8 signs that you are having an anxiety attack

Anxiety attacks can sneak up on you when you least expect them, turning ordinary moments into overwhelming experiences. Knowing the signs can empower you to manage these episodes better. Here is a friendly guide to understanding the eight signs that you might be having an anxiety attack. Remember, while this guide provides insights, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

1. Your Heart Feels Like It’s Racing

When you are having an anxiety attack, it often feels like your heart is racing way faster than usual. Imagine your heart trying to win a marathon inside your chest – that’s how intense it can feel. This happens because your body thinks it is in danger and is getting ready to either fight back or run away, a natural reaction called the “fight or flight” response.

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2010, titled “Cardiovascular Aspects of Panic Disorder,” shows that this rapid heartbeat is not just common but a significant indicator of panic attacks, which are intense forms of anxiety attacks.

2. You Can’t Catch Your Breath

During an anxiety attack, you might find it hard to breathe properly. It is like you are trying to take a deep breath, but no matter how much you try, it just doesn’t feel enough. This can make you feel even more anxious because breathing, something that should be automatic, suddenly feels like a struggle.

This breathing trouble is not just in your head but it is a well-documented physical response to stress. A study mentioned in the American Journal of Psychiatry called “Respiratory Control: Its Contribution to the Treatment of Panic Disorders” (2005) explains that feeling short of breath is a common reaction when your body is dealing with anxiety. It shows that your body is gearing up to deal with what it thinks is a threat, causing you to breathe faster and making it seem harder to catch your breath.

3. Your Stomach Ties Itself in Knots

Have you ever felt like your stomach was tying itself in knots during moments of stress or nervousness? That’s not just a figure of speech but it can happen when you are having an anxiety attack. This feeling is way beyond the usual butterflies in your stomach. It is like your body is physically reacting to the stress by making your stomach feel tight or uncomfortable. This happens because, under stress, your body decides to send blood to places it thinks are more important for dealing with danger, which can upset your digestive system.

This connection between stress, anxiety, and your stomach is not just something people say; it has been studied by scientists. A significant piece of research published in the Gastroenterology journal, titled “Stress and the Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach, and Treatment Options” in 2011, dives deep into how stress and anxiety can mess with how your gastrointestinal system works. This study shows us that the tight, uncomfortable feeling in your stomach during an anxiety attack is a real physical reaction to stress.

4. The World Starts Spinning: Dizziness

When you are caught in an anxiety attack, you might suddenly feel dizzy, as if the ground under you is not steady. Even though you are standing still, it can seem like everything around you is spinning. This dizzy feeling happens because, during an anxiety attack, you might start breathing differently. This change in how you breathe can mess with the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, making you feel unsteady or light-headed.

5. Feeling Out of Control

Feeling like you are not in control is a big part of what makes anxiety attacks so scary. You might worry that you are going to embarrass yourself or that you won’t be able to keep your emotions in check. This fear of suddenly not being able to control what you do or say can make the whole experience even more distressing. It is like your body and mind are on a ride that you can’t get off of, and you are not sure what’s going to happen next.

6. Suddenly Too Hot or Too Cold

During an anxiety attack, you might suddenly feel like you are overheating or, conversely, getting chills. This is because your body releases a wave of adrenaline, a hormone that gets you ready to face danger. This rush can make you sweat a lot or feel unexpectedly cold. It is your body’s way of reacting to what it thinks is a threat, even if there’s no actual danger around you.

This reaction is closely linked to a part of your body called the autonomic nervous system, which handles things you don’t consciously control, like your heartbeat or breathing. A review in the Annals of General Psychiatry titled “Autonomic nervous system dysfunction in psychiatric disorders and the impact of psychotropic medications: a systematic review and meta-analysis” (2016) explains how this system is involved in the physical symptoms people feel during anxiety attacks, including sudden changes in temperature. This shows that feeling too hot or too cold during an anxiety attack is a common physical response tied to how our bodies handle stress.

7. A Sense of Impending Doom

When you are having an anxiety attack, you might suddenly feel like something really bad is going to happen, even though everything seems normal around you. This fear, like a dark cloud of doom hanging over you, can stop you in your tracks and make it hard to think about anything else. It’s a scary feeling because it comes on so strongly and without any clear reason, making you worry about all sorts of bad outcomes that are not likely to happen.

A paper in the Clinical Psychology Review, titled “Anticipatory Anxiety and Emotional Responses to Potential Threat” (2012), dives into how expecting something bad to happen can make anxiety even worse. This research helps explain why, during anxiety attacks, people might feel an overpowering dread or fear about the future, highlighting how anxiety does not just affect us in the moment but also in how we think about what’s coming next.

8. Disconnection from Reality

During an anxiety attack, you might suddenly feel like you are not quite connected to what is happening around you or even to yourself. It’s as if you are watching your life from a distance, like an outsider. This weird sensation, called depersonalization (when it is about feeling disconnected from yourself) or derealization (when it is about feeling disconnected from the world), can be pretty unsettling. It is like your mind is trying to put some space between you and the stress or fear you are feeling, even though it makes things feel less real.

A research article in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, titled “Depersonalization and Derealization in Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder” (2014), looks into how these feelings of being disconnected are actually common in people dealing with severe anxiety. It suggests that this might be the brain’s way of trying to protect you from overwhelming stress by making you feel as if you are not fully there.

Moving Forward

Recognizing these signs is a crucial step towards understanding and managing anxiety attacks. Remember, you are not alone, and help is available. Strategies like deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, and seeking support from professionals can make a significant difference. If you or someone you know frequently experiences these signs, consider reaching out to a healthcare provider for guidance and support.

Understanding your body’s reactions to stress and learning to navigate these experiences can lead you towards a path of recovery and resilience. Remember, each step you take towards understanding anxiety is a step towards regaining control and finding peace.

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