Guide to Anxiety Attacks

Guide to Anxiety Attacks

Occasional anxiety is normal and can even be beneficial, as it keeps you alert and focused. When anxiety transcends simple “nerves” and leads to episodes of intense, sudden physical symptoms, you may be having an anxiety attack. Read on to learn more about this fairly common disorder.

What is an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack is a dramatic, debilitating surge of intense apprehension and fear. Your body becomes gripped with an array of frightening physical symptoms. Your mind races to process them, yet you feel helpless to stop them. Fortunately, these attacks don’t last long (most peak in around ten minutes and end in less than half an hour.)

What causes anxiety attacks?

Most anxiety attacks can be linked to fear or worry about a specific event. Peoples’ triggers vary, but common ones include extreme worry or apprehension about:

  • Entering a confined space
  • Flying
  • An upcoming blind date or job interview
  • Encountering an object of fear (such as a dog.)

Excess caffeine and certain medications can also trigger anxiety attacks.

How do you know you’re experiencing an anxiety attack?

If you experience several of the following symptoms simultaneously, you’re probably having an anxiety attack.

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • The sensation that you’re choking or can’t breathe
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Numb or tingling fingers
  • Hyperventilating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea
  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling out of control and terrified

How can you stop an anxiety attack?

If you realize you’re having an attack, regulate your breathing. Don’t gasp for air. Inhale slowly through your nose, hold your breath a few seconds, then slowly exhale through pursed lips. This forces you to redirect your focus from your fears.

Another tool to stop an attack is to respond to the negative thoughts you’re having by shouting “STOP!” in your head. Then, think positive statements to offset your fears. If your anxiety attack precedes giving a speech, your mental dialogue should go something like this: “I’ve done this before and it went fine. I will get through this. Everything will be just fine.”

How can you prevent an anxiety attack?

Reducing your stress level helps prevent anxiety attacks. Meditation, yoga and saying “no” to things you don’t want to do all alleviate anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid all unpleasant situations. When you know you’ll be confronting a situation that may trigger anxiety, practice positive visualization well in advance of it. If you prepare before you get on the airplane or step to the podium, you’ll be less likely to panic and have an attack. Also, avoid smoking and overindulging in coffee, tea and sodas, which are all stimulants that trigger attacks.

Should you seek medical help?

If you’re having frequent anxiety attacks or avoid leaving home because you fear having an attack, it’s time to see a doctor. Cognitive behavioral therapy and prescription anti-anxiety medications can alleviate your symptoms. There’s no need to let anxiety control your life. Help is available!


Kellye Neuweiler is a professional writer and editor with 20 years of diverse journalistic experience. She has lived throughout the United States but is now happily settled in Fort Worth, Texas. In her spare time she enjoys running, cooking, eating, gardening, watching kid’s soccer and renovating her 1920s-era home.

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