by Anna Kaminsky

Anxiety is the normal reaction of one’s body to stressful experiences, however, sometimes the reaction becomes exaggerated, leading to expectations of negative outcomes during unknown situations. Often, anxiety is accompanied by physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, headaches, stomach cramps, and increased urination. However, while these are some of the more common symptoms of an anxiety attack, they can vary from person to person. It is important to detect the signs of anxiety and identify the causes at early stage before your anxiety escalates to the General Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

While some people are able to determine events that will increase their likelihood of experiencing an anxiety attack, some people can feel the symptoms of an anxiety attack without contributing events or even just by the mere thinking about attending a party or other social event. The effects of an anxiety attack can lead to a disabling fear of leaving the house, performing everyday activities such as driving and going to the grocery store. The exhaustive feeling that can accompany one’s body that is in a constant state of tension can lead to a myriad of aches and pains…all due to the persistent fear or anxiety surrounding situations in which others wouldn’t feel threatened, worried, or scared (Root, 2000).

Often, signs of anxiety attack consist of both emotional and physical effects, and being attuned to one’s body can help an individual to recognize the signs of an approaching anxiety attack. In addition to the symptoms of fear and worry, some common symptoms on the emotional realm includes feelings of dread, difficulty concentrating, feeling tense, a heightened startle response, irritability, restlessness, and difficulty in recollecting events of the day. Physical symptoms can often be mistaken for medical concerns rather than a psychologically-based source, as the physical responses to anxiety can mimic a heart attack or other serious medical concerns. At times, symptoms of anxiety attacks can mimic heart failure, brain tumors, or even multiple sclerosis, all of which can be distressing for an individual experiencing an attack for the first time. However, some anxiety attacks can occur because one feels that their heart beat is speeding up, thus leading to a circle of anxiety, suggesting that if the physical symptoms occur before the anxiety, it is suggested that one seeks assistance from a medical professional to rule out any serious medical issues which could be contributing to or acting as an underlying factor. Common physical symptoms of an anxiety attack include a pounding heart, excessive sweating, nervous stomach, disruption in usual bowel habits, shortness of breath, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and headaches.

When levels of anxiety become overwhelming, despite utilizing coping mechanisms, individuals can experience what is known as an anxiety attack. Such attacks can occur when there is an obvious trigger, such as public speaking, upcoming travel, or going to the airport, or when there is no recognizable cause identified. While anxiety attacks can feel like an eternity when they are occurring, most last between ten and thirty minutes. However, knowing that the feelings will not last and that the anxiety will eventually lessen, during the event an individual can experience a high level of distress, and even fear that they will die or lose control of themselves. Some common symptoms of an anxiety attack include a surge of overwhelming panic, chest pain, speeding heart rate, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, the feeling as if one is choking, trouble breathing, trembling, hyperventilation, and an experience of mental detachment or a general feeling of being “out of it” (McLean & Woody, 2001).

Following a traumatic event or witnessing an event on media outlets, such as acts of terror can elicit symptoms of anxiety, which would affect most members of the general public. However, when an individual who is either predisposed or has been susceptible to anxiety attacks in the past, such an event can lead to the intrusive thoughts to play on an internal mental loop, resulting in an escalation of both the physical and emotional symptoms, ending in anxiety attack (Starcevic, 2004). But through learning healthy coping techniques and being more aware of oneself, the duration and severity of anxiety attacks can be lessened.


McLean, P. D., & Woody, S. R. (2001). Anxiety disorders in adults: An evidence-based approach to psychological treatment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Root, B. A. (2000). Who gets anxiety disorders? In Understanding panic and other anxiety disorders. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Starcevic, V. (2005). Anxiety disorders in adults: A clinical guide. New York: Oxford University Press.


Author Bio:  Anna Kaminsky is a blogger, a mother of two boys, and an aspiring child psychologist. She is doing PhD in Psychology at the University of Toronto and working as an intern at the Richmond Hill Psychology Center, where she maintainsPsychological Resources for Parentsblog and helps with psycho-educational assessments and play therapy. You can follow Anna on Twitter at @AnnaKaminsky1.