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  • Sonya Deol

What is an Anxiety Attack?

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

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What is an anxiety attack? Scary. Confusing. Exhausting. If you’ve ever experienced an anxiety attack, you may have felt all of the above. Anxiety attacks look different depending on the individual, but they usually happen suddenly and unexpectedly with intense fear or anxiety. Sometimes, they can be triggered by certain events, situations, feelings, thoughts, or memories.

What an Anxiety Attack Looks Like

As someone who has experienced anxiety attacks before, I know how impactful they can be. You feel a tightness in your chest and your heart starts racing. You begin to have difficulty breathing and you feel dizzy. You think you might be dying and you may be crying uncontrollably. You feel out of control. Once the attack subsides, you feel completely drained of energy and need to lie down. Not everyone may experience it the same way of course.

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Other possible symptoms of anxiety attacks could include:

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Shaking

  • Sweating

  • Irritability

  • Trouble focusing

  • Muscle rigidity

  • Fatigue

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Hyperventilation

  • Chills

These symptoms are related to your body's natural response to stress, the fight-flight-freeze response. An anxiety attack activates this response at a heightened level.

What to Do During an Attack

In the moment, it can be hard to think clearly about how you can get through an anxiety attack.

  • If this is not your first time, noticing what is happening can be helpful.

  • Try your best to slow down your breathing by taking long, deep breaths.

  • Hold on to the edge of your bed, chair, etc. to ground yourself.

  • If you have a support person, letting them know how they can help before to an attack is useful.

  • Once the anxiety attack is over, get some rest if you can.

  • If it occurs in a public setting, see if you can get some privacy or some time to yourself.

The most important thing is to be aware of possible symptoms and/or triggers so that you can recognize an anxiety attack easily.

How to Seek Help

Because they are related to anxiety, anxiety attacks can occur anytime and anywhere, which can increase anxiety further. It’s important to seek help if you think you may have had an attack before or if you are noticing anxiety that is worsening. Reach out to a friend, family member, coworker, health professional, or anyone else you can trust.

No matter how scary an anxiety attack can be, I want you to know that you can get the right support. There are tools that can reduce anxiety and any accompanying attacks, such as deep breathing, exercise, and mindfulness. Just know, there is nothing wrong with you if you have an anxiety attack – it is your mind and body responding to challenging emotions and you don’t have to suffer alone.

I am a Clinical Therapist with both personal and professional experience around anxiety. For more information on how you can work with me, click here.

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