Anxiety crisis: see what it is and how to identify it

Although anxiety is a natural mechanism of the organism, when it is frequent and intense, it becomes an obstacle to people’s well-being and health.

Currently, about 20 million Brazilians suffer from some anxiety-related disorder. The situation, if not controlled, can damage personal, professional and social life.

Triggered by stressful routines, overload of activities, inability to deal with frustrations, excessive demands or dozens of other conditions, anxiety has been called by many the evil of the century.

Despite being quite debilitating, becoming a public health issue, anxiety attacks have treatment and control. Therapy and medication, when necessary, bring mental health and well-being back to those who live with it.

What is the anxiety crisis?

Anxiety crisis is the moment when anxiety reaches its maximum level, triggering unpleasant symptoms such as palpitations, irregular breathing, body tremors and fear.

These symptoms appear suddenly and reach their peak in about 10 minutes.

The symptoms are both physical and psychological, and can cause intense discomfort in the person.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the anxiety crisis is called a panic attack. The condition can be so intense that, in some cases, the person needs to go to the hospital.

Anxiety is a normal physiological reaction and is defined as anticipating a future threat. It causes muscle tension and alertness in order to prepare the person for a danger that is yet to come.

It usually appears before determining situations in the person’s life, such as before an important test, during a job interview or on a first date.

In healthy people, the body itself is self-regulating and anxiety remains controlled to acceptable levels.

These people even suffer from nervousness and palpitations, but do not get to experience extreme symptoms.

In the case of an anxiety crisis, this self-regulation does not happen and the symptoms intensify. There are discharges of norepinephrine and cortisol (hormones related to stress and fear) that are not controlled and cause physical symptoms.

A general feeling of fear, lack of control and insecurity arises, which only intensifies the symptoms. Despite being extremely unpleasant, the anxiety crisis is usually limited to a few minutes, and does not even last for 1 hour.

Generally, people who suffer from anxiety attacks are diagnosed with some anxiety disorder, such as social phobia , panic syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder ( OCD ), generalized anxiety disorder (TAG), among others.

In these cases, anxiety attacks come as a response to a trigger: a situation, object or sensation causes anxiety to arise. However, sometimes, the person with an anxiety disorder is unaware of the trigger and may report that the anxiety came “out of nowhere”.

These conditions are mental disorders that need different treatment, as they can seriously harm the well-being and health of the patient.

Therefore, an anxiety attack should always be investigated further in order to diagnose possible anxiety disorders and treat them before the problem gets worse.

Occasionally, the fear of having a new anxiety attack triggers it.

In such cases, the person may stop attending situations in which the anxiety may worsen and not get help, even leaving the house. When this happens, the person is said to have developed agoraphobia .

Read more: Kindness : Wishing good can reduce anxiety

What are the symptoms of an anxiety attack?

During an anxiety attack, physical symptoms appear, such as tremors, excessive sweating, shortness of breath (choking), palpitations, chills, dizziness , nausea and diarrhea , or psychological, such as restlessness, fear of losing control, difficulty concentrating , insomnia , catastrophic thoughts, among others.

Read more: Does sugar improve or worsen anxiety? Discover the relationship

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms may appear in varying intensities, either alone or at the same time. Between them:

  • Palpitation (tachycardia);
  • Tremors;
  • Excessive sweat;
  • Feeling of shortness of breath or suffocation;
  • Chest pains;
  • Dry mouth;
  • Muscle tension;
  • Dizziness;
  • Feeling faint;
  • Nausea;
  • Cold and sweaty hands;
  • Chills;
  • Tingling or numbness of the limbs;
  • Abdominal discomfort;
  • “Wrap” in the stomach;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Urinary incontinence (need to urinate frequently);
  • Feeling of choking and difficulty swallowing;
  • Heat waves.

Chest pains are often mistaken for a heart attack, causing the patient to go to the hospital. However, there is a way to differentiate the two conditions.

In infarction , there is intense pain in the chest that spreads to the shoulders, arms, chin and abdomen. However, there are no other symptoms.

When it comes to an anxiety attack, specific symptoms of anxiety are present, such as difficulty in breathing, diarrhea, excessive sweating, among others.

Read more: Natural tranquilizers indicated for Anxiety

Psychological symptoms

In addition to physical symptoms, the person is affected by psychological symptoms such as:

  • Fear;
  • Nervousness;
  • Excessive concern about the future;
  • Increased vigilance;
  • Restlessness;
  • Anguish;
  • Feeling of unreality (unrealization);
  • Feeling of being outside yourself (depersonalization);
  • Insomnia;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Catastrophic thoughts;
  • Sensation of loss of control;
  • Feeling of being “on the edge”;
  • Fear of going crazy;
  • Feeling of dying.

How to control or prevent an anxiety attack?

To control an anxiety attack, it is possible to resort to deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness exercises or to focus on other activities. To avoid new crises, it is recommended to exercise, eat healthily and reduce sources of stress.

If there is a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, following the treatment properly is essential to avoid new episodes.

It is not uncommon to be able to control an anxiety attack by going against physical symptoms: if breathing is fast, trying to breathe more slowly and deeply helps.

This decreases the feeling of suffocation, consequently decreasing fear. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on the mind, combating the psychological symptoms of the anxiety crisis.

Likewise, if the anxiety crisis causes muscle contractions that cause discomfort and heaviness, it is possible to combat these symptoms using muscle relaxation techniques .

Being distracted also helps. Focusing attention on the symptoms will only make the situation worse, as it creates the fear of being sick or dying due to more serious symptoms, such as chest pain .

Therefore, trying to divert attention to other things helps to combat this fear, reducing the symptoms.

Talking to someone can be a great way to alleviate symptoms, especially if the other person is understanding.

Exercise mindfulness ( mindfulness ) can be of great help. The technique helps to focus on the present moment, removing from the mind everything that may be causing discomfort and anxiety.

To do this, just take a deep breath and calmly observe the surroundings, becoming aware of everything that is happening at the moment. Gradually, concerns unrelated to the moment disappear, reducing anxiety.

Read more: How to control anxiety? 14 tips to avoid crises


Mental health is intertwined with physical health. When there are overloads of work or activities, with no attention to psychological health, the body can also show signs that the emotional is not doing well.

Therefore, taking care of the organism is an integrated action, which needs to involve healthy habits for the body and mind.

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