call wellness center

Wellness Resources

Body Positive Works Holistic Wellness & Health Blog

Can Extreme Fear Cause An Anxiety Attack?

Last Updated: December 11, 2023

Growing up, I always felt different than those around me. I was very smart and did well in classes, but I never liked presenting in front of the class. My anxiety started as young as I could remember and is something that I battle with now, even after completing many many years of schooling.

I always felt judged by those around me, always thought that they didn’t want to hear what I was saying or that they just wanted me to be done. It was never fun starting a presentation that you knew had to last at least 30 minutes.

This specific presentation was entitled “How smoking weed helps your brain.”. The presentation was all about Alzheimer’s and how smoking helped decline the speed at which someone loses their memory. I practiced my speech and the presentation for 3 weeks, nonstop. I was prepared, I knew everything there was to know about both topics. I was good to go, or at least I thought.

My name was called and it was my turn to present to the class. Standing in front of everyone, I felt a sudden intense fear. This was different. I had never felt this before. I became so scared that my heart was racing and my hands were sweating. Hating presentations was one thing, but this was different.

I stood there for what felt like forever without saying a word. After what I thought was about 10 minutes, I started my presentation. The fear was gone, my heart was back to normal, and my palms were not sweating anymore; it was like nothing ever happened.

Talking to my professor at the end of the class, I realized that I had had my first ever anxiety attack. I was told that even though I felt like it would last forever, it was only for a few moments. My professor stated that she could see it in my face but that she knew I would be okay.

Anxiety attacks are not considered a clinical diagnosis but they often relate to panic attacks. Many people worldwide experience anxiety attacks but signs and symptoms vary greatly.

Some symptoms of anxiety attacks may last for mere moments, while others may last for a few days. Here are some of the common anxiety attack symptoms:

  • Apprehension
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache that may not go away with medication
  • Muscle tension in either one specific spot or throughout your body
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest and throat
  • Trouble concentrating on things you enjoy
  • Increased worry

If this is something that occurs often, it is best to talk to your doctor to conduct a physical exam in order to rule out other health concerns, as signs and symptoms often tend to overlap. If no underlying conditions are identified, a mental health professional for counseling may be your next stop to help start the process of finding the cause of your anxiety.

Top causes of anxiety:

  • Family history of mental health conditions
  • Personality factors
  • Ongoing stressful events
  • Physical health problems
  • Substance abuse

Remember… Everyone is different and there does not need to be a definitive answer to where the anxiety comes from. Most importantly, remember to recognize the signs and symptoms and seek assistance when needed. Anxiety will also most certainly increase based on the situation that you are currently battling.

Some stressful situations include:

  • A major life change like becoming a parent
  • Handling an illness
  • Worrying about money
  • Change in relationship status
  • Public speaking
  • Change in employment status
  • Issues with friends or family

These types of situations can cause minimal anxiety (some may consider this normal) all the way to causing an anxiety attack. While the anxiety may only be temporary, it can still cause a great deal of stress and ultimately disrupt your normal routine. This is where having proper support such as a counselor or therapist would be beneficial. They can use their skills to help you create coping skills that can either be used to help minimize anxiety before it occurs or even to be used as a way to calm yourself down during an anxiety attack.

While I did not have the ability at the time of my very scary anxiety attack to calm myself down, I have since taken the proper steps to find what works for me.

First and foremost, I take a step back and allow myself to take a deep breath. The minute the anxiety is present is ideal for this as controlling my breathing keeps me grounded. I do this with my eyes closed in order to eliminate any other factors that can distract me. This provides the time needed to identify I am having an anxiety attack and helps me realize this is only temporary. I remain in this setting for as long as possible. Typically after about 5 minutes of just deep focus on my breath, I am able to remain calm and determine the trigger of the most recent attack. This is not easy to master and can take multiple attempts, but it is important to remember that there are solutions that can help you better manage your anxiety.

Work with your counselor or therapist on ways to help minimize the effects of an anxiety attack before another one occurs!