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How To Recognise An Anxiety Attack

According to Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, anxiety is a standard and sometimes even beneficial emotion that helps us deal with stress and danger.

However, when anxiety becomes excessive or irrational, it can become a debilitating condition affecting a person’s daily life.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition globally, affecting approximately 275 million people.


Anxiety attacks, a condition characterised by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, affect an estimated 2-3% of the global population. However, due to cultural and language differences, mental health stigma, and inadequate mental health resources, anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks (otherwise known as panic attacks) are often underreported and undertreated worldwide.


“Anxiety attacks are sudden and intense episodes of fear and panic that can last from a few minutes to several hours,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.


“During an anxiety attack, a person may experience physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that can be overwhelming and frightening. The symptoms of an anxiety attack can vary from person to person, but some common signs can help you recognise an anxiety attack.”

Physical Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack

Physical symptoms are among the most common signs of an anxiety attack. These symptoms can include the following.

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Sweating or chills
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Muscle tension or aches

These physical symptoms can be so severe that people may think they are having a heart attack, which can further increase their anxiety and panic.

Emotional Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack

Emotional symptoms are another common sign of an anxiety attack. These symptoms can include the following.

  • Intense fear or terror
  • Feelings of impending doom or danger
  • Extreme nervousness or apprehension
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Irritability or anger
  • A sense of being disconnected from reality
  • Feeling like you’re losing control or going crazy
  • A solid urge to escape or flee the situation
  • These emotional symptoms can be distressing. They may lead to further anxiety and panic.
Cognitive Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack

Cognitive symptoms are the third most common sign of an anxiety attack. These symptoms can include:


  • Racing or intrusive thoughts
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviour
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • A distorted sense of time or space
  • Negative self-talk or self-doubt
  • Catastrophic thinking or overestimating the severity of the situation


These cognitive symptoms can make it difficult to function and may lead to a sense of hopelessness or despair.

Anxiety Attack Triggers

Anxiety attacks can occur suddenly and without warning, but specific situations or events can also trigger them. Common triggers include:


  • Social problems, such as public speaking or meeting new people
  • Specific phobias, such as flying or heights
  • Traumatic events, such as accidents or violence
  • Stressful life events, such as divorce or job loss
  • Health problems, such as chronic pain or illness
  • Substance abuse or withdrawal
  • Hormonal changes, such as during menstruation or menopause


Identifying the triggers of an anxiety attack can help you avoid or prepare for future episodes.


Duration and Intensity of an Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks can last from a few minutes to several hours, and their intensity can vary from mild to severe.


Mild anxiety attacks may cause only a few physical or emotional symptoms, while severe anxiety attacks can cause intense and debilitating symptoms that may require medical attention.


The duration and intensity of an anxiety attack can also vary from person to person and can depend on the individual’s overall health, stress level, and coping skills.


Recurrence of an Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks can be a one-time event or a recurring problem. People who experience recurring anxiety attacks may have an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder or generalised anxiety disorder. These disorders can cause significant distress and may require professional treatment.

The Aftermath of an Anxiety Attack

People may experience various feelings and behaviours after an anxiety attack. Some common aftermath symptoms include the following.

  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Aches and pains
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhoea or constipation
  • Increased sensitivity to stress or anxiety triggers
  • Avoidance behaviours, such as avoiding places or situations that may trigger anxiety attacks
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Feelings of shame, embarrassment, or guilt

These aftermath symptoms can be distressing and may increase the risk of future anxiety attacks.

“Anxiety attacks can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. However, recognising the signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack can help you take steps to manage your anxiety and prevent future episodes,” adds Hewlett.


“If you experience anxiety attacks, seeking professional help from a mental health provider who can offer you effective treatment and support is important. Remember that anxiety is a treatable condition, and with the right treatment and support, you can overcome your anxiety and lead a fulfilling life.”

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health insurance provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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