by actual or perceived threats or potential dangers. 

People having an anxiety attack may feel:

  • Excessively worried
  • “On edge”
  • Irritable
  • Restless
  • Easily frightened/startled
  • Fearful
  • Distressed
  • Panicked 
  • As if they need to escape 
  • Like their mind has gone blank
  • As if they are out of control

Physical symptoms of an anxiety attack may include:

What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

Generalized anxiety disorder and anxiety attacks may be caused by: 

  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors such as early childhood trauma
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Use of certain substances, such as over-the-counter (OTC) medications, herbal preparations, and illicit drugs 

Certain conditions can trigger anxiety attacks, such as:

How Are Anxiety Attacks Diagnosed?

Anxiety disorders are usually diagnosed with a psychological evaluation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder. 

Lab studies to help diagnose or exclude medical conditions that may cause anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:

  • Blood tests
  • Complete blood cell (CBC) count
  • Chemistry profile
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Urine tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Urine drug screen

Tests to rule out central nervous system (CNS) disorders that can cause anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:

Tests to rule out heart conditions that can cause anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:

  • Electrocardiography (ECG
  • Treadmill ECG

QUESTION

Panic attacks are repeated attacks of fear that can last for several minutes. See Answer

What Is the Treatment for Anxiety Attacks?

A combination of medication and/or psychotherapy is typically used to treat anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks.

Therapies used to treat anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include:

  • Behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 
  • Computerized CBT (FearFighter) 
  • Psychodynamic therapy 
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy 
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Supportive psychotherapy
  • Mindfulness therapy

Medications used to treat anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include: 

Other treatments used for anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks include: 

  • Cranial electrotherapy stimulator (CES) 

In the following severe cases, anxiety attacks may need to be treated in the hospital: 

  • Severe functional impairment (cannot meet own daily needs)
  • Suicide or homicide risk
  • Deficits in social skills 

Dietary changes that may help treat anxiety attacks include:

  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Taking over-the-counter preparations and herbal remedies with caution because ephedrine and some herbs can cause or worsen anxiety symptoms

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Reviewed on 5/6/2021
References
https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286227-overview

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml#part_145333

https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/stop-anxiety-quickly