Silent Anxiety Attacks: Why We Sometimes Suffer Quietly

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Anxiety is usually portrayed as a heavy cloud that descends on someone. It makes it hard to breathe, increases your heart rate, causes sweaty palms, and creates a strong desire to run away. 

However, that’s not what it’s always like. Some anxiety attacks are quiet. 

Externally you look fine. You may even seem to be having a good time, but internally, you’re breaking down.

An estimated 31% of adults in the US will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. You will likely experience an anxiety attack at some point in your life, but how you experience one may differ from others.

In this blog we’ll cover:

  • What silent anxiety attacks are
  • What it’s like living with silent anxiety
  • And ways you can seek treatment for silent anxiety

31% of adults will have anxiety, some will have silent anxiety attacks

What Is a Silent Anxiety Attack?

Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  • An extreme feeling of fear
  • Constant worrying
  • Being “on edge” and irritable
  • Increased heart rate

They can last for hours, and in some cases, weeks. They’re characterized by prolonged periods of extreme anxiety. While experiencing an anxiety attack you’ll typically present symptoms like fear, dread, or a pounding heart. Other people may be able to notice things like clenched hands, sweating, increased irritability, or intense shortness of breath. 

While it’s common to experience presenting symptoms, anxiety attacks can be silent.

A silent anxiety attack is a kind of anxiety attack that doesn’t have presenting symptoms. On the outside, you may appear fine, but on the inside, you’re wrestling with the physical and emotional markers of an anxiety attack.

What Does a Silent Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

Silent anxiety attack symptoms are very similar to a typical anxiety attack, but your appearance won’t make it known. While having a silent attack you may feel:

  • Excessive sense of fear or dread
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Constant worry
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dissociation
  • Some physical symptoms like increased heart rate

Symptoms of silent anxiety attacks are easy to hide, but difficult to live with. 

Related resource: Anxiety Symptoms and Treatments

Why Do Silent Anxiety Attacks Happen?

General anxiety disorder (GAD) manifests in several ways. You may experience explosive episodes of debilitating anxiety that stop you from experiencing life the way you want to. Or, you may experience a more subtle form of anxiety that’s lower intensity, but always there.

High-functioning anxiety is a form of anxiety that is most associated with silent anxiety attacks. This form of anxiety is hard to notice because it doesn’t have many presenting symptoms, and is often what drives people to seek success or accept things they don’t want.

Anyone with GAD is capable of experiencing a silent anxiety attack, but there are risk factors that increase the likelihood. These include:

  • High-functioning anxiety
  • Certain genetic traits
  • Family history of anxiety

Those who were overly shy during childhood or people who have quickly found success are at increased risk of experiencing silent panic attacks.

high-functioning anxiety contributes to silent anxiety attacks

What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety and panic attacks are often used interchangeably. However, there is nuance to both of those terms that make them different. 

A panic attack can begin with a trigger or for seemingly no reason at all. They’re typically quite intense and last for a short time. Symptoms of a panic attack include: 

  • Shaking
  • Rapid shallow breath
  • Sweating and flushing
  • Sense of loss of control
  • Fast heart rate or chest pain
  • Extreme sense of panic
  • Heightened vigilance 

Anxiety attacks have similar symptoms to panic attacks, but they tend to be less intense and less acute, lasting minutes to weeks. If you’re having trouble distinguishing panic and anxiety attacks in your own life, seeking counseling can help you better understand your experience.

Related resource: Panic Attacks 

Living With Silent Anxiety

In a 2023 study done by the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 55% of individuals surveyed qualified for a diagnosis of general anxiety disorder but did not have a formal diagnosis.

The reason they weren’t formally diagnosed was dependent on the individual. However, some of the people surveyed probably felt their symptoms weren’t intense enough to seek help or had gotten used to them.

This is a problem found in those who experience high-functioning anxiety and silent anxiety attacks. It’s easy to ignore and easy to “get used to”. However, over time symptoms could get worse. 

What To Do While Having a Silent Anxiety Attack

During a silent anxiety attack, it may be tempting to leave it alone. Because these anxiety attacks are easier to hide, it might be tempting to ignore them. However, ignoring them will not make them go away, and symptoms could worsen over time.

There are things you can do during and after a silent attack that will help you alleviate discomfort.

Related Article: How to Stop Shaking From Anxiety

Relaxation Techniques

During any kind of anxiety attack, your body and nervous system are in an activated state. During this time, it’s important to do what you can to bring your body back to calm and regulated.

Some techniques you can use during a silent anxiety attack include:

  • Micro meditation: You can meditate at any time. You don’t need to attend a class or set aside a full hour to meditate. Micro meditation means meditating in brief increments throughout the day and it can be done while you commute, get ready for your day, and even while you eat.

  • Breathing techniques: Mindful breathing exercises will decrease your symptoms by calming your body’s nervous system. Slowing down to focus on your breathing has a twofold benefit; You’ll be giving your body more oxygen and slowing down your thoughts.

These techniques work best as soon as you notice your anxiety increase. Both of these techniques can be used throughout the day to increase your overall mindfulness.

Related Articles: What is Micro Meditation?

What To Do After A Silent Anxiety Attack

While a single anxiety attack may not be enough cause to seek formal treatment, living with chronic silent anxiety attacks is not sustainable. Seeking treatment and adding healthy lifestyle changes is a good start to breaking free of general anxiety disorder.

Seek Formal Treatment 

Seeking mental health counseling is the best way to improve your mental well-being. Going to therapy will teach you new coping mechanisms and help you achieve your mental health goals.

The therapies most used for general anxiety disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT). While you attend therapy you may be prescribed medication to aid your treatment.

Lifestyle Changes 

Adding healthy lifestyle practices to your daily life will increase your ability to live with and move past silent anxiety attacks.

Daily exercise and good sleep are a good place to start, but including practices like journaling, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and other mindfulness exercises will help you increase your mindfulness and keep anxiety at bay.

therapy can help with silent anxiety attacks and can teach you tools to use after they happen

Seeking Counseling for Silent Anxiety Attacks

Living with silent anxiety can feel isolating. Everything appears to be fine so it’s difficult for people to notice what you’re going through. This form of anxiety is also easy to ignore and get used to over time. You may have it and not even know it.

Whether you know you’re having anxiety or not, it’s a good idea to discuss therapy options. Maybe you have a lingering curiosity about your mental health—reach out to your general care practitioner or a mental health professional and open up the conversation.

You can also request a consultation from a therapist. They can walk you through what you may need before starting counseling and which type of therapy may be best for you. 

If you’re interested in receiving counseling from Inner Balance, you can fill out a request form and we’ll follow up as soon as possible to get your treatment started.

Anxiety Counseling at Inner Balance

The staff at Inner Balance is experienced in treating anxiety of any form. We strive to make the healing process as seamless and effective as possible. That’s why we offer various counseling services including:

  • Group counseling
  • Couples counseling
  • Online therapy
  • LGBTQIA+ affirming treatment
  • General mental health counseling

Reach out, show up, and feel better.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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© Inner Balance. All right reserved.