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What Causes an Anxiety Attack?

Young woman experiencing an anxiety attack

Experiencing occasional anxiety is typical, but if you’ve experienced an anxiety attack, you know how scary it can be. Understanding the causes of an anxiety attack can help reduce their frequency and severity. 

What is an Anxiety Attack?

People often use the term “anxiety attack” interchangeably with “panic attacks,” but they’re not the same. Anxiety may culminate in a panic attack, which may involve intense and often overwhelming fear. But anxiety attacks usually build up over time and an inability to deal with anxiety or stress. An anxiety attack occurs when you’re at the breaking point in your anxiety levels. Panic attacks, on the other hand, often come on for no apparent reason.

The emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety attacks may vary. 

When having an anxiety attack, emotionally, you may feel:

  • Apprehension or worry
  • Distress
  • Restlessness
  • Fear

When having an anxiety attack, physically, you may feel:

  • Heart palpitations or an accelerated heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the throat or feeling like you’re choking
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, or upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Feeling faint or dizzy

Causes of an Anxiety Attack

The causes of an anxiety attack aren’t the same for everyone. People have a variety of anxiety disorders that cause different symptoms. For example, one person may panic at the thought of an upcoming social gathering, and another person may experience intense anxiety by getting on an airplane. 

Mental health conditions or external factors, such as stress, certain situations, or the anticipation of specific events, may cause anxiety attacks. In addition, physical conditions such as heart attack, heatstroke, and hypoglycemia also can cause anxiety attacks.

Common causes of anxiety attacks include these mental health disorders:

  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Phobic disorders
  • Stress disorders

The following common factors can cause anxiety:

  • Physical health issues
  • Medications or use of illicit drugs
  • Stress at work, school, in relationships, or with finances
  • Caffeine
  • Negative thinking
  • Specific situations or events
  • Unpredictable or uncertain world events, like a pandemic
  • Emotional trauma, such as the death of a loved one
  • Medication side effects
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Conflict

You may not always be able to avoid situations that can cause anxiety, but you can learn coping skills that will help you live a fuller and happier life. It’s especially important to get help if your emotional distress has a debilitating impact on your work, relationships, or other aspects of your life. 

woman dealing with triggers of an anxiety attack

Coping with Anxiety

If you can identify and understand the causes of your anxiety, it can help you cope. Also, understanding anxiety better helps make you better prepared to help others with anxiety. 

A trained professional can help you learn coping strategies to handle certain situations when they happen.

Some coping strategies for anxiety include:

  • Journaling. Keep track of when you notice your anxiety. What do you think brought it about? 
  • Therapy. When you can’t identify the cause of your anxiety, the training of a mental health specialist can help. Not every cause is easy to identify. 
  • Exploring Your Past. Childhood trauma can be the root of many mental health issues, including anxiety. Taking a step back and looking at the whole picture of your life with a trained mental health professional can help you heal.

Help for Anxiety and Anxiety Attacks

It’s essential to get the right help to handle the causes of an anxiety attack correctly. You need to understand the root cause of your anxiety to treat it properly. It might not be easy for you to seek help or admit there’s a problem, but it’s the first step toward a life where anxiety isn’t in control. Integrative Life Center can help with the many treatment options we provide.

The most effective treatment and support for anxiety disorders and the triggers of an anxiety attack come from our mental health therapies. We offer specific treatment for trauma, depression, anxiety, and numerous other mental health conditions. 

ILC patients can take participate in a variety of therapies, including:


At ILC, we want to see you succeed and focus on getting back to feeling well again. If you’re not sure what your next step should be, talking to us can help you sort out the kind of treatment that would fit your needs best.


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