Have you ever felt tensed, irritated, nauseated and dizzy at the same time?  Chances are, you might have experienced an anxiety attack before. 

In highly stressful Singapore, it’s common to feel stressed and anxious. Don’t worry though—it’s normal to have these feelings. Sometimes, your stress levels might even trigger an anxiety attack. 

Anxiety attacks usually arise out of anticipation of a stressful situation. This could include from social anxiety regarding an upcoming gathering or an important work presentation. 

On the other hand, anxiety attacks aren’t the same as panic attacks, which come on suddenly without warning, and often involve intense and overwhelming fear. A panic attack is most distinguishable by its lack of warning. 

If you’ve ever felt a combination of shortness of breath, chest pains and a detachment from your surroundings all at once, you might have suffered a panic attack before. 

In this article, we tell you more about their differences, and the ways you can spot both of them.

SymptomsAnxiety attackPanic attack
Shortness of breathYesYes
Nausea YesYes
Trembling and shakingYesYes
Feeling dizzy YesYes
Tingling and numbnessYesYes
Heart palpitationsYesYes
Headache YesYes
FearYesYes
Restlessness YesNo
Chest painsYesYes
Feeling detached from your surroundingsNoYes
Fear of dying or losing controlNo Yes

What does an anxiety attack look like? 

How do you know if you’re experiencing an anxiety attack? 

An anxiety attack is an intense or extended period of anxiety. During this period, you might feel nervous, distressed, worried and helpless.  It is less severe than a panic attack and usually develops gradually when a person feels anxious. 

Anxiety attacks are usually related to something you perceive as stressful or threatening. It starts with a thought that continues to burrow itself at the back of your mind. 

After a period of time, you might find yourself being unable to control your wondering and worrying. This mental pattern creates an anxious feeling that’s difficult to shake off. 

Let’s say you’ve been very worried over an upcoming project deadline. Your boss is hounding you to no end, and your teammates are nowhere to be found. Having spent many sleepless nights anxious over the upcoming presentation, you find yourself being more irritable and snappy.

What’s more, you’re unable to focus on other work. You also can’t enjoy leisure time on the weekends because your mind keeps drifting to the possibility of failing at your project. You might be feeling a sense of helplessness and frustration at your current situation. 

Anxiety attacks aren’t as simple as just feeling nervous in an instance. It’s more severe than a simple feeling of anxiousness, and might lead to overthinking.

You’re experiencing symptoms of an anxiety attack if: 

  • You feel restless, wound-up or on edge.
  • You’re easily fatigued, even when you’re just resting.
  • You have difficulty concentrating on daily tasks or lose focus easily. Your mind goes blank when you try to focus on your usual activities.
  • You’re snappy and easily irritated. 
  • You’re super tense—muscles are tight at your neck, shoulders and arms.
  • You have difficulty controlling your thoughts and worries, leading to physical problems. 
  • You’re experiencing sleep problems such as insomnia.

But don’t fret! Contrary to popular belief, having symptoms of an anxiety attack is not necessarily a sign of an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders occur when your feelings of anxiety start interfering with everyday life. This could come in many forms, such as social anxiety and a phobia of planes. For example, having social anxiety could impact your ability to interact with strangers. 

The most common symptom among anxiety disorders is responding to non-threatening things or events with irrational fear and dread. 

How are anxiety attacks different from panic attacks? 

Infographic on the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks
While anxiety attacks occur gradually, panic attacks happen suddenly.

While anxiety attacks are usually caused by stressors in your life, panic attacks don’t have an apparent trigger. 

In contrast to anxiety attacks, panic attacks sneak up on you. Whether you’re driving a car, having dinner or giving a presentation, panic attacks can strike at any time. 

Panic attacks trigger severe and disruptive physical reactions, even when there is no real danger or apparent cause. 

One of the common signs of a panic attack is nausea, including the churning, uncomfortable feeling in your stomach, along with wanting to throw up. 

The sudden physical effects of a panic attack can be extremely frightening for most people. 

You’re experiencing symptoms of a panic attack if:

  • You feel terrified and fearful all of a sudden.
  • Your heart rate increases rapidly, with your heart pounding in your chest.
  • You break out in a sweat and have trouble breathing.
  • Your hands start to tremble, or have a numbing and tingling feeling.
  • You get the chills and feel nauseous.
  • There’s pain in your chest, or you start having a headache.
  • You feel as though you’re immobilised, or that you might lose control of the situation. 

Many people who suffer from panic attacks often mistake them for heart attacks due to their physical symptoms. 

A woman clutching her chest and having chest pains, which is a sign of a panic attack
Contrary to popular belief, chest pain is a sign of a panic attack, not an anxiety attack.

You may also find yourself experiencing one or two panic attacks throughout your life, especially if you’re under immense pressure or stress. 

However, if you’ve suffered from repeated panic attacks, it might be a sign that you have a panic disorder. As these repeated attacks can disrupt your everyday life, it’s best to seek help from a mental health professional. Through MyDoc, you can see a mental health professional anytime, anywhere. 

How can you deal with anxiety?

Before we delve into ways of dealing with anxiety, keep in mind that feeling anxious is 100% normal. However, letting an anxious feeling morph into an anxiety attack might not be ideal for your mental health. 

You might wonder: Are there ways to cope with my anxiety without having to see a healthcare professional? The short answer is yes. 

When you feel an anxiety attack coming on, there are a few techniques you can try to calm your thoughts. Here are six tips on how to deal with anxiety. 

1. Practice deep breathing 

Shallow and fast breathing occurs when your heart rate is elevated—which is common when you’re feeling anxious. 

Oftentimes, not being able to catch your breath might lead to hyperventilation. That’s why deep breathing exercises are an effective and fuss-free way to calm yourself down in the event of an anxiety attack. 

The easiest way to do this is to breathe in for five counts, hold your breath in for three and release for five counts again. Repeating this cycle for a few minutes will help restore your normal breathing pattern. 

Alternatively, there are many videos and applications that you can watch and use to learn tips on how to practice deep breathing. Apps such as Breathable have a variety of visuals that assist you through breathing exercises, catered to reduce anxiety. 

2. Meditate regularly 

Meditation is an increasingly popular way to reduce stress and anxiety. The practice of meditation helps root you in the present moment, focusing on the breath. 

Practising meditation will not only help you to calm your breathing, but also introduce mindfulness to your daily routine. 

Being able to focus on the current moment instead of letting your thoughts run wild will help to curb the anxiety symptom of overthinking. 

Moreover, starting the day by meditating will also help to relieve your mind of stressors, and help you to start the day fresh! Another perk of meditation is its ability to curb insomnia—a symptom of anxiety attacks. 

If you’re struggling to fall asleep because of anxiety, try watching a sleep meditation video on Youtube or downloading a meditation app such as Headspace. These platforms have videos and audio clips tailored specifically for people struggling with stress and social anxiety.  

3. Try taking a walk or exercising 

When your anxiety gets too overwhelming, give yourself a short break away from what you’re doing. Sometimes, forcing yourself to concentrate on an activity might lead to even more anxiety. 

Be kind to your mind. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood, or to your pantry for a drink. Letting yourself take a few breaths to re-centre your thoughts is extremely effective in reducing anxious feelings. 

Another tip you can try is exercising. For instance, doing yoga not only helps you to concentrate on your breathing, but also stretches out your body. Trying out yoga or stretching activities can also help to loosen the tension in your muscles. 

Of course, doing more strenuous activities such as going for a run or signing up for a gym class can also have positive effects on reducing anxiety. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that could help you feel more relaxed post-workout. 

4. Write your thoughts down in a journal

A woman writing her thoughts on a journal
Writing your thoughts down can help you manage your anxiety better.

One of the most frustrating things about anxiety attacks is the constant swirling thoughts in your mind. 

While speaking to a friend or a family member can help stop you from ruminating, there may be times when you don’t feel like talking to people about it. 

By journaling, you’ll be able to release these thoughts and manage your anxiety better. Don’t worry about writing coherently. Just write your thoughts down in a stream of consciousness style in your journal. 

Consistently journaling can help to release the many thoughts in your head, and give you a sense of clarity at the end of the session. 

So grab that old notebook sitting in your drawer and a pen. Here’s a prompt to help get you started: How do I feel today? 

5. Give aromatherapy a go

Breathing in soothing plant oils can aid relaxation, helping to ease stress and anxiety. 

Lavender is especially helpful if you’re experiencing high stress and anxiety levels. The most popular of all essential oils, lavender oils can be used in baths or as a room spray. 

If you dislike the scent of lavender, scents like chamomile and jasmine are also known to have calming effects. 

Another common way that people practice aromatherapy is using an aroma diffuser. These can come in the form of candles, reed diffusers or home diffusers. 

Simply place the diffuser in your room or work desk and drop a few drops of the essential oil into it. 

6. Grab a cup of tea 

Certain types of tea may have a direct effect on soothing anxiety and stress. 

Chamomile tea is known to be able to alter levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. It’s also an effective sleep-aid if you have insomnia. 

Another natural remedy is peppermint tea. This aromatic tea works well with a spoonful of honey. The menthol present in peppermint is also a cooling property and natural muscle relaxant. This makes peppermint tea an ideal choice to drink before bed.

However, drinking tea itself is not a guaranteed method to reduce anxiety. Anxiety is best reduced by a combination of methods, including the ones listed above. 

Need more help with tackling stress? Learn more about tips to cope with stress here. 

What are some long-term strategies to cope with anxiety? 

If anxiety is a regular occurrence in your daily life, it’s essential to explore strategies to help keep your anxiety attacks to a minimum. 

But if you find it hard to keep it under control in the long run, it’s best to seek help from a mental health professional. 

Here are some long-term strategies you can take to cope with your anxiety. 

1. Identify and learn to manage your triggers

Whether it’s on your own or with a mental health professional, you can start with identifying your anxiety triggers. 

Think about some of the things that you’ve been anxious over recently. It could be an upcoming important examination, financial issues, work-related stress or even relationship problems you might be facing. 

General triggers include: 

  • Stressful work environment
  • Phobias such as claustrophobia (fear of small spaces)
  • Trauma from a past incident 
  • Side effects of medication 
  • Personal relationships
  • Caffeine
  • Negative thinking 
  • Social events 
  • Conflict 
  • Skipping meals 
  • Financial concerns
  • Drug withdrawal 
  • Existing mental health issues

Once you’ve figured out the trigger, try to limit your exposure to it or approach it rationally. 

If your trigger has to do with a personal relationship, distancing yourself or having a talk with the person might help to ease your anxiety. 

If you’re unable to limit your exposure to the trigger—for example an examination or a presentation—consider using other strategies.

Feeling stressed at work? These tips might help you better cope with it. 

2. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

This method is one of the most widely used forms of therapy to cope with an anxiety disorder. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps people who struggle with anxiety to understand their negative mental patterns. The main point of CBT is to understand how your thoughts affect the way you feel and behave. 

This is done through two main parts: cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy. 

The first looks at how negative thoughts contribute to anxiety, including how you see yourself in relation to others. The second examines your reaction to situations that trigger anxiety. What is your first thought while in a crowded place? Or what is your first thought when called upon to do a presentation? 

Someone with social anxiety might view the idea of attending a party as difficult. This might be because that person sees themselves as uninteresting or extremely shy. 

How you perceive yourself could be fuel for negative thoughts and emotions that lead to anxious reactions. 

CBT works by helping you to identify these negative thought processes and challenge them. Once you’re able to understand them, you’ll be able to unlearn them and replace them with more positive thoughts and behaviours.  

3. Changing your lifestyle 

On top of identifying your triggers and managing your reactions, lifestyle changes can help to alleviate anxiety in your daily life. 

Have a balanced diet

Start by ensuring that you have a balanced diet. Your brain is constantly working. Without a good balance of nutrients, your neurotransmitters might not be able to function at their most efficient capacity. This could cause symptoms of anxiety. 

A healthy diet includes a good serving of fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water. If your anxiety trigger is linked to caffeine addiction, try cutting down on your morning coffee. 

Limit your alcohol consumption

Your anxiety levels could also be heightened by too much drinking. Instead of trying to avoid your negative thoughts by turning to alcohol, try to find a healthier alternative strategy to cope with anxiety. 

Get enough sleep

Having a routine sleep schedule is also essential. Poor sleep has a huge effect on your mood. You’re more likely to develop anxious thoughts if you’re constantly sleep-deprived. 

Have a support group

Another lifestyle tip would be to reach out to friends and family. Having strong social relationships can help to curb loneliness and feelings of insecurity. 

It can also help you be more comfortable in confronting and managing your negative thought patterns.

4. See a doctor for treatment

Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental health issues worldwide. If you feel that your anxiety is overwhelming and affecting your day-to-day life, do approach a mental health professional for help. 

Chat with your doctor about possible lines of treatment. Medical strategies to deal with anxiety disorders include a variety of treatments, from psychotherapy to medication. 

Medication such as antidepressants, benzodiazepines and anti-anxiety drugs might be prescribed by your doctor, depending on the severity of your condition.  

Don’t let anxiety get in the way 

It’s extremely normal to feel anxious, nervous or frustrated at certain things in life. But feeling anxious all the time isn’t. 

Understanding your triggers and mental patterns is essential in helping you reduce anxiety attacks. If you discover yourself feeling anxious, try one of the six tips we have above to cope with it. 

But knowing when your anxiety attacks are too overwhelming is also essential. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help early on. 

MyDoc is a telehealth platform that allows you to access professional mental health advice conveniently. Let us help you take control of your anxiety today! 

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