What are anxiety attacks and how to handle them

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What are anxiety attacks: an illustration using the conceptual metaphor of a ship bearing down on a person in a small rowboat with no escape.

What are anxiety attacks and how to handle them?

Anxiety attacks can be terrifying. For some people, they may only experience one or two anxiety attacks in their lifetime. But for others, anxiety attacks can be a regular occurrence. If you are one of the unlucky ones who suffer from frequent anxiety attacks, it is essential to learn how to handle them. This blog will discuss what anxiety attacks are, the symptoms associated with them, and how to deal with an attack when it happens.

What is an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear or worry. It can come on without warning and can be very debilitating. Many people who suffer from anxiety attacks feel like they are having a heart attack or going crazy. Anxiety attacks originate from the brain’s fear center, the amygdala. When the amygdala is activated, it sends out a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for the “fight or flight” response which causes the heart to race, the palms to sweat, and the body to shake.

What are the symptoms of an anxiety attack?

There are a variety of symptoms associated with anxiety attacks. These symptoms can vary from person to person and may even be different from one attack to the next. Some common symptoms include:

  • Heart Palpitations: This is when you feel like your heart is racing or skipping a beat.
  • Shortness of Breath: This is a common symptom and can be very frightening. You may feel like you are suffocating or that you cannot catch your breath.
  • Chest Pain: This is another scary symptom that can often be mistaken for a heart attack.
  • Dizziness: Many people who experience anxiety attacks feel lightheaded or dizzy.
  • Sweating: Anxiety attacks can cause you to break out in a cold sweat.
  • Trembling or shaking: This is a common symptom of anxiety and is caused by the release of cortisol.
  • Nausea: Some people also experience nausea or an upset stomach during an anxiety attack.
  • Hot flashes or chills: You may suddenly feel very hot or cold during an anxiety attack.
  • Fear of losing control: Many people who suffer from anxiety attacks feel like they are losing control or going crazy.
  • Fear of dying is a common symptom and can be very scary. However, it is important to remember that anxiety attacks cannot kill you.

What causes anxiety attacks?

There are a variety of things that can trigger an anxiety attack. For some people, it may be a specific event or situation, such as public speaking or flying. For others, there may be no obvious trigger. Anxiety attacks can also be caused by physical health problems such as heart disease or thyroid problems. However, most often, anxiety attacks are caused by stress. Stress can be caused by work, family, or personal life problems. Therefore, it is essential to learn how to manage stress in order to prevent anxiety attacks.

How to handle an anxiety attack

If you suffer from anxiety attacks, it is important to learn how to handle them when they occur. 

The first step is to recognize that you are having an anxiety attack. This may seem obvious, but many people try to ignore their symptoms or tell themselves that they are not really having an attack. This only makes the symptoms worse.

The second step is to start breathing slowly and deeply. This will help to calm your body and mind.

The third step is to focus on something else. This can be anything from counting your breaths to looking at a fixed object in the room. Again, focusing on something else will help to take your mind off of your symptoms.

The fourth step is to relax your muscles. Start by tensing all of the muscles in your body and then releasing them. This will help to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.

The final step is to talk to someone. This can be a friend, family member, or therapist. Talking about your anxiety attack can help to lessen the fear and make it feel more manageable.  And for our readers who live in Canada, you can visit the Toronto and Ottawa Psychotherapy Center for more information about anxiety and how to manage it.

Don’t forget that you can also get support from your doctor too. In some cases, medication alongside specialist therapy could be the help that you need to manage your anxiety safely. Just be sure not to mix xanax and alcohol so that you’re keeping yourself safe. You may find that starting treatment could be just what you need to start feeling like yourself again.

Anxiety attacks can be very frightening, but they are not dangerous. With proper treatment, most people are able to overcome their anxiety and live normal, healthy lives. However, if you suffer from anxiety attacks, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.

Article by
Jessica White

Jessica White describes herself as a "very private person," which is why she uses a pseudonym. Jessica holds a MA in feminist literature, and an MBA. For a long time she wrote a successful personal mental health blog on Blogger.


What is an anxiety attack? Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. They usually occur suddenly and without warning. | ©Antonio Rodriguez/Adobe Stock