‘Anxiety attack’ is not a recognised medical term, and it can mean different things to different people. Saying ‘I had an anxiety attack’ can mean ‘I felt anxious’, or it can mean ‘I had a panic attack’, or it can mean something else.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling that everybody gets at some time or another. It involves feeling worried about something that might happen, or is going to happen, as well as feelings of nervousness or tension.
Anxiety is part of life. But there are some people who feel anxious so often that it interferes with their life. If that’s the case, they might have an anxiety-related disorder.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an overwhelming feeling of fear and tension. Symptoms of a panic attack include:
- feeling like you’re choking
- feeling like you’re having a heart attack
- sweating and shaking
- a racing heart
- shortness of breath
- nausea and butterflies or pains in the stomach
- feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- feeling tingly or numb
Panic attacks come on fairly suddenly and last anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour.
Learn more about panic attacks.
What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder is something different again. People with panic disorder have repeated panic attacks, so many that it interferes with their life.
Treatment of anxiety and panic
There is plenty that can be done for people who have problems with anxiety and panic.
Treatment can include:
- relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation
- cutting back on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs
- distracting yourself with mental activities, like counting
- slow breathing, which can be supported by using mobile apps such as Breathe
- positive self-talk
- psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Getting professional support is always a good idea. It’s important to find the right health professional for you. And there are plenty of online self-help programs, support and ways to get therapy, too.
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Last reviewed: May 2020