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Anxiety Attack: Meaning, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, How to Stop

Anxiety Attack

An anxiety attack (or Panic Attack) is a time period whereby a person is suddenly, sometimes without warning, debilitated by feelings of intense anxiety and fear. For the sufferer it can be a very terrifying experience, even though they are totally unaware that their symptoms are part of the body’s natural mechanism called ‘fight-or-flight’.

How to Stop an Anxiety Attack

Every time a person enters a stressful situation, he/she has at some point to be very near to having an anxiety attack, but may not have even realized it. In fact it is a natural instinctive response to stressful circumstances – the ‘fight or flight’ instinct.

Some people can actually benefit from this, which results in better performance or in the case of soldiers, the instinctive knowledge of when to stay and fight and when to retreat. However, there are those among us that find themselves experiencing more than just basic instinctive feelings, but heightened and over exaggerated responses that can become debilitating and interfere in their very lives.

Anxiety attacks can become a terrifying moment in time for the first timer and even worse for those who have battled it for years without getting medical help.

What does an anxiety attack feel like

The usual symptoms suffered during an anxiety attack include raging heartbeat, difficulty breathing, hyperventilating, paralyzing terror, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, trembling, sweating, shaking, choking, chest pains, hot flashes, sudden chills, tingling fingers or toes, fear that you are losing your mind or dying. A person may experience all, or some, of these symptoms during a panic attack. Different people will experience the symptoms to varying degrees.

As a person becomes accustomed to anxiety attacks, that person learns to overcompensate for any minor change in their bodily reactions. As a result they end up with more anxiety attacks because the body’s nervous system is quickly activated and produces more adrenaline than normal.

The difference between an anxiety attack and other types of anxiety disorders is in that it is sudden and random. However, unlike other anxiety disorders, an anxiety attack is not a mental illness, but a chemical reaction combined with physical symptoms as a result of a shock or fear. It is estimated that one in sixty people have suffered from an anxiety attack at some point in their lives. These people may never have had another one again, but once they had one they are now predisposition to have further ones.

How long do anxiety attacks last

Anxiety attacks can last anywhere from one to ten minutes. However, there have been reports of these attacks last even up to half a day in length. The most severe form can come in waves, lasting hours and ending with the intense need to sleep from exhaustion. In rare cases, anxiety attacks can have little space in between them and then become an attack that appears to last days.

Generally speaking, anxiety attacks are found in families. Interestingly, the first line of attacks can come from major events, loss or even the use of specific medications and if not treated, the pattern of behavior can influence and cause anxiety attacks in loved ones and others.

Anxiety attacks may occur when the body’s ‘fight or flight’ reaction is triggered without there being any actual danger. Unfortunately the exact cause of anxiety attacks is not known at this time, though some scientists think that bereavement, physical illness, stress and even certain medications can be contributing factors.

Though there are many causes for anxiety attacks, it is treatable with varied therapies and medications. Interestingly enough, doctors prefer to run a series of tests for things like hypoglycemia, excessive caffeine/nicotine use and hyper-thyroidism before recommending any treatments because these conditions can provoke and trigger anxiety attacks.

Anxiety Attacks Signs & Symptoms: What does an anxiety attack feel like

If you have never had the displeasure of suffering an anxiety attack then it can be simply described as an intense feeling of unease or even butterflies in the stomach with a racing heartbeat. Ever had sweaty hands or the jitters before an interview and felt like you had to get out of there quick? It is of course perfectly normal to feel these emotions and levels of anxiety, but when these impose on life, causing the person to believe that they are dying then something is wrong.

Across the Western world it is considered to be 1 in 10 that will experience this disruptive attack at some time during their lifetime. Even more of those will have repeated episodes. However, anxiety attacks become abnormal when they include other psychiatric illnesses or the following:
  • Anxiety attacks occur even when nothing stressful has or is happening
  • Anxiety attacks debilitate normal daily activities, including work and the ability to socialize
  • Anxiety attacks become severe, unbearable and last more than one day
In fact these symptoms can be set off when electrical messages from the brain go to varied parts of the body, readying it for ‘fight or flight with no just cause or reason. The lungs and the heart begin to react to this by pumping blood and oxygen throughout the body to enable it to respond faster and the brain releases large doses of adrenaline, an energy booster and stimulant to let the body take on battle speed or marathon speed.

Unfortunately, the following symptoms occur as a result of this pumping, oxygenation and battle/marathon speed increase:
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pains/discomfort.
  • Rapid/increased/irregular heartbeat/palpitations
  • Chest pain and tightening
  • Inability to breath in or out properly
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to swallow properly
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Lack of concentration
  • Inability to maintain self-control
  • Feeling of being unreal
  • Fear of going crazy
If the anxiety is sufficient to be severe, the symptoms will come in waves and gradually increase, peaking at anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 days. These severe symptoms include:
  • Increasing tension
  • Chest pains/discomfort/palpitations
  • Quickening heartbeat
  • Tachycardia
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Hot flushes
  • Shaking
  • Choking/smothering feelings
  • Increased sensation of the inability to breath
  • Nausea
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Abdominal discomfort or distress
  • Dizziness
  • Light headed feelings
  • Fainting
  • Depersonalization
  • Thinking that one is dying
  • Feeling of being crazy
  • Complete loss of personal self-control
  • Feeling of dying, losing mind or “going crazy”
It is critical to note that some of the anxiety attack symptoms may also be signs of heart attacks and should be dealt with immediately by a doctor, and without a medical opinion it is impossible to distinguish between the two.

Common Types of Anxiety Attacks

There are different types of anxiety attacks; each one is attributed to a specific anxiety disorder (such as generalized anxiety disorder or GAD, obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, panic disorder/panic attacks, phobias, separation anxiety and social phobia/anxiety.

  See also: Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety attacks triggered off when suffering from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) can be due to constant fears and worries about daily activities or continued feelings that a bad event may occur. This disorder can trigger off the worst of anxiety attacks because the patient is suffering from worry and fear almost all the time, while dealing with physical afflictions like fatigue, upset stomachs and headaches.

Anxiety attacks triggered off when suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be due to the impossibility to control or stop behaviors or thoughts. These thoughts become stressful to the point of obsession, so much so that the constant concerns cause an attacks or not acting to prevent something can also cause an anxiety attack.

When a patient is suffering from panic disorder, the subsequent anxiety attacks can be triggered again and again by attacks lasting as long as thirty plus minutes, and may be accompanied with or without agoraphobia (fear of being stuck somewhere where getting assistance or escaping would be hard during an anxiety attack). Most people in this situation will avoid enclosed spaces or public places.

A patient that is suffering from some form of phobia or extreme fear of something may go to extraordinary measures to avoid situations and things that can invoke their fears. However, the anxiety from this and the situation they are trying to avoid, if they cannot avoid it, may trigger of anxiety attacks fueled by irrational fears that to them in reality pose no real danger, but in their minds can cause extreme shock.

Anxiety attacks can become a part of separation anxiety and are most especially experienced by children when separated from their parents or far from home. These types of cases are quite commonly seen in the playground with young children who are starting school for the first time – a child in what appears to be hysterical floods of tears and gasping. However, this type of anxiety attack should disappear as the child gets older and get used to the process of separation and return. If not so, the child could be suffering from separation anxiety disorder.

Anxiety attacks are most commonly found with social anxiety disorder or social phobia. An attack can easily be triggered by an intense fear of public humiliation, embarrassment, ridicule and negativity from other people, especially those they don’t even know. The attacks may vary in length and even be the result of an unnatural level of shyness. In the case where severe anxiety attacks may occur, patients usually avoid situations and any type of socialization possible, even isolating themselves from others over long periods of time. The milder form of this can be classified as stage fright and the attacks from these can vary according to the trauma felt by the patient.

Though anxiety attacks vary in their severity, length and intensity, they are triggered by certain fears, concerns, stresses and other anxieties attributed usually to an anxiety disorder. In some cases the anxiety attacks are just simply so mild that most people do not even recognize it as a problem, just a normal reaction to a stressful situation. In other cases the attacks are so severe that they can last for days, only alleviated by the wave like way they decrease and then increase each time with more intensity as they build to a crescendo near the end of the attacks.

In cases that are severe it becomes necessary for the patient to have medical intervention – they have stopped functioning in their everyday lives, are unable to enjoy life, cannot tolerate social interactions and live in constant fear without good justification.

Anxiety Attack Causes: What triggers an Anxiety Attack

Many people suffer from anxiety attacks at one time or another. For some, the experience is a once or twice in lifetime experience. For others, the attacks become frequent, getting in the way of daily activities and affecting his/her quality of life. In these instances, finding an anxiety attack cause may be the first step in alleviating or minimizing the attacks. But finding a specific anxiety attack cause may be easier said than done.

Are Anxiety Attacks Hereditary: Does anxiety run in families?

While anxiety attacks do seem to run in some families, heredity cannot be chalked up as the only anxiety attack cause. However, if you have a close family member who suffers from anxiety or anxiety disorder, there is a higher risk for you as well. Another anxiety attack cause appears to be a particularly stressful, life changing event like graduating from school, getting married, losing someone close to you or experiencing a divorce.

Physical Causes of Anxiety Attack

There are also physical anxiety attack causes that include medical conditions or medications you might be taking for them. An anxiety attack cause like this might include a heart condition like mitral valve prolapse, hypoglycemia or hyperthyroidism. Certain types of medications can also constitute an anxiety attack cause, like some stimulants or caffeine. Sometimes you may not think about your medication as an anxiety attack cause. For example, you may be taking a supplement to help you lose weight, not realizing that the formula includes a stimulant that can cause these attacks.

Physiological Causes of Anxiety Attack

There may also be a physiologic anxiety attack cause that has to do with how certain parts of your brain function. The fight or flight response that we experience during an extremely stressful event like an accident or attack seems to work overtime in those that suffer from regular anxiety attacks. However, no one knows why this occurs in some people and not in others.

By understanding how to identify an anxiety attack cause, you can begin the process of controlling these episodes to ensure they don’t disrupt your life. Knowing that a particularly stressful event or a family history of the problem could increase your chances of experiencing these episodes will make you more aware of the problem so that you can see your doctor at the first sign of a problem.

The Common Causes of Anxiety and Panic Attack in Child

While most people believe that children normally don’t get stressed, anxious or worry about anything, this doesn’t mean that they can’t suffer from anxiety attacks. Children, especially those that are often subjected to stressful situations also experience bouts of anxiety.

The causes of child anxiety attack are pretty much the same with adults, and are categorized into three main groups: genetics and early childhood learning, brain biochemistry and fight or flight mechanism.
  • Genetics and Early Childhood Learning. Studies have shown that anxiety disorders run in the family. Children with parents or close relatives who suffer from bouts of anxiety attacks are likely to develop the same symptoms as they grow.
  • Brain Biochemistry. Serotonin and dopamine are two main brain neurotransmitters that affect the thoughts and feelings of a person. When an imbalance of these two neurotransmitters occurs, the person feels anxious and depressed. Chemical imbalance may be due to a child suddenly being subjected to a stressful environment.
  • Fight or Flight Mechanism. When children find themselves in a stressful or threatening situation, they either defend themselves or escape from the situation. The body reacts to it and develops physical symptoms such as increased heartbeat, shortness of breath and sweating.
While these are the three main causes of anxiety attacks as explained by science, below are some other everyday situations that have been observed to lead to bouts of anxiety attacks in children.
  • Changes in Lifestyle. Children feel safe and comfortable in activities and situations that they’ve gotten used to, and get stressed and anxious when their lifestyle is suddenly changed. If they can’t quickly adapt to the change, they tend to develop the symptoms of anxiety attacks.
  • Stressful Situations and Events. The reasons why stressful events and situations can cause anxiety attacks have been discussed by health experts. Stressful situations and events in children often include peer pressure and school problems. Children who are also constantly bullied by their siblings, friends and playmates also develop anxiety attacks, as well as those who live in an abusive home.
  • Separation Anxiety. Children who have gotten used to the safety and comfort of their parents and home tend to develop fear of being away from such comfort zones. This behavior is often observed in children who are old enough to go to school. They come up with reasons not to go to school, and their reasons may include stomach pain, dizziness, toothache, and headache.
Child anxiety attack should be a big concern among parents. It needs to be diagnosed early and treated immediately to keep it from exacerbating and persisting throughout their children’s lifetime. Anxiety attack can also affect children’s overall personality and behavior. If left untreated, it can develop into a more serious condition called anxiety disorder.

The advancement of the world has made our daily lives so much more hectic, balancing work and home responsibilities has indeed become a challenge. The seemingly simple task of taking care of our children has now become a responsibility so high that it has the tendency to push our stress levels to the limit. Factors such as these bring up the stress levels and this needs to be controlled in order to help stop anxiety attacks in our children.

Anxiety Attack Help: Stop Anxiety Attacks & Panic Attacks

How to Stop an Anxiety Attack

Setting the Goal

The ability to live a life free from stress is the ultimate goal since stress is a major contributor than can trigger the onset of anxiety and panic attacks, that can consequently be disastrous for a person’s life. Preventing panic attacks and anxiety definitely needs a lot of attention and has to be considered seriously since it’s onset can sometimes be unbearable and very discomforting at the least.

The people most likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attack are classified as Type-A, and as such they are also the group of individuals that are most in need of solutions with stopping anxiety and panic attacks. People of this type tend to have the perfectionist traits in every task they do and so have the tendency to be stressed more than other type of people.

The ability to deal with stress adequately can help in stopping anxiety and panic attack, and this may require non complicated methods such as performing simple routines and exercises, or even meditation and deep breathing to bring down the stress levels thereby preventing anxiety and stress. At the point in time that stress sets in you can quite simply put your hand over your stomach and breathe deeply, this will allow your stress to start flowing out and this way you are less likely to suffer from a panic attack or anxiety.

Another method of possibly stopping anxiety and panic attack is by going outside of the home or office, taking a short walk and getting some fresh air. A brisk walk or jogging for around twenty minutes each day helps ensure that endorphins are released and thus reduces the stress levels allowing you to prevent anxiety and panic attack. Much in the same way, listening to gently music such as classical can also help in controlling the blood pressure in addition to calming you down.

For those who suffer from elevated levels of anxiety that in turn causes a panic attack the best thing for such people would be to learn about techniques to deal with anxiety disorder with panic attack; some of these techniques are simple and require nothing more than nasal breathing while others involve learning to relax the muscles.

The best way of stopping anxiety and panic attack is to identify the causes; know the origins and then seek professional advice. Stress is a major cause that must be dealt with early and effectively.

Steps You Can Take to stop anxiety attacks

If your problem is a mild one, you can stop anxiety and anxiety attacks without the help of a psychotherapist. One of the most basic but practical techniques you can use to stop having anxiety attacks or reduce their effects is to learn how to breathe correctly. Place your hands on the top of your stomach and gently press down on it as you breathe in and out, to help yourself to gradually calm down.

Another technique that you can use to stop having anxiety attacks is to keep telling yourself positive things. For example, if during the onset of an attack you repeat an encouraging or positive phrase such as “There is absolutely nothing to fear,” it may help you.

If your anxiety attacks become more severe over time, or if you feel you need support to help overcome your illness, contact a psychotherapist who can help you learn more advanced techniques that you can use to counter the problem.

How to Stop an Anxiety Attack

If learning how to stop an anxiety attack were an easy process, then chances are that nobody would have more than one or two in their lifetime. The truth is that some people never learn how to stop an anxiety attack because they can do not take the time to figure out what triggers them in the first place. We all are different and have different life experiences. Therefore we are inclined to react differently to any given situation. Something that triggers an anxiety attack in one individual may have no effect on another, and vice versa.

Find the Trigger

A good psychotherapist can help you learn how to stop an anxiety attack by helping you determine what actually causes them and training you to react differently to the cause. If you can’t afford to pay a psychotherapist on a regular basis, you need not worry. With a little tenacity, you can actually learn how to stop an anxiety attack by yourself.

The first step in learning how to stop an anxiety attack is to think back on previous occasions when you have had one. You need to figure out where you were, what you were doing and what you were thinking and feeling right before you had the attack. Hopefully a pattern will begin to emerge that provides clues as to what could be causing your anxiety attacks.

Change Your Reaction

There is more to learning how to stop an anxiety attack than simply identifying what triggers them. It will be of no use knowing what causes your attacks if you continue to react to it in the same way.
Let us suppose that you have figured out that coming into contact with big, fierce looking dogs is causing your anxiety attacks. In such a case, you need to change the way of responding or reacting if you are to stop having the attacks.

For example, instead of getting anxious and hurriedly crossing the street to avoid the dog you could try walking past it at a distance while telling yourself that you are not scared. On subsequent encounters with dogs, walk past it at a slightly nearer distance, while reminding yourself that there is absolutely nothing to fear so long as you do not allow yourself to feel frightened.

Don’t Expect Miracles

Learning how to stop an anxiety attack is not a simple process. It requires time, patience and determination. If you want to stop having anxiety attacks you cannot give up when you encounter a setback.

When you feel the need for courage or support, remember that you are not the only person who is trying to overcome the problem of anxiety attacks; there are millions of others in the exact same situation. Furthermore, there are numerous online support groups you can join in order to interact with other anxiety attack sufferers.

There is no quick fix to enable you to stop a panic attack right away. Learning to control your anxiety takes considerable effort and time.

Avoidance Will Not Help

If you give it some thought, you should be able to determine exactly what triggers your anxiety. For example, if having to interact with strangers makes you feel very anxious, you could make a point of avoiding people that you don’t know so that you wouldn’t be forced to interact with them. However, bypassing dealing with the problem of your awkwardness around strangers would not help you in the long run to stop your anxiety attack problem. In fact avoiding strangers and giving in to your fears would effectively stop you from being able to enjoy a normal, healthy life.

Face Your Fears

Though it may sound horrifying to any sufferer, the only effective way to stop anxiety and panic attacks is to gradually put yourself into situations in which you are forced to deal with your fears. The key to the process is to expose yourself to the thing that triggers your attacks gradually. For example, the agoraphobic could begin by making the effort to walk around in his backyard for a minute or two.

In the process of enabling yourself to stop anxiety and panic attacks by facing your fears, it is important to ride the feeling out while at the same time acknowledging that the fear is temporary and will not do you any real harm. It might be helpful to find something that distracts you from the situation so that you are focusing on something other than your fear. For example you may try an exercise such as counting backwards from hundred to zero.

See also for Ways to Relieve Anxiety:
1. Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
2. Meditation Techniques for Anxiety and Stress Relief

Anxiety Attack Treatment

If anxiety attacks are keeping you from living life the way you want then you must seek medical or professional help. Anxiety attacks contribute to anxiety disorders which need immediate treatment otherwise this could leave a person depressed, unhealthy and anxious all the time. Thankfully there are a number of treatment options available

The best strategies for overcoming anxiety attacks include three possible treatments. These treatments include cognitive group behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and possible medication.

Studies have shown that both forms of cognitive behavioral therapies, CBT and CGBT, do succeed and allow each patient to move forward and enjoy normal, productive, socially interactive and happy lives. Of course, there are a few cases were the effects of the anxiety attacks are so deep rooted that the individual needs to combine these therapies with medication. However, if you do sufferer anxiety attacks, getting guidance from your doctor is the first best step to curing your pains, fears and negative thoughts.

Anxiety Attack Medication

There are a number of treatment options for anxiety attack (or panic attack) available and this includes medication. Usually anxiety attack medication, given to those who suffer from the disorder, is prescribed since anxiety is a disease not easily treated and must be diagnosed.

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers are the most common medications that are used for treating anxiety.


Antidepressants normally treat depression, but they are also said to help people with anxiety and when treating anxiety, antidepressants usually are started at low doses and increased over time. Some of these antidepressants are not to be taken in combination with any other medication or certain foods as this can cause an increase in blood pressure.

Ant-anxiety medication

The anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines usually start operating more quickly and sometimes effectively than antidepressants. These anxiety attack medication for panic attacks include Lorazepam and Alprazolam which is also used for General Anxiety Disorder.


Beta-blockers will control some of the physical symptoms that arise from anxiety attacks, such as trembling and sweating. Propranolol is a beta-blocker usually used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure but is also used to assist those people who have physical problems due to anxiety.

As with any medication there will be potential side effects some include dizziness, blurred vision or drowsiness, others include nausea, upset stomach, nervousness, headache, nightmares or trouble sleeping, excitement, light-headedness, fatigue, cold hands, confusion and weakness.

It is important to note that person with asthma or diabetes are not recommended to take beta-blockers because they may worsen symptoms.

These anxiety attack medications should be taken in moderation but become dependent on them and eventually build a tolerance to medication and therefore may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. To stay away from these problems, doctors generally prescribe the medication for short periods, a practice that is particularly supportive for those people who have substance abuse problems or who can become dependent on anxiety attack medication easily. When people suddenly stop taking these medications, they will acquire withdrawal symptoms at worst their anxiety may return.

There are some people who do not completely believe in taking traditional medication for anything or they have taken prescription drugs and are not satisfied with results; for such reasons the option of alternative medication or complementary alternative medication exists.

Alternative medications are those methods that doesn’t include ingesting any substance except some herbs. Complementary alternative medication is when you couple your prescription drugs with alternative medication techniques - these include acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, herbal medicine, meditation and yoga. These anxiety attack medication will work for most persons but not in the same combination.


Stressful situations are normal for everyone, even mild anxiety attack type symptoms, but when they become debilitating or undermine our ability to live our lives, then there is a problem. When the symptoms go beyond normal levels and get out of control, lasting a day or more, it is important to get help. Again anxiety attacks are not pleasant experiences when out of control, but they can be cured with help and with specified treatments as prescribed by a knowledgeable doctor.

Anxiety attacks are common, but their underlying causes and the number of times a person gets them can determine whether treatment is needed. If you experience one of more anxiety type attack during a week then it is high time to consult with your doctor to stop these attacks before they stop you enjoying your life.


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