Are You Having an Anxiety Attack? 18 Things to Look For

This blog post will go over the various signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack to help you achieve a better understanding. 

Here are 18 signs that you may be having an anxiety attack:

  1. Overwhelming Fear
  2. Palpitations
  3. Insomnia
  4. Sweating Profusely
  5. Shaking/Trembling
  6. Difficulty Breathing
  7. Restricted Throat/Choking Sensation
  8. Dizziness
  9. Nausea
  10. Muscle Tension
  11. Difficulty Concentrating
  12. Chest Pains
  13. Irrational Thoughts
  14. Change in Emotions
  15. Feeling Rushed or Pressured
  16. Headaches
  17. Feeling Faint
  18. Gastrointestinal (GI) Discomforts

The ways that our bodies respond to anxiety are not uniform, so it is completely natural for you not to experience all of the signs above. Some symptoms are also common to be low in intensity, while others may be high and severe. 

Naturally, the way that you might experience an anxiety attack may be different from how another person may experience it.

Note: Always consult a doctor if you have consistent anxiety attacks and it is affecting your daily life.

An Overwhelming Fear

We all have come across fear and anxiety at some point in our lives. Fear our body’s natural response to something it considers dangerous as it prepares us to overcome the challenge. This is usually when our body engages in our fight or flight response. It’s normal to fear, scared and anxious when you haven’t prepared for your exams, are on a first date, or are doing something you haven’t before. 

Fear can be: 

  • Realistic: It is based on something that’s scary. For example, the fearing getting sick during the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Excessive: The fear is realistic and understandable, but the reaction may be excessive. For example, you may constantly be worrying about losing your job during the pandemic, even though you may be an essential worker. 
  • Unrealistic: You don’t have anything to worry about and yet find yourself anxious about things that may not be in your control. You may feel worried about several things at once. For example, worrying about having no money even though you have a lot of savings and are financially secure. 

The fear that you feel during an anxiety attack is often extraordinarily overwhelming and tends to intensify over a period of time. Some people say it feels like someone is turning up the volume until it is too loud and starts feeling like an attack. You may find yourself engulfed by your thoughts and worries and might feel like you have no control over your thoughts.

People often report the fear of going crazy. 

Unlike panic attacks, anxiety attacks have a specific trigger, ranging from a fight with your partner to ongoing issues at the workplace. You can often find the root cause of what is making you anxious. Since the attack develops gradually, you can experience an anxiety attack anytime 48 to 72 hours after the trigger.

Palpitations

As anxiety starts taking over your body and it goes into fight or flight mode, you’ll find yourself being able to notice your heartbeat as it might have started beating faster. Some people report hearing their heartbeat, while others may notice pulsating veins on their forehead and chest. 

These usually feel like your heart is racing a million miles an hour as the feeling of impending doom takes over your body. Most people report that it feels like their heartbeat has suddenly become more noticeable and that it might be skipping a beat or fluttering. 

Palpitations are a physical manifestation of the panic and anxiety you may feel. As anxious thoughts start to cloud your mind, the palpitations start becoming more prominent.

Insomnia

For some people, the anxiety-provoking thoughts seem to come into mind at night and don’t allow them to sleep at night. Instead of winding down at night, the body seems to be getting more alert resulting in the inability to fall asleep and feel restless at the same time. 

Even if you want to sleep, you may feel like a victim of your own thoughts as your mind jumps to the worst-case scenario while you’re in bed. Insomnia seems to intensify when you’re going through an anxiety attack and can seem incredibly overwhelming the night before the attack. 

Some people are able to fall asleep but are awoken by intrusive and fearful thoughts in the middle of the night, unable to go back to bed.

Sweating Profusely

Most people notice sweat in their armpits and hands, but it is not uncommon to find sweat on the forehead, arms, legs, face, and even feet. When this might happen depends on person to person, and you might find yourself sweating more as the feeling of dread intensifies. 

As the Autonomous Nervous System engages the body’s fight or flight response, you might start feeling hot and might even start sweating, even if there’s no sudden increase in the room temperature. 

This is the body’s natural response to fear.

Shaking/Trembling

You might notice your body trembling and shaking when you’re feeling anxious, which can also be scary because you feel like you aren’t in control of your own body. You might notice: 

  • Hand tremors 
  • Twitching muscles 
  • Chattering teeth 
  • Body trembling 
  • Body shaking  

Shaking and trembling have been long associated with anxiety and are a direct result of the fight or flight mode are engaged. These tremors are the result of the influx of hormones in your bloodstream. While the tremors aren’t dangerous, they can be uncomfortable and distressing–and, sometimes, may even cause more anxiety.

Difficulty Breathing

During an anxiety attack, you may notice changes to your breathing, as many people report having difficulties breathing when experiencing an anxiety attack. 

  • Hyperventilation: You tend to be over-breathing due to the chatter of thoughts in your head. Paradoxically, this can leave you feeling breathless even when you’re breathing rapidly and deeply. 
  • Shortness of breath: Some people report feeling choked and are unable to breathe properly due to anxiety and feel that they might have gotten the wind knocked out of them. 

This, again, is a physical manifestation of anxiety and can make you feel like you aren’t in control of your body. Of course, this can be extremely frightening. Here are some reasons why you may be facing difficulties breathing: 

  • Feeling tight and constricted in the chest. 
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Hypoventilation 

Restricted Throat/Choking Sensation

Some people feel that they might have something stuck in the back of their throats when experiencing an anxiety attack, while others may feel like they’re choking. People also describe this as a feeling of having a lump in the throat. 

This is mainly due to the body’s fight or flight response as it constricts the esophagus or the food pipe by diverting the blood to more critical parts of your body, like your lungs and heart. 

Of course, the result might seem counterintuitive.

Dizziness

It is natural to feel overwhelmed as the wave of anxiety and fear seems to drown you. In such a situation, it is natural for dizziness to overpower your body as you feel you might be in over your head. Some people also report feeling faint and light. 

There are several reasons why experts believe you might be feeling dizzy. These include: 

  • Fight or flight response: Changes in your blood pressure due to your body’s fight or flight response being engaged causes you to feel dizzy and lightheaded. 

Stress hormones: Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline affect your vestibular system and may cause dizziness. 

Nausea

Some people report feeling nauseous while having an anxiety attack. The intensity of nausea depends from person to person, and some might even end up vomiting. 

Here are some reasons why you may be nauseous: 

  • As your body prepares itself to combat the stressor, the blood flow from the digestive system gets diverted to important organs, such as your heart and lungs, causing you to feel nauseous. 
  • The sudden influx of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in your system.

Muscle Tension

It is not uncommon for you to experience muscle stiffening and tension when having an anxiety attack. You may feel stiffness in your neck, hands, arms, back, and other muscle groups. Some people clench their jaws, while others feel heaviness in their shoulders. 

So, why do you experience muscle tension? This again brings us back to the body’s fight or flight response. Your body gets itself ready for combat by engaging the muscles to prepare for the fight.

Difficulty Concentrating

People report losing their ability to concentrate on a task when having an anxiety attack. You can’t seem to concentrate on the task at hand or what’s right in front of you as your brain is going a thousand miles an hour. Even the most minuscule task may seem overwhelming at such a time. 

Concentrating on something takes a lot of mental energy, which easily depletes when you’re anxious. The problem is that your mind is focusing–just not on what it should be.

Chest Pains

One of the scariest symptoms of an anxiety attack is chest pains. Some people report having sharp pain in the chest, while others report a fleeting or sudden pain. The pain may even take between a few hours and a few days to go away in some cases. 

This pain of the chest wall is caused due to the strong contractions of the heart muscle, which is also one of the reasons they may take longer to go away.

Irrational Thoughts

You may feel like you’re losing all sense of control when it comes to your mind as it jumps from one uncomfortably anxious thought to another. The thoughts may be irrational, and while you may realize that they’re irrational, you still may feel helpless or like a victim of your thoughts. 

 Most people report going down a scary rabbit hole of thoughts or their mind taking them out on an uncomfortable rollercoaster ride. The trains of thought may or may not be interconnected. 

For example, some people may worry about one single thing while others worry about multiple aspects of their lives at the same time.

Change in Emotions

Feeling heavy emotions like anger, fear, panic, frustration, tension, worry, etc., is intensified when you’re having an anxiety attack. How you may be experiencing your emotions depends upon your unique situation. 

Most people report a change in their emotions before experiencing the other symptoms. However, there are individual differences in the order you may experience these symptoms. There are no hard and fast rules.

Feeling Rushed or Pressured

You might be feeling like you’re in a rush, and there’s not enough time for you to do what you want to. You feel the need to hurry at all times. 

Hurry sickness is a common symptom of anxiety where you feel overwhelmed with everything that you need to do and feel like you’re under immense pressure, even if you aren’t. 

There may be several reasons why you may be experiencing this: 

  • Fight or Flight mode: As your body prepares itself, it’s natural for you to want to address the cause of the anxiety as quickly as possible so that you can get relief. 

Performance: If something is contingent on your performance, you may feel immense pressure. 

Headaches

Many people report having mild headaches that grow in intensity while experiencing an anxiety attack. You might be able to feel these headaches on both sides of the head and might also experience stiffness in the shoulder and neck. 

While experts agree that there’s a relationship between headaches and anxiety, they still aren’t sure why it happens. Here are some possibilities: 

  • Anxiety increases your odds of getting a headache f you’re already prone to getting headaches. 

You might be experiencing a tension headache due to stress, lack of rest, dehydration, etc. 

Feeling Faint

Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or unsteady is another symptom of an anxiety attack. You might start feeling faint when you’re overwhelmed by your thoughts and might even feel like going to bed. However, some people report feeling faint even if there is no obvious trigger. 

One of the most common reasons this happens is a drop in your blood pressure, also known as vasovagal syncope. Another reason why you may feel faint is due to hyperventilation, which is an unnatural breathing pattern that ends up depriving your brain of oxygen

Gastrointestinal (GI) Discomforts

It is common to experience gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn, stomach ache, bloating, cramps, and loose stools without any apparent physical cause during an anxiety attack. For some people, these symptoms may even intensify over a few days. 

This usually happens because your body channels blood flows from the digestive system to critical organs as it prepares to fight the stressor. This is also one f the reasons why people with chronic anxiety experience issues like irritable bowel syndrome.

Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks

It is very common for people to believe that anxiety and panic attacks are the same. However, that isn’t the case. 

Let’s take a look at some of the differences between the two.

How to deal with Anxiety Attacks

Experiencing an anxiety attack can be scary, even if you have experienced one before. Let’s take a look at a few ways in which you can deal with anxiety attacks: 

  • Recognizing the anxiety attack: Things become less scary when you realize that you’re having an anxiety attack and understand why you’re experiencing the symptoms you have. This helps reduce the feeling of impending doom and allows you some room to apply other techniques. 
  • Relaxation exercises: Deep relaxation exercises such as Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation can help alleviate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety while also easing your mind. 
  • Mindful physical activity: Indulging in a physical activity like a walk or cycling can help relieve some of the mental chatter in your mind as you focus on your immediate physical surroundings. 
  • Deep breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help slow down the pace of your racing thoughts while also relieving some of your physical symptoms. It can help you decrease your heart rate as you focus more on breathing and less on your ideas. 
  • Challenge your thoughts: If possible, challenging and rationalizing your thoughts using logic can also help you get relief from your symptoms. 

Remember: If you believe you are experiencing anxiety attacks consistently and they are disrupting your daily life, consult a doctor. While not all of the symptoms above may be felt, there may be a combination ranging from mild to severe, depending on the situation.

Getting Help

Living with anxiety and having anxiety attacks can not only be challenging but can also be exhausting, both emotionally and physically. In such a tumultuous and sensitive time, it is essential to know that help is out there and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how faint it may seem at the moment. 

A mental health professional can help you manage, address, and overcome the challenges you may be facing due to anxiety.

Written by Kasia Ciszewski, LPC on

Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her clients throughout South Carolina. Instagram - Facebook - Pinterest - Twitter - Linkedin

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