Anxiety attacks can be confusing, scary and physically distressing, especially if you don't understand that you are having one. Though over
40 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, including panic disorder, there are still some major myths surrounding anxiety attacks. When most people picture a panic attack, they see someone crying, screaming, or breathing into a paper bag. But, panic attacks encompass more physical symptoms than you may know about.
Anxiety attacks, by nature, can make you feel like everything is in disarray — including your physical health and wellbeing. And, in a way, that's accurate. Anxiety and panic disorders are just as much physiological illness as they are psychological. Though anxiety is officially listed as a mental health disorder, many mental health professionals argue the abundance of physical symptoms people experience during a panic attack are
just as debilitating as the mental health aspects. However, this doesn't mean you can't be proactive about both your mental and physical wellness. Being aware and educating yourself on the physical symptoms that accompany your anxiety can help you better navigate panic attacks. Or, it can possibly improve your skills in coping with your anxiety disorder day-to-day. Here are 10 physical symptoms of an anxiety attack that are completely normal, and why they occur in the first place.
Heart palpitations or a racing heartbeat
Your heart may normally skip a beat every now and again when something makes you nervous or excited. However, persistent
heart palpitations are one of the most widely experienced symptoms of anxiety attacks, and can cause people with anxiety physical discomfort. Or, some people simply experience a racing heartbeat that is faster than their average. Once you recognize this symptom starting, making an effort to slow down your breathing, or taking anxiety medication may be key to avoiding a full-blown panic attack.
You are shaky or have trembling hands
Shaking or trembling in people with anxiety or panic disorders is caused by their
fight-or-flight response to stress. Though everyone has this survival response, people who live with anxiety experience it more intensely. This is because anxiety disorders causes an excess of the hormone epinephrine (aka, adrenaline) to be released into your body.
Much like with trembling, your body releases an
influx of stress hormones that cause sweating in response to anxiety — cold sweats, hot sweats, or both depending on the person. Also, how much someone sweat during a panic attack, if at all, depends on the person. There are many ways to reduce sweating caused by anxiety attacks, including staying hydrated.
Another physical symptoms of an an anxiety attack that affects the heart is chest pain, usually caused by shortness of breath or palpitations. Chest pain during anxiety attacks is sometimes mistaken as a
heart attack; though chest pain is definitely uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening during a panic attack. However, lifelong anxiety and chronic stress are linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease down the line, so it's important to be aware of this stress response.
Feeling faint, dizzy, or weak in the knees
Hyperventilation and not breathing as usual can make many people feel like they are going to pass out during an anxiety attack. Also, the sheer amount of stress alone experienced during a panic attack can cause your energy to completely deplete. Much like physical exertion, mental health issues can tire you out. If you frequently experience lightheadedness or dizziness during a panic attack, be sure to find a comfortable seat — and stay sitting until the dizzy "spell" fully passes.
Numbness, burning, or tingling feeling throughout the body
paresthesia in different areas of the body, especially in the arms or legs, can occur during an anxiety attack. According to the website the Calm Clinic, the two potential causes of numbness during a panic attack are hyperventilation, as well as "over-activation of the body" because of the intense anxiety.
A disturbance or increased sensitivity in your five senses
Anxiety attacks basically send your five sense into overdrive mode. So, it is not uncommon to
experience sensations like distorted vision or hearing, ringing in the ears, or overall increased sensitivity to your environment. Anticipating these physical symptoms may not be the best thing for your mental health, but understand they are completely normal and non life-threatening is important.
Anxiety makes your body release more of the stress hormone called
cortisol, which in turn releases more oils, and can cause skin rashes when you're having a panic attack. Skin problems, such as hives, are also a normal immune system response to chronic anxiety and regular panic attacks.
Dryness in your mouth, also called cottonmouth, can occur during a panic attack due to
numerous reasons. Everything from being more prone to acid reflux, which affects the salivary glands, to breathing with your mouth open can dry it out. Of course, the main way to reduce the frequency of this physical symptoms during an anxiety attack is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
And you may have no outward physical symptoms at all
Everyone who has an anxiety or panic disorder has symptoms manifest in their own unique ways. Some people, especially while in public or with friends, may not display
any visible signs that they are having an anxiety attack. "Silent" panic attacks does not mean it is any less debilitating or real, but serves as a reminder that no individual person experiences the exact same thing as another.
Anxiety attacks can be frightening, but recognizing the physical symptoms could help you mitigate the fear or severity of the attack. Understanding your body will react differently in different situations is key to developing awareness around your anxiety attacks.