Panic Attack Symptoms: How To Recognize One
Have you ever had an overwhelming, intense surge of fear and anxiety, which caused you to have feelings of chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, and or numbness? If so, you may have had a panic attack and if you did, trust me, you are not alone. Today, we’re going to talk about panic attack symptoms and how to know when it’s time to seek treatment.
What Are The Signs Of A Panic Attack
The symptoms of a panic attack vary by person but can include:
- A rapid heart rate
- An out-of-body feeling
- Trouble focusing or, in contrast, feeling hyperaware of your surroundings
The reason people think theyre going to die is that theyre having physical symptoms that feel like an emergency, Dr. Kimmel says. Its a sense of impending doom.
Panic attacks usually resolve on their own in a matter of minutes, and its uncommon for a panic attack to last more than 15 to 20 minutesthough for the person experiencing one, that time might feel much longer. Its important to know that panic attacks are not life-threatening, though they often feel that way.
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.
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What Other Behaviours Are Related To Panic Disorder
Adults with panic disorder will often change their behaviour to feel safer and try to prevent future panic attacks. Examples include:
- Carrying items such as medication, water or a cell phone
- Having a companion accompany them places
- Avoiding physical activities that might trigger panic-like feelings
- Avoiding certain foods or beverages because they might trigger panic-like symptoms
- Sitting near exits or bathrooms
Keep Lavender On Hand
Lavender is a traditional remedy that many people use to reduce stress and help them relax.
Research suggests it has a calming effect but doesnt lead to dependence or cause withdrawal symptoms. Using products that contain diluted lavender oil may help reduce or manage symptoms of anxiety.
However, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils, and strengths and ingredients vary widely.
If you use lavender essential oil, make sure you:
- get your oil from a reputable source, such as a pharmacy
- follow the instructions for use
- avoid applying concentrated oil directly to the skin
- avoid using lavender with benzodiazepines because the combination can cause intense drowsiness
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Dont Run Away Youll Only Strengthen Your Fears
I used to avoid places and situations where Id had a panic attack for fear of having another, but I found that actually going to that intimidating concert or overwhelming shopping mall, or whatever the case may be, has helped me regain freedom over the fear. Dr. Misti Nicholson, a psychologist and the director of clinical services at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services, calls this using paradox.
She explains: Logic and intuition tell us to run away or fight when we are in danger however, when we avoid panic or treat it like an enemy, we make it stronger. Instead, it is important to take a paradoxical and counter intuitive approach to panic. I often encourage my patients to do the opposite of what anxiety is expecting them to do. This often means moving toward what they are afraid of when anxiety is telling them to back away.
How To Help Someone Who Is Having A Panic Attack
If you or someone you know is experiencing a panic attack, there are a number of things you can do to help, as Dr Radha explains
- Stay calm: While witnessing or experiencing a panic attack can be distressing, its important to stay calm and remind yourself that it will pass.
- Stay where you are: If possible, its best to stay put until the attack subsides.
- Accept: Tell yourself you are doing fine this is just a collection of symptoms caused by adrenaline, which will soon calm down.
- Stomp on the spot: It might sound odd, but rhythmically stomping your feet can help to relieve stress and take back control of your breathing
- Breathe slowly and deeply: Remember to breathe slowly and deeply to help get hyperventilation under control
- Think relaxing thoughts: When experiencing an attack, relax your shoulders and try to focus on relaxing and reassuring thoughts and images to help break the panic cycle
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Some People May Develop Panic Disorders
For many people, the feelings of panic occur only occasionally during periods of stress or illness. A person who experiences recurring panic attacks is said to have panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. They generally have recurring and unexpected panic attacks and persistent fears of repeated attacks.
Signs Of A Panic Attack
Witnessing or experiencing a panic attack for the first time can be quite scary, says Dr Radha, but please be assured that they are not dangerous and will subside. Most panic attacks last between five and 20 minutes. Some of the key signs that you or someone you know is in the grips of an attack include:
- Excessive sweating
- Fast breathing .
Symptoms can vary from person to person but those listed above are the main ones to look out for.
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Treatment Options For Panic And Anxiety Attacks
Whether youre dealing with panic, anxiety, or both, its important to know that help is available. The most common treatment options include therapy, medication, and self-help strategies.
- Psychotherapy helps people gain a better understanding of their symptoms, develop constructive ways to manage them, work through past pain and trauma, and build a strong support network.
- Medications can help reduce your symptoms. Sometimes medications are needed only for a short time, but other people may benefit from long-term medication use.
- Self-help techniques, including breathing exercises and positive self-talk, can teach you ways to manage symptoms yourself in a healthy way.
Anxiety Sensitivity Is A Risk Factor For Panic Disorder
Most people experience some level of nervousness before a date or a presentation. In fact, it would probably feel strange if you delivered a presentation to your colleagues and didnt experience an increase in heart rate. But why do some people have panic attacks while others experience only subtle arousal?
The underlying mechanism that drives panic disorder is called anxiety sensitivity, a phenomenon where an individual becomes afraid of their bodily sensations, explains Gruner.
When people have high anxiety sensitivity, they can mistake natural bodily sensations as harmful physical health symptoms, and this can lead to more anxiety and trigger panic attacks. For instance, a persons increased heart rate might cause them to worry about an impending heart attack. A feeling of losing control might make them afraid that they are mentally unstable, or losing their mind, so to speak.
Most psychologists agree that anxiety sensitivity is not hereditary, but rather learned from personal experiences. Your mind and body learn to respond to internal changes as if they were a threat, says Gruner.
The process of learning to fear bodily sensations is called interoceptive conditioning. During the day, we all experience natural physiological changes. Its possible to condition oneself to be overly sensitive to even slight bodily changes, such as a natural increase in heart rate, so that panic attacks become a conditioned response to these changes.
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What Are The Symptoms
The key symptom of panic disorder is recurring panic attacks. They can strike at any time at work, at home, at the grocery store, at a bar. The secondary symptom is avoidance. People with panic disorder become afraid of when their next attack will strike. This fear leads them to avoid places, people and scenarios that might act as a trigger. For instance, someone who gets panic attacks while driving might stop driving altogether.
The of a panic attack are:
- An intense sense of impending doom
- Feeling helpless or out of control
- A fear of dying or having a heart attack
- Tunnel vision
- ?Feeling detached from reality
What Are Some Common Warning Signs
Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks and high levels of anxiety. Panic attacks can occur without warning or in response to a stressor. Because of this, a loved one with the condition might display noticeable changes in their appearance and behavior. They might seem agitated and on edge in certain settings. They might stop doing things that they used to enjoy. You might even witness a panic attack or the beginnings of one while with them.
But sometimes, symptoms are less obvious. People battling chronic mental health conditions can learn to hide their pain from others. Its possible to appear outwardly fine, while facing mental difficulties in secrecy. Its important to remember that mental health conditions are invisible illnesses. Just because some people exhibit outward symptoms, doesnt mean everyone will.
If you think a person in your life might have panic disorder, pay close attention to how theyre doing in the different facets of their life. Are they avoiding specific scenarios more? Have they developed new or strange phobias? Are they struggling to do well at work or school? Has socializing become more difficult? If so, they might be struggling with an anxiety disorder and you should find time to talk to them about their symptoms.
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How To Recognise A Panic Attack
If you have already experienced something which fits the description above and there is no underlying medical cause then its most likely a panic attack. That said, Its worth seeking medical support from your GP if you are unsure, especially if you are unaware of any stress-related causes.
If you feel anxious generally or in specific situations or there is a stressful event of some kind preceding the experience then its quite likely to be a panic attack.
If you are looking to recognise a panic attack in someone else then be aware that everyone experiences it differently, reacts differently and therefore displays different behaviour. Some people will be very good at covering it up where others will a lot more visually obvious.
Look for signs of the symptoms listed above or have a conversation with the person after the event if you wish to understand it better. Read on for more on how to support others with panic attacks but for now just know that everyone is different and do your best to understand their individual needs. If in doubt give them space and time to deal with it in their own way.
Anxiety Vs Panic Attacks
Anxiety and panic attacks are both very common. They are both often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed as medical conditions.
Anxiety is characterized by ongoing worry or fear about the future. With generalized anxiety disorder , for example, anxiety symptoms are present for normal everyday experiences and can create mild-to-severe interruptions in a person’s life. With anxiety, symptoms may be present on some level all the time or during specific periods of known stressors, such as during a public presentation.
Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly and can happen from either a calm state or a state of feeling anxious. They often occur without warning or a known trigger and bring a sense of doom, intense fear, and a feeling of dying.
Similarly, both anxiety and panic attacks have physical and psychological symptoms. With panic attacks, however, the symptoms tend to come on quickly and are often only present for up to 10 minutes. With anxiety, symptoms can be present for a much longer period of time.
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Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- What is causing my panic disorder?
- What treatment is best for me?
- Should I take a medicine?
- Will I have to take medicine the rest of my life?
- Is there any kind of therapy I should try?
- How long will I have to be in therapy?
- Im afraid to leave my house. What should I do?
- Is there a possibility that my panic attacks will come back after treatment?
Breathing Exercise For Panic Attacks
If youre breathing quickly during a panic attack, doing a breathing exercise can ease your other symptoms. Try this:
- breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose
- breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth
- some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
- close your eyes and focus on your breathing
You should start to feel better in a few minutes. You may feel tired afterwards.
Visit the No Panic website for another breathing exercise to calm panic.
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How Do I Treat And Prevent Panic Attacks
There are self-help, psychological and medical options available to treat and avoid panic attacks. Panic is associated with anxiety and the treatments are similar. During a panic attack:
- Avoid self-talk that focuses your attention on your symptoms dont tell yourself to stop panicking!
- Reassure yourself that the symptoms of a panic attack are uncomfortable but not life threatening.
- Focus your attention on something outside your own body and symptoms. For example, try to recall the words to your favourite song or concentrate on the sights and sounds around you.
- Fleeing from the situation will confirm your fear that your panic symptoms are unbearable. Try to sit and allow the symptoms to pass and get confidence in your ability to cope.
What Is Panic Disorder
If you’re having lots of panic attacks at unpredictable times and there doesn’t seem to be a particular trigger or cause, you might be given a diagnosis of panic disorder. It’s common to experience panic disorder and certain types of phobia together. People who experience panic disorder may have some periods with few or no panic attacks, but have lots at other times.
Panic disorder and high sensitivity
Some research suggests that people who have panic disorder might be very sensitive to sensory experiences , but there’s not enough evidence yet to say for sure.
Also it’s not clear whether having a high level of sensitivity to these sorts of things is something that might cause you to develop panic disorder, or whether it may be an effect of having it.
“Never knowing when I was going to have a panic attack was the worst feeling in the world.”
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How Do I Help Someone Who Is Having A Panic Attack
If you dont really know the person well then I would advise acting on the side of caution. People will often already have their own coping mechanisms and interference from someone they dont know well could make things worse so dont get too involved unless welcomed to do so.
Make sure they have space and as much as possibly leave THEM in control of the situation. If they try to move away from people then give them space, if they reach out to you then by all means allow physical contact to help them feel connected.
STAY CALM yourself. This situation will pass and they will be okay. Staying calm and centred yourself will make it easier for them to do so. Getting worked up and panic will likely just make the situation worse.
Encouraging calm breathing is generally a good idea and focus but again, dont try and force anything upon the other person if they dont feel comfortable with it and make sure they dont feel crowded.
If you know the person well then you will likely have a better idea of what to offer. Discuss with them afterwards what they would like you to do differently if the situation happens again and let them know that you are there for them without forcing them to talk about it if they dont want to.
Acknowledge The Panic Attack
People spend most of their time in the two wrong places: the past or the future. In the past, you drown yourself in depression. In the future, youre scared for your life. But in the present, thats where you can find the most joy. While having a panic attack can be wildly unpleasant, its important to sit with yourself in the present moment and acknowledge it.
Tell yourself, Right now, Im having a panic attack. I feel scared, anxious, and worried that something will go wrong. However, right now nothing bad is happening right now. I am safe. I feel myself taking a deep breath in. I feel the oxygen entering my lungs. I feel my toes grounded on the floor. Im shaking my arms back and forth. This moment isnt perfect but it will pass. Good moments are up ahead. All I need to do is feel this present moment.
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Can Panic Disorder Be Prevented Or Avoided
You cant prevent panic disorder because doctors arent sure what causes it. But you may be able to prevent a panic attack by knowing your triggers. Your doctor can help with that. He or she can help make sure your panic attacks dont become worse or more frequent. Its also a good idea to be physically active. Getting exercise is a known stress reliever and may also guard you against panic attacks.