Anxiety Attacks: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options When Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety attacks can be extremely debilitating, involving shortness of breath and more.Shape

Anxiety attacks can be devastating. Learn what they are, how they can be managed, and why they're different from panic attacks in our blog.

Understanding anxiety attacks is crucial, particularly when navigating the complexities of recovery from addiction. If you or someone you know experiences sudden overwhelming feelings of anxiety, recognizing the signs and symptoms can be the first step toward management and treatment.

In this article, we will explore what characterizes an anxiety attack, including its physical and psychological manifestations, and discuss effective treatment options to manage this condition. By arming yourself with this knowledge, you can better prepare to tackle these challenging experiences head-on, fostering a more supportive recovery environment.

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks are intense, sudden episodes of fear and distress, often accompanied by physical symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Affecting millions globally, these episodes can significantly disrupt daily life.

Understanding the signs, triggers, and effective management strategies is crucial for anyone experiencing anxiety attacks.

Is an Anxiety Attack the Same Thing as a Panic Attack?

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. While both can cause intense feelings of fear and distress, there are key differences between the two.

Anxiety attacks typically arise in response to a stressor or trigger, and the symptoms can vary in intensity. These attacks often build up over time and may last for an extended period. On the other hand, panic attacks come on suddenly and reach a peak within minutes. They are often described as a sudden surge of overwhelming fear or discomfort.

Another distinction is that anxiety attacks are usually triggered by specific situations or thoughts, while panic attacks can occur without an obvious trigger. Additionally, panic attacks are characterized by physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness, whereas anxiety attacks may involve more cognitive symptoms like excessive worry or fear of losing control.

In summary, while anxiety attacks and panic attacks share some similarities, they are distinct in terms of onset, duration, triggers, and symptoms. It is important to understand these differences in order to effectively manage and cope with either type of attack.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

There are several warning signs and symptoms associated with anxiety attacks. Understanding and identifying these signs of an anxiety attack is necessary for effectively handling these events. Following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of anxiety attacks.

  • Rapid heartbeat: Your heart pounds quickly, making you feel like it might burst out of your chest.

  • Shortness of breath: You fight to catch your breath as if you're suffocating or not getting enough air.

  • Tightness in the chest: A feeling of tightness or constriction in your chest may make you believe you are suffering a heart attack.

  • Shaking or trembling: Your entire body may shake or tremble uncontrollably, from your hands to your legs.

  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed: You may feel dizzy or light-headed as if the ground beneath you is shaky.

  • Sweating: Sweating excessively, especially when not hot, could indicate an anxiety attack.

  • Nausea or intestinal discomfort: During an anxiety attack, you may have stomach pain, sickness, or nausea.

  • Numbness or tingling: A sensation of pins and needles or numbness in your hands, feet, or face can occur.

  • Intense fear or apprehension: You may have an overwhelming fear, a sense of impending doom, or a loss of control.

  • Feeling distant or detached: Anxiety attacks can make you feel disconnected from reality as if you're seeing everything from a distance.

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What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

Anxiety attacks can be caused by several events, and identifying these common causes can help clarify why they occur. Following are some of the significant causes that might lead to anxiety episodes.

Stressful Life Events

Major life events, such as job loss, relationship issues, financial challenges, or the death of a loved one, can significantly increase stress levels and induce anxiety attacks.

Past Experiences or Trauma

Previous traumatic events or experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, can have a long-term influence. This could make such people more prone to panic attacks.

Chronic Medical Conditions

People with chronic health conditions may experience anxiety attacks due to the stress and uncertainty that their condition causes.

Substance Abuse or Withdrawal

The use of substances such as drugs or alcohol can alter the chemistry of the brain. This could lead to anxiety attacks. Moreover, withdrawal from certain drugs, such can cause significant anxiety symptoms.

Genetics and Family History

Anxiety problems have been shown to run in families, indicating a genetic propensity. Individuals with a family history of anxiety problems may be susceptible to panic attacks.

Environmental Factors

Certain environmental elements, such as crowded or overwhelming situations, being exposed to excessive noise or pollution, or even specific weather conditions, can all contribute to anxiety attacks.

Substance Sensitivities

Some people may be more susceptible to caffeine, certain drugs, or stimulants, which can act as anxiety triggers.

Chronic Stress and Anxiety

Persistent high stress levels and chronic anxiety can lower the threshold for experiencing anxiety attacks. Anxiety and stress can prime the body to be more receptive to triggers.

Sleep Deprivation or Poor Sleep Quality

Sleep deprivation or inadequate sleep can upset the body's average balance and make you more prone to anxiety attacks.

Cognitive Factors

Certain thought patterns, such as catastrophizing, excessive concern, or negative self-talk, can lead to anxiety and increase the chance of anxiety attacks.

How To Deal With Anxiety Attacks

When faced with an anxiety attack, it is essential to have efficient strategies to help reduce the overwhelming symptoms and restore a sense of calm. Following are some techniques that may be useful.

Deep Breathing

Deep, steady breaths can help you control your breathing and stimulate your body's relaxation response. Slowly inhale through the nose, hold for a few seconds, and then gradually exhale through your mouth.

Grounding Techniques

Engage your senses to return your attention to the current moment. Identify and describe things in your environment, touch something with different textures, or pay close attention to certain noises.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

To achieve physical relaxation, tense and release each muscle group. You can start with your toes and work up to your forehead, releasing tension.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Identify and address any negative or catastrophic thinking behaviors contributing to your anxiety. Substitute more sensible and positive alternatives.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is practiced by observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. You should concentrate on the current moment and let go of concerns about the past or the future.

Distract Yourself

Take part in activities that can divert your focus away from your anxiety. Listen to relaxing music, read a book, do puzzles, or participate in hobbies you like.

Use Relaxation Techniques.

To create a peaceful atmosphere promoting relaxation, use techniques such as guided imagery, visualization, or aromatherapy.

Seek Help

During an anxiety attack, reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist for guidance & support. Having someone to talk to can sometimes help relieve stress.

Create a Self-Care Routine

To lower overall stress, prioritize self-care activities in your everyday life. Some examples are regular exercise, adequate sleep, a well-balanced diet, and participation in activities that offer you joy and relaxation.

Consider Getting Professional Help

If your anxiety attacks continue or significantly impact your daily functioning, getting expert assistance from a mental health specialist can give further support and direction.

How Long Do Anxiety Attacks Last?

The duration of an anxiety attack varies significantly from person to person. While some people have relatively short attacks that last only a few minutes, others have more extended attacks that can last for hours. Because each person's experience is unique, there is no set timescale for anxiety episodes.

The duration of an anxiety attack can be affected by several things. The exact triggers or stresses involved and the intensity and extent of the symptoms can all play a role. Likewise, an individual's capacity to use coping and relaxation techniques during an attack might affect its length.

The symptoms of an anxiety attack can be compelling and overpowering during the peak, which usually occurs within the first few minutes. This peak phase is frequently marked by a racing heart, shortness of breath, and a sensation of impending doom or panic. As the attack develops, these feelings may gradually fade, and people may begin to feel relieved.

Even after the severe symptoms have subsided, people may endure persistent sensations of worry, tiredness, or discomfort. The duration of these aftereffects varies depending on the individual and the circumstances surrounding the attack.

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How To Calm Anxiety Attacks At Night

Coping with anxiety attacks during the night can be particularly challenging due to the disruption of sleep and heightened emotions. Here are some effective strategies to help you calm down and find rest:

Optimize Your Sleep Environment

Ensure your bedroom is conducive to relaxation. Keep it dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using calming scents like lavender or playing gentle, soothing music to create a tranquil atmosphere.

Practice Deep Breathing

Engage in deep breathing exercises to stabilize your breathing and induce relaxation. Focus on the sensation of your breath to help calm your mind and body.

Establish a Relaxing Pre-Sleep Routine

Create a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation. This might include activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or engaging in gentle stretches to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.

Limit Stimulants and Screen Time

Avoid caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime. Also, reduce exposure to electronic devices with bright screens before sleeping, as these can increase anxiety and interfere with sleep quality.

Journal Your Thoughts

If worries or racing thoughts prevent you from sleeping, try writing them down in a journal. This practice can help transfer your thoughts from your mind onto paper, easing your anxiety and making it easier to fall asleep.

These strategies aim to reduce anxiety at night and improve your sleep quality, helping you to feel more rested and less anxious.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety attacks are often associated with drug and alcohol misuse. Substance misuse can harm mental health and increase the likelihood of anxiety attacks. The following are crucial aspects to consider while understanding the link between substance abuse and anxiety attacks.

Disruption of Brain Chemistry

Drugs and alcohol can interfere with the natural functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in imbalances that can cause anxiety symptoms. These substances can change the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation.

Withdrawal Effects

Individuals dependent on drugs or alcohol may experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or lessen their substance use. Withdrawal symptoms might include acute anxiety, panic, agitation, and other unpleasant physical and psychological emotions.

Increased Sensitivity to Anxiety

Substance addiction might heighten a person's sensitivity to anxiety. Substance abuse can cause changes in the brain and neurological system, making a person more reactive to stimuli and more vulnerable to anxiety attacks.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance abuse often coexists with other mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders. These conditions can combine and worsen one another, resulting in an endless cycle of substance abuse and anxiety.


Some people use drugs or alcohol to cope with anxiety or other mental health issues. While substances may momentarily reduce symptoms, they can worsen anxiety and increase the likelihood of anxiety attacks.

Increased Risk-Taking Behavior

Substance abuse can weaken judgment and lead to risky actions. This can result in events or encounters that increase anxiety and cause panic attacks.

Substance-Specific Effects

Different substances have different effects on anxiety. Stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines, for example, can create acute anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks. In contrast, alcohol might initially be calming but subsequently contribute to more significant anxiety and withdrawal symptoms.

Anxiety Attacks Wearing You Down? Help Is Available

Living with anxiety attacks can be really tough. It's like having a big, heavy cloud hanging over you all the time, making it hard to see the sunshine. When you're in the grip of an anxiety attack, it can feel like the world is closing in on you. You might feel like you're losing control, or like you're going to pass out. It's a terrifying experience, and it can leave you feeling drained and exhausted afterward.

At The Forge Recovery Center, we use proven techniques to help you free yourself from anxiety. Our team will help you manage the symptoms of anxiety and help you safely explore the roots of anxiety. With our help, you’ll be able to free yourself from anxiety attacks and live the life you truly deserve.

Reach out to us today to learn more.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

July 9, 2024

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