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Subconscious Anxiety Attacks: What is Subconscious Anxiety vs Panic?

By A Member of the Lina Team (Licensed Psychologist, PsyD)

Lina provides online psychiatry and medication for depression and anxiety. To learn more, visit hellolina.com.

What is Subconscious Anxiety? Can You Have Subconscious Anxiety?

“Subconscious” is a term that describes an internal experience that you don’t fully recognize or understand. “Anxiety” refers to the cluster of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations that arise when one is faced with uncertainty or threat. When anxiety is conscious, you are aware of the triggers and reason for your feeling: like if you consistently experience anxiety before a work presentation or exam. In contrast, if you have subconscious anxiety you can find yourself feeling tense, irritable, nauseated, uneasy, or fidgety without a clear reason why. In some cases you may not even realize you are anxious.

What is a Subconscious Anxiety Attack? What are the Symptoms of a Subconscious Anxiety Attack?

At times, anxiety can quickly build up and peak in what is colloquially called an “anxiety attack.” This is often experienced physically as shallow breathing, quickened heartbeat, tight chest, tense muscles, sweating and shaking. It might be accompanied by a sense of dread or restlessness as well as worried thoughts. A subconscious anxiety attack feels as though it comes out of the blue. Some people experience anxiety attacks in the middle of the night, even when they are sleeping.

What’s The Difference Between Subconscious Anxiety vs Panic Attacks?

The key difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is the degree of severity. A “panic attack” is a clinically defined physical experience manifesting in a host of physical symptoms that onset within a few minutes. Panic attacks are typically more severe physical experiences than anxiety attacks and can be accompanied by hyperventilation, tunnel vision, and a sense that one is “going crazy”, having a heart attack, or going to die.

For many people panic attacks are connected to specific settings and situations, but for others panic attacks may also onset out-of-the-blue. Researchers have generally conceptualized these panic attacks as resulting from one’s internal catastrophic misinterpretation of a physical anxiety sensation.

If You Have a Subconscious Anxiety Attack, What Do You Do?

If you are experiencing intense anxiety symptoms without clear cause or reason, there are several steps you can take to re-center yourself.

First, try some physical strategies in order to calm yourself:

  1. Clasp your hands together and bring them to your chest. Clench your hands together slowly and firmly, focusing on noticing the sensation of your grasp.
  2. Practice several cycles of focused breathing: inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, and hold for another 4 seconds.

Second, see if you can use your mind to re-route your thinking. Some strategies to try are:

  • Distraction: Choose a color and look around you, naming every single object in your field of vision that has that color. 
  • Visualization: Close your eyes and call up the image of a place that is relaxing and safe. Allow yourself to sit there for a full minute. 
  • Affirmation/Mantra: Coach yourself with a statement that brings you to the present: “I will get through this.” “This will get better.” “Everything will be okay.”

Last, if it’s possible to do so: phone a friend. It can help to have an outside source of support coach us through the moment of anxiety. A helpful voice can help pull you out of your own head.

How Do I Stop a Subconscious Anxiety Attack?

Sometimes, using physical and mental strategies can help the anxiety to abate quickly. However there is no “off” switch for our emotions! It is important to remember that no matter how uncomfortable your anxiety is in the moment, it will pass. Remind yourself that your body will naturally rebalance itself soon. With practice of the above strategies, you can get better at managing your anxiety when it arises.

How Do I Best Treat Subconscious Anxiety Attacks?

If you find that your anxiety attacks are persisting and interfering with your life, it can be helpful to consult with a provider to discuss treatment options. Consult with your general medical provider to assess if your nutrition, hormones, cardiac or respiratory systems might be part of the cause. For those with sleep difficulties or broader mental health concerns, psychiatric medications can be a safe and effective way to reduce anxiety. Talk therapy like cognitive-behavior therapy is also a powerful and proven treatment that can help you decrease your anxiety and strengthen your own capacity to manage it when it comes up.

Remember, you are not alone and anxiety attacks can be overcome.