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What are the Symptoms of a Stress Attack?

Updated on July 25, 2012

Extreme Anxiety Can Cause Stress Attacks

Stress, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Phobias, and PTSD are aspects of emotional distress
Stress, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Phobias, and PTSD are aspects of emotional distress | Source

The Psychology of Our Emotions

Stress, Panic, Anxiety, PTSD on any level can cause feelings of emotional distress and physical responses that create feelings of discomfort.

What is stress?

What is anxiety?

What is a panic attack?

What are phobias?

What is post traumatic stress disorder?

Stress is a reaction to a specific situation that may be occuring over a short period of time or long term. Stress can cause you to become irritable, tired, lose concentration, and interfere with your physical well being. It is difficult to quantify stress because it is one individual’s reaction may be entirely different than another’s and what one person finds stressful, someone else may not.

Stress Takes an Emotional Toll

Stress can affect you physically, emotionally, and your thoughts and reactions. The correlation between stress and health is well documented. Many physical ailments exist and are exacerbated by stress. It is always good to get a check up by your medical doctor, but if there are no medical explanations for the symptoms, stress may be a major factor.
Stress symptoms have a physical manifestation and affect your body, feelings and behavior. From headaches to insomnia, from stomach discomforts to a backache, your body is telling you that it feels overloaded emotionally through physical pain. It is important to recognize these symptoms so you can manage them better. If you ignore them, you can suffer from increased health problems including high blood pressure, obesity, heart and cardiovascular problems, and diabetes. Stress can affect your sex drive, your energy levels, and your ability to think clearly. Stress can lower your immune system from getting a cold to other more serious ailments. Stress can make you bite your nails and/or increase your drug, smoking and alcohol use. You might break out into cold sweats, an asthma attack, or you might be prone to having a panic attack .

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety disorder that people suffer from after experiencing a traumatic event. In their minds, the person has intrusive thoughts the make them relive the events. People with PTSD have flashbacks, memories, and nightmares that affect their daily existence. Feelings of anxiety can be so intense, it can disrupt their lives and the people who are close to them.

Panic and Stress Attacks

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden, unexpected, overwhelming feeling of fear that overtakes the entirety of a person. The attack brings on many physical symptoms that makes the person feel like they are going crazy, or in danger. A panic attack is disabling to the person and because it comes on without warning, the person doesn’t know what triggers it, and can have another panic attack, for fear of having a panic attack.


When a person has an irrational fear of something, a sense of feeling endangered or a fear of being harm, that person may have a phobia. Sometimes these phobic situations can turn into a full scale anxiety attack. Phobic disorders are intense, persistent, and recurrent fear of certain objects (such as snakes, spiders, blood) or situations (such as heights, speaking in front of a group, public places). These exposures may trigger a panic attack. Social phobia and agoraphobia are examples of phobic disorders.


Anxiety can be characterized emotionally by excessive worries, nervousness, tenseness, recurring intrusive thoughts, fears, avoidance, occurring for a period of longer than 6 months.

Stress Attacks Have a Physical Reaction in the Body

Any type of stress attack will cause the body to react. When we feel afraid, it causes a physiological reaction that stimulates hormones to be released and ready the person for the flight or fight response. These hormones cause a chain reaction of biochemical changes that exhibit symptoms and feelings that make a person experience certain emotional and physical sensations.

Symptoms of Stress Attacks

  • an overwhelming feeling of fear
  • a feeling that something horrible is about to happen - of impending doom and danger
  • a feeling that you need to escape
  • you look pale
  • Blanching, turning white, looking pale
  • Blushing, skin blotches, turning red
  • Burning skin
  • Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing
  • Confusion
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
  • Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotional upset
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of losing control, freaking out
  • Fearful thoughts that seem incessant
  • Feels like there is a tight band around your head
  • Hot or cold chills
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
  • Nausea
  • Numbness, tingling sensations in any part of the body
  • Panicky feeling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Plugged ear(s), stuffed ear(s)
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing heart
  • Shooting pains in the chest, neck, shoulder, head, or face
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trembling, shaking (visibly shaking or just trembling on the inside)
  • Upset stomach
  • Urgent desire to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
  • Vomiting

Anxiety is Normal

There is a long list of anxiety symptoms. But because each person is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety affects each person differently. Anxiety attack are not dangerous, only uncomfortable. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and you may have one or many. They can occur sporadically, frequently, or persistently, with many combinations possible. It is a normal aspect to feel worried, tense, pressured, and scared in stressful, unfamilar, or overwhelming situations. Anxiety is a natural response to feeling threatened or in danger and sets off series of physical reactions to alert and ready the body for action. When anxiety is extreme, a person may have an anxiety attack that can interfere with a person’s functioning, daily activities, and relationships.

The Emotional Symptoms of Stress

Aside from the physical symptoms, there may be some personality and mood changes that accompany emotional distress.

  • Do you have difficulty controlling your anger?
  • Are you exhibiting compulsive or obsessive behaviors?
  • Do you lack energy, are you chronically tired?
  • Are you having memory problems?
  • Are you avoiding social situations?
  • Is your sex desire low?
  • Are you having mood swings?

People Have Different Reactions to Stress

Reactions to stress vary from person to person. Some people will react to situations by having an intense anxiety attack that occurs with no warning. Someone else may freeze when they find out they have to give a speech to a crowd of people. Some people are burdened with constant thoughts of worry. Some may not be able to drive across a bridge. Although there are different forms of anxiety and reaction to stress, they have a major symptom in common. Each person fears something about the situation or has excessive worries where most people would not feel such threats.

Other Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety

  • feelings of apprehension
  • tense and jumpiness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • feelings of negativity
  • restlessness

Counseling is an Effective Treatment for Anxiety Attacks

Therapy has proven to be an effective form of treatment for anxiety attacks. Sometimes people who are dealing with anxiety, will be dealing with depression too. Depression can exacerbate anxious feelings. It is beneficial to seek treatment to help yourself get through the stress and anxiety and other conditions that may naturally occur from these feelings.

Symptoms of Phobias

People can have phobias that will trigger a stress attack. Phobias are characterized by an unrealistic fear of some thing, some place, some situation. In reality this fear is exaggerat ed and does not present the danger they fear. People can have a fear of elevators, of public speaking, of animals, bugs, of the outdoors, and almost anything.

The symptoms of a phobia can range from mild feelings of apprehension and anxiety to a full-blown panic attack. Typically, the closer you are to the thing you’re afraid of, the greater your fear will be. Your fear will also be higher if getting away is difficult.

Symptoms of Phobias

Physical signs and symptoms of a phobia

  • Trouble Breathing
  • Pounding and Racing Heart
  • Chest tightness and chest pain
  • Trembling and Shaking
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Stomach upset
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Sweating

Emotional signs and symptoms of a phobia

  • Having an overwhelming feeling of anxiety or panic

  • Feeling detached from yourself

  • A fear of losing control

  • An intense need to escape

  • Feeling powerless against the fear

Phobia of Blood, Needles, and Injuries Are Different than Other Phobias

Symptoms of Blood-Injection-Injury Phobia:

Some people will experience anxiety from witnessing an injection, or from seeing blood, or an injury. With this kind of phobia, a person does not experience fear, as much as anxiety. Their heart speeds up, but then their blood press drops quickly. They will feel dizzy, nauseous, and will usually faint. This type of phobia is differnt than most phobias, because of the fainting. Most people with other phobias may feel like they are going to fain, but with blood-injection-injury phobia, fainting actually happens.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder and Its Symptoms

Emotional and behavioral social anxiety disorder signs and symptoms include:
  • Intense fear of interacting with strangers
  • Fear of situations in which you may be judged
  • Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
  • Fear that others will notice that you look anxious
  • Anxiety that disrupts your daily routine, work, school or other activities
  • Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
  • Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Difficulty talking
Physical social anxiety disorder signs and symptoms include:
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Shaky voice
  • Muscle tension
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold, clammy hands

Worrying about having symptoms
When you have social anxiety disorder, you realize that your anxiety or fear is out of proportion to the situation. Yet you're so worried about developing social anxiety disorder symptoms that you avoid situations that may trigger them. This type of worrying creates a vicious cycle that can make symptoms worse.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and EMDR

PTSD is a form of extreme anxiety disorder that happens after someone witnesses or experiences a traumatic event. Many soldiers returning from war experience PTSD. People who have experienced events like the shooting at the movie theater in Colorado, Columbine, an airplane or car crash or witnessing a murder, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords in Arizona, and people who were in NYC when 9/11 happened. These catastrophic events overwhelm our emotional senses and cause flashbacks, nightmares, to be easily startled, hypervigilance, social withdrawl, personality changes, avoiding situations and other aspects that may remind someone of the event.

EMDR - Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has been proven to be an effective therapeutic treatment to help people get over post traumatic stress disorder.
The idea of EMDR is to have the person talk about the traumatic event, while they are doing something physical, for example eye movements directed by the therapist. It is believed the physical and emotional simultaneous components help move the PTSD to a different area of the emotional part of the brain and the person experiences relief from the event.

Self Help for Anxiety Attacks

Self-help for anxiety, anxiety attacks, and anxiety disorders

Not everyone who worries a lot has an anxiety disorder. You may be anxious because of an overly demanding schedule, lack of exercise or sleep, pressure at home or work, or even from too much coffee.
The bottom line is that if your lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful, you’re more likely to feel anxious—whether or not you have an anxiety disorder. So if you feel like you worry too much, take some time to evaluate how well you’re caring for yourself.

  • Do you make time each day for relaxation and fun?

  • Are you getting the emotional support you need?

  • Are you taking care of your body?

  • Are you overloaded with responsibilities?

  • Do you ask for help when you need it?

If your stress levels are very high, think about how you can bring your life back into balance. There may be responsibilities you can give up, turn down, or delegate to others. If you’re feeling isolated or unsupported, find someone you trust to confide in. Just talking about your worries can make them seem less frightening.

Some Self Help Activities for Relief from Anxiety Attacks:

  • write down your concerns and worries
  • set aside worry times
  • accept that sometimes you don’t have security
  • practice relaxation techniques
  • eat right by having 3 healthy meals a day and don’t overeat
  • stay away from alcohol, drugs, and smoking as they can cause more anxiety
  • exercise is a natural stress reliever
  • get enough sleep each night

Things You Can Do to Help Yourself

Taking care of yourself

  • Do you make time each day for relaxation and fun?

  • Are you getting the emotional support you need?

  • Are you taking care of your body?

  • Are you overloaded with responsibilities?

  • Do you ask for help when you need it?

If your stress levels are high, think about how you can bring your life back into balance. There may be responsibilities you can give up, turn down, or delegate to others. If you’re feeling isolated or unsupported, find someone you trust to confide in. Just talking about your worries can make them seem less frightening.

Some Self Help Activities for Relief from Anxiety Attacks:

  • write down your concerns and worries
  • set aside worry times
  • accept that sometimes you don’t have security
  • practice relaxation techniques
  • eat right by having 3 healthy meals a day and don’t overeat
  • stay away from alcohol, drugs, and smoking as they can cause more anxiety
  • exercise is a natural stress reliever
  • get enough sleep each night

Professional Counseling Can Be Very Effective

When to seek professional help for anxiety disorders

Self help strategies are useful as coping skills, but there are times when you may need to seek professional help. There is no shame in needing help. Therapy is designed to help you heal. First, it is best to go for physical checkup to make sure there is no medical cause for the stress attacks. If there is no medical reason, therapy can be very effective in helping people deal with stress attacks. Without help, your anxiety attacks are very likely to get worse. Counseling can help you get a handle on the emotional distress you are going through.Therapy is helpful and the approach usually works in a short amount of time.

Anxiety attacks can be treated with talk therapy, usually using cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

It is normal to have anxiety, but when the stress attacks affect your functioning, it may be time to do something about it. When you know the symptoms and signs of stress attacks, you can become more aware of your feelings and less fearful of the powerlessness it may be inflicting on you. You are not alone with what you have to deal with. Being self aware is the start to helping yourself be free of the emotional turmoil you are dealing with from the stress attacks.

How to Help Someone Who is Having a Panic Attack


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    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      5 years ago from The Netherlands

      Such an evergreen topic (unfortunately). For people who suffer from anxiety it is very real. For their surrounding it often is hard to understand. Good info!

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi Dorsi, It must have been very difficult for you while you were having your panic attacks. I am glad you sought help and you are back to living your life fully. Many people do have panic attacks, and you are not alone. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for pinning my hub.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Wow Rhonda - you are an expert on this subject! Fantastically full of information and I have to bookmark so I can come back and read it full out.

      I don't think there is anything worse on the planet than stress and having a reaction to it. It can take a perfectly sane person and turn them into a mess. I know - been there and done that. I have a couple of fears I'm still working flying. I have a lot of folks who find it amusing to fly with me just to see what the reaction is.

      Great subject because it seems the more awful our world gets, the more stress we are having to deal with. Too many things are going haywire for a lot of people and these techniques can really just have to remember to try and THINK when you're in the middle of an "episode" - that is my biggest thing....not letting it get the better of me. Voted up and outta here~ Home run!

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 

      7 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      Very thorough hub on stress and anxiety. I had panic attacks for years and it developed into phobias and agoraphobia (fear of leaving my home) It took a long time, medication, counseling and special therapy to get back to "normal". Since then I've talked to many people who have gone through this. It can be very very frightening.

      I've pinned and shared this. Thanks for a great hub.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @ securityproducts - Thanks for coming by and commenting. I am sorry to hear you feel stressed, maybe you will read some of my hubs on relaxing.

      @Kristy, I hope this article was of some help to you.

      @Patty, Thank you for your kind comments. You are so right about taking care of our minds.

      @Tom, It is always good when you stop by. Thanks for all the up votes.

      @Pam, Thank you so much for your kind comments. I appreciate you stopping by.

      @Lamb, I really appreciate your thoughts about my hub and thank you very much for the up votes.

      @Helena, So glad you stopped by. I hope my other hubs can help you relax.

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 

      7 years ago from Indiana

      Very nicely written and informative! I just might be a little more stressed out that I originally thought. :)

    • Injured lamb profile image

      Injured lamb 

      7 years ago

      Thanks toknowinfo, really appreciate this informative hub of yours...while reading this hub of yours, I did have some deep thoughts over have made it so professional written with details that are so true...and, I really can sense your sincerity to share this with all of us...voted this up, really...up and up! You have done a great job toknowinfo! Cheers!

    • Pamela-anne profile image


      7 years ago from Miller Lake

      This was a wonderal hub you certainly did your research and then some great work keep it coming! take care pam.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, this is all very interesting and useful information for any one who may have had or starting to have these kind of panic attacks.

      Well done ! Vote up and more !!!

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      7 years ago from Midwest

      This should be a hub of the day since the topic is so prevalent and the information is so beneficial.

      My cousin just started having panic attacks two weeks ago which has taken our whole family by surprise due to her personality and lifestyle being that she is an always happy fitness guru! So, attacks can sneak up on anyone at anytime.

      About 30 years ago, my mother had a massive coronary at age 40. She had zero risk factors (no family history, thin, non smoker, etc.) but stress was the culprit. Stress had created holes in her arteries and then her body tried to fill them and over-compensated which caused a 99% blockage. She had divorced at 38 which led to 2 years of chronic worry which resulted in the coronary. The mind & body are truly not separate entities, are they?

      Great reminder to take care of our minds as well as our bodies!

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Unfortunately I know these symptoms all too well! This is a fantastic hub, you did a great job of outlining all the different symptoms and giving suggestions on how to help. Voted up and useful!

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks Billy. It must have been difficult to watch someone have a stress attack.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've never had a stress attack but I've seen someone else have one. YOu did a great job of detailing the information. Well-written hub!

    • securityproducts3 profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow awesome Hub. It just confirmed that I am definitely stressed though. lol


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