Anxiety or panic attacks are sudden periods of intense anxiety, fear, and discomfort. While these attacks might seem to happen for no reason, they’re actually the body’s response to what it perceives as the need for “fight or flight”. The attacks usually last about ten minutes, but can be as short as one minute. In severe cases, these attacks can happen in cycles. These cycles may last for extended periods. These cycles can cause “anticipation” anxiety between episodes.
Physical symptoms of anxiety attacks generally include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and sweating. Tingling and numbness in the extremities, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches and nausea are also commonly experienced. These may appear to be random, but they’re actually the result of the body’s preparations for protection.
The anxiety attack is brought on by a sudden onset of fear. In response, the body releases adrenaline followed by increases in the heart and breathing rate and production of sweat (to regulate body temperature). These actions prepare the body for the physical activities of fighting or escaping. Because the anticipated strenuous activity rarely follows the panic attack, these reactions result in physical discomfort.
The increased heart rate is felt as heart palpitations. Rapid breathing (hyperventilation) results in a drop in carbon dioxide levels in the lungs and blood. This leads to the tingling, numbness, dizziness and lightheadedness. The adrenaline causes a narrowing of the blood vessels which results in less blood flow to the head. This also contributes to the lightheadedness and headaches.