What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

Aug 08, 2023
What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?
An anxiety attack can feel disorienting and frightening, but how do you know if you’re having one? Learn about how anxiety affects us, what an anxiety attack looks and feels like, and the advanced treatments we offer.

It’s one thing to feel anxious before you take an important exam or start a new job, but if this feeling permeates your life, you may have an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety is a widespread mental health challenge, and symptoms affect nearly one-fifth of adults and a third of teens.  

An unwelcome symptom of living with an anxiety disorder is experiencing an anxiety attack. This post discusses how to identify one and how we treat anxiety at Clarity Psychiatric Care. Dr. Amy Carnall and Cristina Sertway, APN, are highly skilled at diagnosing anxiety disorders and working with people who live with them.

What are the roots of anxiety?

Anxiety is a persistent feeling of unease and worry about any part of your life, whether it’s a relationship, work, an upcoming event or conversation, or another trigger. It’s also out of proportion with reality. Sometimes you can feel as if anxious thoughts invade your mind, and you can’t get rid of them. 

Though there isn’t a definitive cause of anxiety, researchers have identified some risk factors:

  • Traumatic events
  • Living in poverty
  • Enduring neglect or abuse in early life
  • Being abused by a partner

You may experience an overarching generalized anxiety disorder or a specific one. An example is social anxiety, where interactions with people are the particular source of the anxious feelings. 


Anxiety symptoms include intense worry, procrastination, irritability, trouble sleeping, and physical symptoms, including elevated heartbeat, feeling shaky, sweating excessively, or hyperventilation (rapid breathing). You might also experience the feeling that something terrible is just about to happen. 

Often, these symptoms can become debilitating. 

How to identify whether you’re having an anxiety attack

When anxiety crescendos into an anxiety attack, it can feel disorienting and frightening. Though there is no formal definition of an anxiety attack in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), anxiety attacks are typically defined by these unpleasant signs:

  • Feeling a knot in your stomach
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Feeling flushed and perspiring
  • Irregular or sped-up heartbeat
  • Pain, like a backache or headache
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Tingly “pins and needles” feelings in your body

It’s easy to see why experiencing these symptoms could cause you to panic even more and incite worry in those around you. 

The terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” are often used interchangeably, but panic attacks differ in several ways from anxiety attacks. With an anxiety attack, you generally feel anxious before its symptoms emerge, while panic attacks are sudden and can arise whether you’re agitated or calm. A panic attack can also provoke feelings of actual terror, where you think you may die. That isn’t the case with an anxiety attack.

Though there is an overlap between the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, anxiety attack symptoms are not as intense or sudden. But that doesn’t mean they don’t upend your life. It’s necessary to seek treatment if you’re experiencing anxiety attacks. 

Getting help for anxiety and anxiety attacks

When you come to Clarity Psychiatric Care for help with anxiety, know that we’re here to provide treatment for your symptoms — you don’t have to go it alone.

First, we perform a thorough evaluation and listen carefully to the history of how your symptoms developed and how they impact your life. Once we make a definitive diagnosis, we set out to create a personalized and patient-centered treatment plan that considers your condition, needs, and preferences. 

We’re here to assist you in executing your multidisciplinary treatment plan, which may combine the following: 

  • Counseling so you can voice your anxiety and learn ways to manage it 
  • Prescription medications to lower anxiety and alter brain activity
  • Guidance on self-care, including nutrition, physical activity, rest, and mindfulness

Seeking treatment for your anxiety — no matter its source — gives you your life back. Feeling free from anxiety may seem unimaginable now, but treatment using evidence-based practices and a compassionate approach is transformative.

Call Clarity Psychiatric Care’s Cherry Hill, New Jersey, office at 856-428-1260 to set up an appointment so you can learn more about anxiety treatment or book online