First, it is important to understand what anxiety attacks are. This is no easy task as there is much overlap between anxiety and panic. Panic attacks are recognized in the DSM-5, while anxiety attacks aren’t. This means that it is harder to pin down a strict definition for anxiety attacks. It also means that symptoms may be vary widely from one person to another.
Nonetheless, panic and anxiety share many similarities such as a sudden sense of overwhelming fear, heart palpitations and many other symptoms. This means that, even though the two are different, the symptoms of an anxiety attack will sometimes be similar to those of a panic attack. To complicate things further, the two types of attacks may occur at the same time and an anxiety attack can culminate in a panic attack.
The big difference is that anxiety attacks are about a specific fear and its possible occurrence. This might sound all very complicated, but don’t worry. Here are some potential signs of an anxiety attack:
1. Symptoms of Anxiety
Before an anxiety attack, you are most likely experiencing several common symptoms of anxiety. These include feelings of worry, of distress and of fear. These sorts of feelings may occur from time to time in ordinary life. It is important to distinguish between normal feelings of worry and fear and those that are indicative of anxiety.
If you are experiencing anxiety, these feelings will be far more severe and will feel crippling, it may feel like they are impeding your ability to move, to function in a normal fashion. You will need proper and adequate mental health treatment plans to treat these signs of an anxiety attack.
2. Feeling Detached
This is defined as a sense of detachment from the world or from oneself. You may feel like there is a big separation, or invisible wall, between you and the world around you. You may even feel like this separation is between you and yourself. Clinically, this feeling is referred to as derealisation or depersonalisation.
3. Physical Symptoms
Many physical symptoms are associated with anxiety attacks. If your anxiety attack turns into a panic attack, the signs may become more numerous or severe. These may include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, feeling like choking, having a dry mouth, sweating, having chills or hot flashes, trembling, tingling, a headache and feeling faint or dizzy.
If your anxiety attack is turning into a panic attack, you may also have a racing heart, feel out of breath or have feelings of nausea. This is a long list of symptoms. Remember that anxiety attacks vary widely from one individual to another. These are just a few signs of an anxiety attack. You may experience only one or two of the above, or many or even none.
Why do all of these physical symptoms occur? Basically, anxiety kicks the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. This is also what will make you feel restless or agitated. Your brain feels like it has encountered a danger and it is on alert in order to get you out of this situation. This generates a cascade of physical reactions, because blood gets pumped towards your heart, heightening your heart rate and therefore causing many of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety in general and anxiety attacks in particular.
4. Exposure to Phobias or Stress
Even though many panic attacks often occur for no particular reason, anxiety attacks can usually be linked to a trigger. If you have just been in a situation where you encountered something that you know you have a phobia of this may trigger an anxiety or panic attack. Certain stressful or overwhelming situations may also trigger an attack.
Again, the sort of situation that is stressful will vary between people. What is important is that the situation is perceived as stressful by you, not the opinion of those around you. Further, while panic attacks usually occur suddenly, an anxiety attack won’t. Anxiety attacks develop gradually. This means that you may have been worried about the situation that caused it beforehand.
5. You Medical and Personal History
Many past experiences in your life may place you at a greater risk of experiencing anxiety attacks. If you recently experienced a trauma or are going through a stressful life event, this may place you at risk.
Certain health conditions such as phobias, PTSD, OCD and the use of some medications, also increase the risk of having an anxiety attack, as does a family history of similar problems. In fact, there may even be certain biological factors that make certain people more prone to anxiety attacks.
Anxiety attacks tend to be long. This is because they build up over time. Panic attacks start suddenly and only last for about ten to thirty minutes. An anxiety attack will last much longer, and it will be felt as a fear that gradually builds up.