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Have you ever found yourself extremely fearful, with an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling and struggling to concentrate? You may have experienced an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks are a symptom of anxiety disorders and interfere with daily activities.

With increasing social awareness about mental health, it’s probable that you’re familiar with what anxiety is. You may know someone who has experienced anxiety attacks or even experienced them yourself.

You may be wondering though about what causes that anxiety that seems all too common these days. The answer is tricky because triggers to anxiety differ for everyone. However, some anxiety attack symptoms are more common, and being aware of them can help you to understand what an anxiety attack is and how to manage it.

What is anxiety?

According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety disorder is actually a group of disorders (such as separation anxiety and phobias) that occur when a person experiences intense and long-lasting worry or fear that is disproportionate to the actual danger. These sensations seem uncontrollable to the person experiencing them and prevent normal daily living.

What is an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack is a common term for an episode of intense anxiety. It’s almost as if normal anxiety were condensed into a short amount of time, with heightened symptoms. Anxiety attack signs include tense muscles, shaking, increased worry, lightheadedness and feeling the throat tightening. If symptoms are severe, a person may actually be experiencing a panic attack.

What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

The language around anxiety attacks vs panic attacks can be confusing and an internet search on the topic may leave more questions than answers. Simply put, anxiety attacks are less intense and panic attacks are more drastic. 

Panic attacks often make a person feel like he or she is dying. The symptoms are so physically intense that it feels like a paralyzing medical condition.

According to Verywell Mind, an “anxiety attack” is not a recognized clinical term, but is commonly used to describe an anxious response to a trigger. Panic attacks, on the other hand, are clinically defined and are indicative of a panic disorder.

What are triggers to anxiety?

Whether a person has an anxiety disorder or panic disorder, the common triggers are similar. Recognizing triggers in an environment is the first step to managing anxious feelings and living the best life possible. Here are some triggers to anxiety that you need to look out for, and to learn about more common triggers read this article.

Anticipated threats

Anxiety is a fear response, and feeling threatened is a major trigger for most people living with clinical anxiety. The threat could be a physical threat (like a car accident, resulting in driving anxiety) or a social threat (like social rejection). 

Talking with a therapist is the best way to identify what feels most threatening to you. A mental health professional will give you tools to avoid those triggers or embrace them (like in exposure therapy – learn more about it here). 

Drug and alcohol use

There is a high co-occurrence of anxiety and substance misuse. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that about 20 percent of people with an anxiety or mood disorder also struggle with a substance use disorder in the United States.

There’s no clear way to determine whether one caused the other, but if you struggle with anxiety and substance use it’s critical to get simultaneous help for both. Continuing to consume drugs and alcohol will only exacerbate anxiety.


Like substance use disorders, depression has a high rate of comorbidity with anxiety disorders. There are overlapping symptoms for anxiety and depression as well, so a person may not even realize that depression is also present. Talk to your care team if you think depression could be triggering anxiety attacks or making them worse.


Some people experience anxiety with no apparent trigger. There may in fact be a trigger but the anxiety attack prevents a person from identifying the cause. There may also be no external trigger, but something internal, like a passing thought that brings up memories of trauma. Some anxiety attacks will happen and a person will never be able to pinpoint a cause.

How to manage anxiety attacks

Identifying triggers won’t happen in a day. You’ll need to pay attention to your circumstances and maybe even keep a log for several weeks or more in order to narrow down what’s triggering you. Once you start to notice patterns though you have power over them and can take back control in your life.

Managing anxiety will look different for everyone, but building in self-care, coping skills and processing time in therapy is your best bet for living a fulfilling life with anxiety. The skills you need will be honed over time, and soon coping in the face of fear will be a habit.

The more you know about your own anxiety, the better you can handle it, even when it’s unexpected or there’s no apparent trigger. Talking with a therapist is the best way to get a hold of your anxiety and put it in its place. The professional support you receive will be life-changing.

Pyramid Family Behavioral Health has a dedicated team of licensed counselors and therapists who can help you in your journey to find freedom from anxiety. A professional can help you to identify anxiety attack symptoms and build skills to combat triggers of anxiety. Call 678-274-4936 to schedule an appointment.

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