Are you having an anxiety attack?

April 7, 2015 Providence Health Team

You’re 47th in line at the department store, tapping your foot and sighing frequently. You glance at your watch for the third time that minute and wonder if you’ll make it home in time for a shower and quick change before heading to your dinner party. You’re bringing the appetizers, so you can’t be late. 

As the minutes creep by, your mind whirls and thoughts race through your head like Black Friday shoppers when the doors open. Did you remember to transfer that load of clothes to the dryer? Did you feed the cat? Did you remember to turn off the toaster oven this morning? Who’s picking up the kids from school? Suddenly your mind goes blank and you can’t even remember why you’re waiting in this line. 

Your heart is racing and your breathing becomes quick and shallow. Sweat glistens on your brow and your hands shake. You just KNOW you forgot to turn the toaster oven off and your home is probably nothing but ashes. The cat!

You feel dizzy and sway slightly on your feet. A shopper slips through the line on their way to another department and you yell, “Hey! No cutting in line!” Everyone stares at you.

Life is so … busy.

Are you busy, anxious, or could it be a heart attack?

Symptoms of anxiety and heart attacks can be similar

Everyone feels nervous from time to time. In fact, fear or apprehension is your body’s way of signaling that there could be danger ahead and you should proceed with caution. When that warning signal comes out of nowhere and takes off like a toddler in a crowded park, it could be more serious. If you feel unfounded fear when others normally feel safe, you could be having an anxiety attack.

Anxiety attacks are more than just excessive worry or fear. You could feel any of the following physical and emotional symptoms during an anxiety attack:

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath
  • Racing or pounding heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite, upset stomach
  • Muscle pain, headaches, tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue, insomnia
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feelings of dread or doom
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Feeling like your mind’s gone blank 

The emotional and physical symptoms of an anxiety attack can look (and feel) and awful lot like the signs of a heart attack or other health issues. It’s sometimes impossible to tell the difference – especially in the heat of the moment when your body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in. 

Best not to take any chances

It’s better to be safe than sorry. A heart attack is an emergency. If you or someone around you experiences chest pain or shortness of breath, seek medical care immediately. Don’t attempt to drive. Call 9-1-1. Alert the people around you. When someone is having a heart attack, every minute counts. The faster you get interventional care, the greater your chance for a positive outcome.

And, if it is anxiety, that’s a treatable condition. Your Providence primary care provider will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan. Most types of anxiety respond well to treatment and you’ll start feeling better quickly.

Don’t have a primary care provider? Use our online tools to search for a provider or clinic in your neighborhood.

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