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What are the symptoms of anxiety attacks?

Learn how to identify symptoms of anxiety attacks.

For individuals with panic disorder, anxiety attacks happen suddenly and without warning. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
For individuals with panic disorder, anxiety attacks happen suddenly and without warning.

An anxiety attack takes place when feelings of stress become so heightened that they cause physical symptoms. These attacks can be common, but if they occur too frequently they can be a sign of more serious emotional disorders. Many medicinal and non-medicinal treatments exist to treat anxiety attacks, but careful diagnosis is important to ensure that treatment matches well with the disorder.

Types of Anxiety Attacks

There are several different types of anxiety, each with its own specific set of causes and results. The most common is General Anxiety Disorder, the frequent experience of irrational worry and stress without an easily identifiable cause. Panic Disorder is similar to General Anxiety Disorder, but attacks are sudden, unpredictable and more severe when they occur. Another well-known cause of anxiety attacks is phobia, or unreasonable fear. Documented phobias exist for almost everything, from triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen) to arachibutyrophobia (fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of one’s mouth). One of the most common phobias is social phobia, or the fear of interacting with other people. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are two other widespread causes of anxiety attacks.   Find out more about anxiety attack symtoms at the National Institute of Mental Health's Anxiety page.

Anxiety Attack Symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety attacks can be persistent and severe, and they can have a serious effect on daily functioning. For example, the rush of emotions of an anxiety attack can interfere with the body’s normal operation, causing dry mouth, irregular breathing, and a fast or skipping heartbeat. Trembling, sweating, chest pain and chills are also common, as are feelings of dizziness or detachment from reality. 

Anxiety attacks can also have a detrimental effect on sleep habits. Persistent feelings of dread or apprehension can lead to insomnia. They’re most frequently characterized, however, by the upsetting thought processes associated with them. People who experience anxiety attacks are often distracted by thoughts of death, inadequacy or unrealistic fears. Certain symptoms of anxiety attacks are common to all individuals in high-stress situations, so one way to measure the likelihood of an anxiety disorder is to examine whether a patient experiences these symptoms without any apparent pressure.

Anxiety Attack Treatment

Certain lifestyle changes can help mitigate the symptoms of anxiety attacks. For example, improved diet and exercise can help stimulate hormones that produce positive emotions. Setting up a plan of attack to address your problems, rather than letting them torment you, is also a good home treatment for anxiety attacks. 

However, if lifestyle changes don’t seem to work, professional help might be in order: Therapists or psychiatrists can help determine effective solutions to the causes of anxiety attacks. Professional counseling is often available at work; check with a human resources representative to see what kind of services might be available. Finally, many mood-enhancing drugs are available both by prescription and over the counter, but they should always be purchased with a doctor’s advice. For more information on treatment, visit the American Phychological Assocaition's help page.

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