Anxiety attack? Signs and symptoms to look out for.

I carried my anxiety around with me for at least two years before I received a medical diagnosis.

For one of those years, I had a vague idea of what was wrong with me. For the other, no clue. Zip. Zero. Zilch. And any other Z-words which mean nada!

I was living in pure ‘what the hell is wrong with me’ hell. Day after day. It was relentless.

Now I’m much further on in understanding anxiety and live with it as part of my regular life, I can identify when an anxiety attack hits. Granted, it doesn’t make it any less scary, but it does make me more aware.

I can tell you that for me ‘having anxiety’ is entirely different to an anxiety attack. These days, I can start to feel a bit funny and know that it’s just anxiety. Before, my lack of understanding of these symptoms ALWAYS led to a full-blown anxiety attack.

And, in my experience, the only thing worse than having an anxiety attack, is having an anxiety attack and having no idea what it is!

So, here it is.

Here’s how I know I’m having an anxiety attack and not some other scary disease that Google has diagnosed for me. I’m sharing in the hope that it’ll help other people identify anxiety symptoms in themselves so they can get help too.

1) My body goes hot.

From out of nowhere (which isn’t actually nowhere, there’s always a trigger even if I don’t know what it is), my body gets a surge of heat through it. This doesn’t always make me sweat, but I’m hot until the anxiety episode has passed.

2) I get dizzy.

Blurred vision and dizziness are so super scary, and, at the time, I think there must always be a serious reason for them. Yep, the serious reason is I’m having an anxiety attack, and I can’t see straight.

3) My pulse is strong. 

One of the crucial parts of my recovery was learning how to identify that I was experiencing anxiety. As soon as I start to feel funny now, my pulse becomes prominent, and I can feel it throughout my whole body. It’s particularly strong in my neck. As soon as I start to feel unwell, I feel there, and my pulse immediately tells me what’s about to happen next.

It doesn’t take the fear away of course, but at least I know what’s coming.


4) I feel disconnected from the world.

Depersonalisation is another frightening sign I’m having an anxiety attack.

Just going about my business, and suddenly, it’s like my brain disconnects from my body. No matter how much I try, I can’t get the connection back. I have to say out loud where I am, and what I’m doing because otherwise, I’d have no idea, I’m just disconnected.

The connection comes back after a few minutes, but until then, there’s nothing but fear.

5) My heartbeat changes.

This can go one of two ways. Either my heart starts beating really fast, or it slows down, and I feel like it’s stopped altogether. Their heart beating isn’t something that most people have to think about regularly, it just does. When anxiety kicks in, every ounce of my being focusses on every single beat.

6) I can’t get any air into my lungs.

It doesn’t matter how many deep breaths I take, my lungs feel heavy, and I struggle to get any air into them. In fact, I have plenty of air so struggling to control my breathing means I then end up having too much air. This then causes more symptoms such as dizziness and headaches.

7) I have an urge to run.

Anxiety is caused by your brain kicking the body’s fight-or-flight responses into action, and I feel this so much! It’s not always possible to start running through the shopping centre, or out of a meeting, so the only choice left is to stay and fight against the urge.

8) I feel exhausted.

Before I learnt to understand anxiety, I’d always look back after an attack and realise that’s what had happened. You forget that when you’re going through it though. An anxiety attack for me could last for five minutes or a couple of hours. It would always end in exhaustion which only a good night’s sleep could cure.

These specific symptoms happen to me every time I have an anxiety attack but ongoing symptoms are also common. Nausea, pins and needles, and dizziness don’t always lead to a full-blown attack, but I know that’s what causes them.

When I used to Google, the results that the search query turned up would always be so scary. The fear of what might happen would always lead to an attack. Now it’s more under control, they don’t come anywhere near as often.

Everyone’s anxiety is so different so you can’t compare yourself to this. I hope, though, that it has helped someone who’s been having anxiety attacks but doesn’t know what they are.

Comment below with your symptoms to help other people identify their anxiety. How do you know when you’re having an anxiety attack?


Jo Robinson

Jo Robinson

Founder - Anxiety Buddy

Jo was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2014 and knows what it’s like to live with the crippling disorder and suffer in silence, She also knows how much easier anxiety is to manage when you connect with others and have a strong support network around you. Jo is committed to normalising anxiety and helping others understand their anxiety to reduce the impact it has on everyday life.