What Is A Panic Attack
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Your heart pounds, you cant breathe, and you may feel like youre dying or going crazy. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, without any warning, and sometimes with no clear trigger. They may even occur when youre relaxed or asleep.
A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, although many people experience repeat episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in publicespecially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the bodys fight-or-flight response.
You may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. Or your panic attacks may occur as part of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social phobia, or . Regardless of the cause, panic attacks are treatable. There are strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of panic, regain your confidence, and take back control of your life.
Treatment For Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
The most effective form of professional treatment for tackling panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is . Even a short course of treatment can help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviors that are sustaining or triggering your panic attacks and helps you look at your fears in a more realistic light. For example, if you had a panic attack while driving, what is the worst thing that would really happen? While you might have to pull over to the side of the road, you are not likely to crash your car or have a heart attack. Once you learn that nothing truly disastrous is going to happen, the experience of panic becomes less terrifying.
Hotlines and support
NAMI Helpline Trained volunteers can provide information, referrals, and support for those suffering from anxiety disorders in the U.S. Call 1-800-950-6264.
Find a Therapist Search for anxiety disorder treatment providers in the U.S.
Support Groups List of support groups in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
Anxiety UK Information, support, and a dedicated helpline for UK sufferers and their families. Call: 03444 775 774.
Anxiety Canada Provides links to services in different Canadian provinces.
SANE Help Centre Provides information about symptoms, treatments, medications, and where to go for support in Australia. Call: 1800 18 7263. .
Provides information and support to those with mental health concerns in India. Call: 1860 2662 345 or 1800 2333 330.
Could I Have Panic Disorder
Recognizing a panic attack
Panic disorder involves repeated panic attacks, so it’s important to know what a panic attack feels like. Here is a list of signs that youre having a panic attack:
If the first symptom plus several of the others come on suddenly, you may be experiencing a panic attack. Panic attacks usually peak within a few seconds or a few minutes, although it can take some time for all the symptoms to settle. Panic attacks can happen at any time and while they are sometimes triggered by a stressful life event, they can often appear to be triggered by nothing at all.
When To See Your Gp
Talk to your GP if the symptoms have made everyday activities difficult for you.
They’ll ask you to:
- how often the symptoms occur
- how long you have had the symptoms
They may also carry out a physical examination to rule out other conditions.
It can be difficult to talk to someone else about your feelings, emotions and personal life. Try not to feel anxious or embarrassed.
You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if you have experienced:
- at least two unexpected panic attacks
- at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks
Referral To A Specialist
Your GP may refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. A referral usually happens if your symptoms don’t improve after CBT, medication and connecting with a support group.
The specialist will carry out an assessment and create a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms.
Where Do I Go From Here
The best first step is always to talk to your doctor. They can help you decide which, if any, of the above treatments would be best for you.
Other helpful resources are:
AnxietyBCVisit or call 604-525-7566 for community resources and lots of helpful information about panic disorder and other anxiety disorders, including strategies to try at home.
Canadian Mental Health Association, BC DivisionVisit or call 1-800-555-8222 or 604-688-3234 for information and community resources.
BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions InformationVisit for info sheets and personal stories about . Youll also find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems
Resources available in many languages:*For the service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.
HealthLink BCCall 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms youre worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.
About the author
The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit .
Why Do I Get Panic Attacks For No Reason
Have you recently felt that you have had a panic attack for no reason? Do you get panic attacks and cant understand why they happen?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders groups panic attacks into two categories – expected or unexpected. If you feel as though you have had a panic attack for no reason, it is likely that you have experienced one that would be considered unexpected.
How Common Is Panic Disorder
- – About 1.7% of the adult U.S. population ages 18 to 54 – approximately 2.4 million Americans – has panic disorder in a given year.
- Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder.
- Panic disorder typically strikes in young adulthood. Roughly half of all people who have panic disorder develop the condition before age 24.
- Risk of developing panic disorder appears to be inherited.
Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Agoraphobia, the fear of being somewhere where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack, may also accompany a panic disorder. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls, or confined spaces such as an airplane.
Do You Cry During A Panic Attack
Anxiety attacks can be confusing, scary and physically distressing, especially if you don’t understand that you are having one. When most people picture a panic attack, they see someone crying, screaming, or breathing into a paper bag. But, panic attacks encompass more physical symptoms than you may know about.
What Is An Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. They usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes theres an obvious triggergetting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to givebut in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.
Anxiety attacks usually peak within 10 minutes, and they rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during that short time, you may experience terror so severe that you feel as if youre about to die or totally lose control. The physical symptoms are themselves so frightening that many people think theyre having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may worry about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isnt available or you cant easily escape.
Panic Disorder In Children
Panic disorder is more common in teenagers than in younger children.
Panic attacks can be particularly hard for children and young people to deal with. Severe panic disorder may affect their development and learning.
If your child has the signs and symptoms of panic disorder, they should see a GP.
After taking a detailed medical history the GP will carry out a thorough physical examination to rule out any physical causes for the symptoms.
They may refer your child to a specialist for further assessment and treatment. The specialist may recommend a course of for your child.
Screening for other anxiety disorders may also be needed to help find the cause of your child’s panic attacks.
Though I Have A Very Different Set Of Triggers Now The Panic Attacks Feel Just As Scary And All
The adult perspective Ive gained is not readily accessible when Im hyperventilating and sobbing and spiraling down an existential drain with no end in sight.
I regularly struggle to leave the house. For a long time, I couldnt set foot in a Walmart without a prickling heat moving up and down my back, a signal that panic was waiting for me as soon as I felt safe enough to fall apart. When the inner corner of my left eye feels like someone is pressing their thumb against it from inside my brain, I drop everything and hop in the shower. A migraine like that is almost always just the messenger for a severe panic attack, and water is my most effective coping mechanism.
I do these things with a mechanic sort of regularity, so mundane and commonplace that when people ask me for mental health advice, I struggle to pinpoint the parts of my life that are intentional coping mechanisms. I forget that the rest of the world does not operate in this way, that the vast majority of my fellow humans have never experienced daily, chronic panic attacks. I struggle to distinguish life with panic disorder from life, period. For me, such a separation has not and likely never will exist.
What Is Panic Disorder
People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack.
A person with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because he or she cannot carry out normal routines like going to school or work, going to the grocery store, or driving.
Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.
Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your bodys response as much as possible.
Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when youve practiced them beforehand.
Avoid Smoking Alcohol And Caffeine
Certain substances are known to trigger anxiety and sometimes panic attacks. If you notice that your panic attacks occur around the time youve consumed a stimulant such as or another substance, it may be helpful to limit or avoid them and see if your attack frequency changes.
These substances may also increase the intensity of an attack, so avoiding them could help ease symptoms.
Panic Attack Vs Typical Worries
When someone is in a stressful situation, it is perfectly healthy for that person to experience some negative emotions. Problems with a persons relationships, health, finances, and work can all make someone feel worried. However, a panic attack is an outsized and unhealthy reaction to the same stimuli.
Instead of feeling worried or stressed, someone who is in the middle of a panic attack may feel as though their life is over. The physical response also differentiates these spells from healthy worrying.
- Each month, 1 million Americans have panic attacks.
- 1 in 3 people with panic disorder also have agoraphobia.
- 40 percent of people with panic disorder also have depression.
- 1 in every 75 Americans will have panic disorder at some point in their lives.
Ways To Prevent Panic Attacks
“You need to try to work out what particular you might be under that could make your symptoms worse,” says Professor Salkovskis. “It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.”
- Doing breathing exercises every day will help to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening
- Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence
- Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels
- Avoid caffeine, and these can make panic attacks worse. Panic support groups have useful advice about how you can effectively manage your attacks. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same feelings can be reassuring. Your GP can put you in touch with groups in your area
- Cognitive behavioural therapy can identify and change the negative thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks
Important Lessons About Anxiety From My Month Of Panic Attacks
1. You dont need a reason to explain or validate your anxiety.
I used to think that was something youd only feel if there was a good reason for it.
For example, just right before an important exam or after a life-changing diagnosis.
So when I first started having those daily panic attacks, I kept asking myself why?
I know what youre probably thinking: Maybe it was the wedding planning?
After all, many brides do get stressed just before their wedding. But I assure you that wasnt the reason. I was a happy, relaxed bride-to-be who already had everything planned out months in advance. There was little left for me to do except to wait for the day to arrive.
Perhaps there were other stressful things going on at the time? No, not a thing.
My job was wonderful, my health was better than ever, and I was having a great time with my family and friends. Id been through rough waters before and in comparison, this period of my life was all smooth-sailing.
Could it be from chronic stress that had been building over time? I doubt it.
I was practicing Tai Chi and Qigong meditation for at least forty-five minutes on a daily basisa habit that Id kept up for a couple of years already by then. I was in a good place mentally and physically. In fact, I hadnt had an obsessive thought or lost sleep over anything in a long time.
I was feeling on top of the world.
In order for me to stop ruminating over my anxiety, I had to surrender to the fact that I didnt know the explanation.
Learn About Panic Attacks And Anxiety
Knowledge is power. With more information about panic attacks, you can be aware of your symptoms, feel more in control, and shorten your attacks.
While many people experience a panic attack just once or a few times, others experience them as part of an existing anxiety disorder. Learning about anxiety can help you better manage it.
Causes And Risk Factors Of Panic Disorder
The exact causes of panic disorder are unclear. But there is some evidence for the following theories, per the APA:
Life transitions Major life events, such as graduating from college, getting married, or having a first child, seem to be connected to panic disorder. The recent loss of or separation from a loved one has also been linked to panic disorder.
Genetic predisposition If you have a family member that has panic disorder, you have an increased risk of having it yourself, particularly during stressful times in your life.
Biological malfunction Panic disorder could also be due to a biological malfunction, but more research needs to be done.
A physical and psychological combination A person may experience physical symptoms as the onset of a panic attack and as a result have an actual panic attack. For example, if you have a racing heartbeat caused by drinking , or taking a medication and you think you’re having a panic attack, you may trigger an actual panic attack.
Treatment And Medication Options For Panic Disorder
The consensus among experts is that a consultation with a licensed therapist is the best way to begin to address panic disorder. In some cases, medication may also be used.
Psychotherapy, particularly a specific type known as cognitive behavioral therapy , is an effective first-line treatment for panic disorder. CBT teaches you different ways to react to the feelings of fear and physical symptoms brought on by a panic attack.
With CBT, your therapist will work with you to gradually simulate a panic attack in a safe environment. Over time, the physical symptoms of a panic attack will no longer feel dangerous, and the attacks should begin to disappear. If you’ve been avoiding any situations out of fear that they will trigger a panic attack, CBT can help with that, too.
Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders
In addition to the primary symptom of excessive and irrational fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms include:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread.
- Watching for signs of danger.
- Anticipating the worst.
- Feeling like your minds gone blank.
But anxiety is more than just a feeling. As a product of the bodys fight-or-flight response, it also involves a wide range of physical symptoms, including:
- Pounding heart.
- Shaking or trembling.
Because of these physical symptoms, anxiety sufferers often mistake their disorder for a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is finally recognized.
What Do Panic Attacks Feel Like
During a panic attack, physical symptoms can build up very quickly. These can include:
- a pounding or racing heartbeat
- feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- feeling very hot or very cold
- sweating, trembling or shaking
- pain in your chest or abdomen
- struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking
- feeling like your legs are shaky or are turning to jelly
- feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings, which are types of .
During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that you’re:
- losing control
- going to die.
The Causes Of Unexpected Panic Attacks
Expected panic attacks are typically associated with a specific trigger such as crowds, flying or exams, whereas unexpected panic attacks have no apparent trigger and can seem to happen for no reason.
Panic attacks are typically experienced as a result of misinterpreting physical symptoms of anxiety. Heart palpitations may be mistaken for symptoms of a heart attack, breathlessness or feeling faint may be taken as a sign that a person is collapsing or dying, and the racing thoughts can lead a person to think that they are losing control of their mind.
These misinterpretations which a person may be unaware that they are doing can trigger a panic attack, which seems to appear out of the blue.
Physical Reactions Without External Stimuli
Fear is a normal and even healthy reaction to some things. For example, if a lion is chasing you, its great if your body floods you with adrenaline and you recognize the danger. However, the difference between that and a panic attack is that a panic attack will happen without obvious stimuli.
The fact that panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere make them especially terrifying for some people. Patients with panic attacks may feel like they are losing their minds or going crazy. However, a panic attack is a treatable condition that is relatively common.
You Feel Like Youre Losing Control
During a panic attack, you might feel disconnected or detached from your body.
You might feel as if youre losing track of reality, as if the things happening around you arent real. Time might seem to slow down or speed up, and your surroundings could begin to feel disjointed or dreamlike.
This sense of detachment could trigger worries about being unable to control your reactions.
Knowing you cant predict or stop the attacks can also leave you with a sense of powerlessness. When panic disorder involves frequent attacks, you might feel even more concerned about losing control of your emotions, actions, or both.
Panic Disorder Treatment Options
Panic attacks and panic disorders are treatable once the underlying cause is identified. Usually medical conditions and other factors are ruled out before making the diagnosis, says Flo Leighton, psychiatric nurse practitioner, and therapist with Union Square Practice in Manhattan. Getting to the root cause typically takes a couple of sessions, says Leighton. Here are some options that may be recommended to you :
The Truth Is That Theres Not A Breath You Take In This World That Is Prologue
And your first breath? Chances are, it was a scream. A horrifying, desperate gasp and screech. And someone in the room your mother, the doula, the midwife, the doctor, the nurse who held your head when you were halfway between this world and the next smiled to hear it. They loved your scream because it meant you were here.
A panic attack feels like a full body scream. It careens through you, leaves your body filled with shakes and moans. A panic attack is messy and ugly and loud even the ones you endure silently.
To have a panic attack is to be painfully, intensely alive.
Theres nothing romantic about them, but I take comfort in thinking of panic attacks as evidence that, contrary to the years I spent telling myself I wasnt yet living a real life, I possess a will to live so strong that it sometimes shakes me to my bones. I want to live so badly that Im terrified to do it. But I go ahead and keep on living anyway, screams and all.
#OCDame is a weekly column about chronic mental illness by Jenni Berrett. While shes no doctor or counselor by any means, she does have extensive experience in being batshit crazy which she doesn’t think is as bad a thing as the world would lead you to believe. Each week she puts that ongoing experience to good use by writing things that have been stuck inside her heart for too long in the hopes that they will help unstick somebody elses heart, too.