Anxiety is a feeling of fear, apprehension and discomfort over a situation. This is actually a good and healthy feeling since the body is able to recognize something that it needs to address. This "flight or fight" response enables the body to get that much needed boost of energy to react to the specific situation. In this case, anxiety is helpful. However, if it gets intense, recurring and exaggerated, it may already be considered as an anxiety attack.
The exact cause of an anxiety attack is not fully understood, but research suggests that genetics, life experiences and brain chemistry contribute to the onset of the attack. What is known is that during the attack, a person shows signs and changes in the body.
The immediate sign of anxiety attack is increased heartbeat or palpitation. This is the most distressing among anxiety symptoms. But this is generally a good thing since the heart works harder to pump more blood to your body, especially to your legs and your arms, enabling you to have a surge of energy to respond quicker than normal to any emergency. The chest feels tight as if it refuses to expand to accommodate air the body needs. Sometimes, the feeling is like someone is pushing a pillow into your face.
The additional oxygen requirement of the body must be compensated by breathing. Thus, during an anxiety attack, you breathe faster. As your arms and legs receive more oxygen and energy, your muscles tend to get tensed, which is important when abrupt movement is needed.
As your arms and legs receive more supply of oxygen through the blood, other parts of the body receive less than normal supply of oxygen (the stomach and the brain can survive with less oxygen during emergency situations). In other words, the oxygen that is supposed to go to the stomach is redirected to the arms and legs. This explains why a person who is undergoing an anxiety attack experiences churning feeling in the stomach. Because the brain receives less amount of oxygen for a short period of time, the person experiences light-headedness and dizziness. (Take note, however, that the reduced supply of oxygen in the brain is just enough to produce these symptoms and doesn't cause any permanent brain damage.)
Because your heart pumps more blood to your muscles, your body temperature increases. So to keep a relatively normal temperature, you begin to sweat.
Aside from these signs, you can also experience weakness or fatigue, tingling sensation, and dry mouth. Also, side-effects of these signs may include diarrhea and constant urination.
These body responses are automatic. Meaning, there is no "switch" to turn it on. Thus, there is also no way you can turn it off by simply thinking that you should not feel any of these symptoms. What you should do, especially if the attack is chronic, recurring and it already affects your life, is to seek medical help. This way, your doctor will be able to identify and rule out any other possible causes of these signs which are unrelated to anxiety.
Allow your doctor to conduct a physical exam. He may prescribe you a drug or may refer you to a psychologist or a therapist. Following your doctor is important so do not ignore any advice and believe that you are totally okay.
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