The term ‘anxiety attack’ is not a clinical one, but rather it is one that many people who suffer from anxiety will use to describe what is happening to them when their anxiety starts to cause them problems. Some of what happens will also form the basis of a panic attack, but it is more than this, and some elements are entirely different, although they can overlap.
To work out what an anxiety attack is, it needs to be looked at in its various contexts.
Anxiety Attacks and Perceived Threats
Anxiety is very often a reaction to a perceived threat, whether that threat is a real one or an imagined one. The anxiety attack that relates to perceived threats is about what might happen, not necessarily about what is happening.
This kind of anxiety attack is your mind thinking into the future and taking the worst-case scenario of what you are experiencing. When this happens, if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, the fear and anxiety will become so intense that you will suffer an attack.
However, it is useful to bear in mind that if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, then you can still feel anxious about perceived threats; in fact, this is useful as it will keep you alert to danger. The difference is that those who suffer from anxiety will not stop feeling this worry, whereas someone who doesn’t have anxiety will return to normal once the danger has passed.
People with Anxiety vs Anxiety Attacks
Sometimes people say they are having an anxiety attack when they are suffering from anxiety in a more generalized way. They may be going through experiences that cause them anxiety and label this as an anxiety attack. This is most often because they have mild anxiety, and this sudden worsening of symptoms can feel like an attack.
Anxiety or Panic Attacks
Sometimes anxiety attacks are mistaken for panic attacks and vice versa. Panic attacks bring with them all kinds of frightening physical sensations, which can lead the patient to feel that they are dying in some cases, or at least extremely unwell. If you do suffer from panic attacks as part of your anxiety attacks, then it is wise to seek medical attention to rule out other mental health conditions that might have the same or similar symptoms.
Signs of an Anxiety Attack
Some of the common anxiety attack symptoms are:
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest or even chest pain
- A choking feeling
- Feeling detached from the situation and yourself
- Fear of dying
- Pins and needles (also known as paresthesia)
- Hot flushes or chills
If it is possible to have a panic attack with it being linked to an anxiety attack, and it is also possible to have an anxiety attack even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder. Whatever the case may be, if you do experience any of the above symptoms and are concerned about your health, then you should seek expert medical advice. It’s better to get help as early as possible.