How to spot the signs of an anxiety attack

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    In today’s fast-paced world, anxiety problems have become a serious issue for many people. One of the side effects of anxiety is an anxiety attack. These distressing episodes can vary in intensity and exhibit different types of physical, mental and behavioural symptoms. Find out how to spot the signs of an anxiety attack as Bloom discusses this mental health issue in more detail.

    What is an anxiety disorder?

    Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. However, when one experiences persistent, chronic and debilitating anxiety, it can be classified as an anxiety disorder. This is a mental health condition that is characterised by overwhelming panic or worry that interferes with daily life, work, personal relationships and overall well-being.

    Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for several different types of disorders. Some of the most common types include:

    1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This is the most common type of anxiety. People suffering from this mental health problem experience uncontrollable worry about certain aspects of their lives, like their relationships or work. Many of their worries are often beyond their control. Their symptoms include restlessness, difficulty concentrating and tension.
    2. Social Anxiety Disorder. This relates to the fear of social situations where one will go out of their way to avoid socialising as they’re convinced they will be judged, humiliated or victimised by others in a public setting. People suffering from this disorder will actively avoid situations like public speaking or attending events and will experience symptoms like sweating, trembling or rapid heartbeat.
    3. Panic Disorder. This is characterised by repeated episodes of intense fear where one experiences physical symptoms, like chest pain, difficulty breathing and a rapid heartbeat. People who suffer from this disorder often spend a lot of time worrying about when or where the next panic attack will occur. As a result, they often change their behaviour in order to prevent a new episode.
    4. Specific phobias. A phobia is an irrational fear of an object, situation or activity. It causes extreme distress and can have a significant impact on a person’s life and well-being. Common phobias include a fear of heights, flying or spiders.

    The difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack

    The main difference between the two is that the afflicted person has a different experience. An anxiety attack, for instance, occurs in flares or episodes. The attack is often triggered by a very specific stressor and lasts for a short duration. Physical symptoms include increased heart rate, shortness of breath and profuse sweating. A panic attack, in contrast, tends to be more intense. The attack occurs suddenly, often spontaneously without a stressor and the symptoms can persist for a longer period of time. The afflicted person will experience extreme fear and often feel like they’re losing control. Their physical symptoms include chest pain, difficulty breathing, trembling and shaking. Panic attacks are a symptom of Panic Disorder. However, they can also occur in other anxiety disorders, like Generalised Anxiety Disorder and specific phobias.

    How to recognise an anxiety attack

    An anxiety attack typically has certain physical, mental, emotional and even behavioural symptoms, the severity or combination of which may differ from person to person. Take a look at how you can spot the tell-tale signs so that you can recognise the symptoms of an anxiety attack, take action and seek assistance or support.

    Physical symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack

    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Increased heart rate or irregular heart rhythm
    • Chest pain or a feeling of tightness in one’s chest
    • Profuse sweating, particularly on the palms, forehead and underarms
    • Uncontrollable shaking or trembling. The person’s hands or legs are usually affected
    • Dizziness, or feeling a sensation that the room is spinning
    • Digestive problems, like an upset stomach. The person could also feel nauseous
    • Muscle tension, often experienced in the neck and shoulders, or the jaw
    • Numbness, particularly in the hands or feet
    • Exhaustion or fatigue

    Mental symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack

    • Excessive, intense and persistent worry about specific things, like your health, personal relationships or work, for instance.
    • Thoughts of impending doom, disaster or catastrophe. People experiencing an anxiety attack will often become convinced that something terrible is about to happen. This includes anticipating worst-case scenarios, resulting in hypervigilance where they will often scan the environment or people for signs of impending trouble.
    • Difficulty concentrating or ability to reason. The person experiencing an anxiety attack will often experience ‘brain fog,’ causing poor problem-solving or decision-making abilities. They will often complain of racing thoughts making it difficult for them to focus.
    • Negative self-talk. They will often criticise themselves during an anxiety attack, believing themselves to be worthless or unable to cope.
    • Intrusive thoughts, that are unwanted and distressing usually occur during the attack.
    • Memory problems. Anxiety attacks have a significant impact on a person’s memory. They will have difficulty recalling information or details.

    Emotional symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack

    • Irritability. An anxiety attack can cause a person to become agitated, making them aggressive with others
    • Heightened fear and panic
    • Exhaustion and fatigue. An anxiety attack can take a severe toll on one’s health, leaving a person feeling drained and tired
    • Rumination. During an anxiety attack, a person can become obsessive and prone to excessive overthinking
    • Feeling like one is losing control or ‘going crazy.’ It’s not uncommon for people to experience distressing detachment from reality
    • Constant worry and preoccupation with their symptoms


    Behavioural symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack 

    • Restlessness. People experiencing an anxiety attack are unable to relax or calm down, which means they often have difficulty staying still. They could pace back and forth or fidget compulsively.
    • Need for reassurance. They will often seek comfort from others, like asking repetitively for validation, acceptance or approval.
    • Avoid behaviour. People may engage in certain types of behaviour that are designed to prevent or minimise the risk of an anxiety attack. They may cancel plans, avoid crowded places or refuse to engage in any social situations, for instance.
    • Obsessive-compulsive tics. Some people engage in repetitive behaviour as a source of comfort, in order to reduce their anxiety. Common obsessive-compulsive behaviours include counting, constantly checking on things or undertaking rituals.
    • Speech difficulties. Anxiety attacks will often create speech challenges. A person may be so anxious that they are unable to communicate properly. They could start to stutter or fail to find the right words.
    • Paralysis. In some cases, people ‘freeze up’ and are temporarily unable to react or move at all.

    Treating an anxiety disorder

    There are various ways to treat anxiety and anxiety disorder. The treatment will depend on the individual. Many times, a health professional will recommend a combination of treatments, like therapy, medication and personalised support. Some of these treatments include:

    • Medication. A psychiatrist may prescribe drugs to treat anxiety. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can be used to calm the body and mind. Beta-blockers and anti-depressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclics, can also be prescribed to relieve a person of the symptoms of anxiety.
    • Therapy. Different types of therapy, like psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy, are effective ways to treat anxiety. Therapy can help a person identify negative thought patterns and behaviour, which are causing their anxiety. It’s also a good way to teach a person healthy coping skills.
    • Relaxation and stress management techniques. Learning how to relax and calm one’s mind is a good way to manage anxiety. Breathing techniques, exercises like yoga, and meditation are all great ways to alleviate anxiety.
    • Support groups. Finding support through shared experiences is a good way to learn coping strategies and connect with others who are experiencing or who have experienced similar symptoms. It’s also important that friends, family and colleagues show their support and understanding. Discover more about How to help someone with a mental health disorder.
    • Lifestyle changes. Leading a healthy life, like following a nutritious diet, maintaining regular exercise, limiting caffeine or alcohol consumption and getting quality sleep, are all good ways to help prevent anxiety.
    • Self-care. People with an anxiety disorder are often advised to engage in activities that improve their emotional well-being. Participating in sports or engaging in creative outlets, like journaling or painting are good ways to prioritise self-care.

    Tips to prevent an anxiety attack

    There are a number of ways to help prevent an anxiety attack. Some of these include:

    • Learn to identify the triggers. Discover what sort of situations, negative thoughts or fears trigger an attack. Once you have identified these, you can develop strategies to mitigate the effect and apply coping techniques.
    • Challenge the negative thoughts. Accept that negative thoughts and fears are irrational. Break the pattern and commit to trying to overcome these thoughts by replacing them with a positive frame of mind.
    • Set realistic goals. Don’t try to achieve everything all at once. It’s better to break tasks up into manageable steps and achieve these in small steps.

    Apply for healthcare for specialist benefits

    Treatment of anxiety is very individualised. What works for one person may not work for another. A combination of different strategies may be necessary. It’s important to work closely with a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, to develop an effective treatment plan. Momentum Health4Me provides specialist benefits that can assist with mental health problems. Ensure that you and your family are covered for private medical services. Contact our offices to make an appointment with a trained consultant to discuss health insurance and medical aid options.

    Medical Content Disclaimer

    You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.

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