Anxiety Attack Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- Consider seeing a therapist if you have had an anxiety or panic attack.
- You may be able to manage your anxiety attack at home if you have had them before and have strategies that help reduce your anxiety.
- Strategies include slow and controlled breathing, reducing stimulation around you, and getting support from someone who can help you feel safe.
Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- You feel like you’re having a heart attack or going to die.
- You think your symptoms may be life threatening
- If you have had panic attacks before but this one seems different.
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When to see a healthcare provider
An anxiety attack, also called a panic attack, can cause sudden and intense physical (heart palpitations) and emotional (fear and anxiety) reactions.
After an anxiety attack, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.
- They can help you understand the causes of your anxiety and provide strategies to prevent and treat it if it happens again.
- You may be diagnosed and treated for other mental health conditions like panic disorder, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or substance use disorders.
- Some people may need a prescription anti-anxiety medication.
There is no specific test to diagnose an anxiety attack. If you go to the ER, they may test you for other medical conditions. These may include a blood test, an EKG/ECG (electrocardiogram) to check your heart, or a spirometry test to detect a respiratory cause like asthma.
A mental health professional will use certain criteria to screen for specific panic attack symptoms. They will evaluate for a panic disorder or other mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, or substance use.
What to expect from your doctor visit
The most effective anxiety attack treatment includes talk therapy and lifestyle changes. Common behavioral health treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation strategies, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). These can help you in a number of ways.
- Help you understand the causes of your anxiety and provide strategies to prevent and treat it if it happens again.
- Help identify triggers for an anxiety attack.
- Help treat other mental health conditions like panic disorder, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or substance use disorders.
- Teach valuable skills and strategies for coping with anxiety and stress.
- Help with avoidance behaviors. Having an anxiety attack can lead to avoidance of potential triggers. A therapist can help prevent you from developing an avoidance pattern.
Prescription medications that can help with anxiety
A doctor or psychiatrist can also prescribe medications for managing anxiety, including antidepressant medications, beta blockers, or benzodiazepines.
Antidepressant medications (SSRIs, SNRIs)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Propranolol (Inderal)
- Atenolol (Tenormin)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
Types of providers
- Primary care physicians or nurse practitioners can evaluate anxiety attack symptoms, prescribe medications, and refer to specialists when necessary.
- Psychologists or clinical social workers can do talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in psychiatric disorders. They can prescribe medication and some may also provide therapy.
How to treat anxiety attacks
If you are having an anxiety attack, also called a panic attack, it can cause intense physical symptoms (heart palpitations) and emotional reactions (like fear of dying). You may be able to treat it by yourself if you have had them before and know some strategies that help reduce your anxiety.
If you’re having a panic attack, you can try these strategies to help reduce its intensity.
- Control your breathing. Inhale slowly and as deeply and gently as you can. Controlled breathing focuses your attention and relaxes your body. Try to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Also, counting steadily to five on each inhale and exhale can help focus on your breathing.
- Reduce stimulation. If you’re somewhere that is loud or overstimulating or makes you feel unsafe, don’t stay there. But do it carefully—anxiety attacks can cause weakness in your legs. Closing your eyes may help you stop focusing on a trigger.
- Remember it won’t last. Remind yourself that anxiety attacks usually go away in about 10–30 minutes, if not sooner.
- Mindfulness helps. Focus on something that you can see, feel, or hear, like something cold (wet cloth, sipping a beverage), a weighted blanket, or squeezing a pillow.
- Find support. Having a person you trust (or a pet) can help you feel safe and distract you. It’s helpful to share with people you trust your strategies for working through a panic attack so they know how to help you.
If you’ve seen a healthcare provider for your panic attacks, you may have been prescribed medication that you can take to shorten the length and intensity of an attack. These include benzodiazepines (ex: Xanax, Ativan), and beta-blockers (ex: Propranolol, Atenolol).
After an anxiety attack, you should think about talking to a doctor or mental health professional. They can help you understand what may be triggering your anxiety and give you strategies to prevent and manage an anxiety attack if it happens again.
How to prevent anxiety attacks through diet, exercise, and stress management.
Small changes may reduce how often you have panic attacks and anxiety.
- Manage stressors. Try to balance work and life, spend time with people you have positive relationships with, and make time for hobbies and interests.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Practicing deep breathing, meditation, or guided imagery can lower overall stress levels, and make it easier to do deep breathing during an anxiety attack.
- Get enough sleep. Being overly tired can raise your stress levels. Try to stick to a sleep schedule and follow a regular bedtime routine to make it easier to fall asleep.
- Cut back on stimulants. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and recreational drug use can trigger an anxiety attack.
- Exercise regularly. Being active can help with anxiety and stress.