Understanding Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are short term events in which an individual experiences heightened dread and anxiety along with extreme physical symptoms, including increased heart rate, labored breathing, and heavy perspiration. Panic attacks can indicate that someone has a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but they can also happen to people who have no anxiety disorder.

When Panic Attacks Occur

As acute events, panic attacks do not last long, but they can feel very long for the person experiencing them. These events can last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour. In the aftermath, the individual feels exhausted and worn out for a day. In the longer term, the person may experience anxiety over whether a panic attack may happen again.

For some, a panic attack is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Others may have regular panic attacks. In those situations, the patient may have an underlying panic disorder.

Physical Symptoms with Internal Triggers

Humans are primed to experience strong physical symptoms when placed in physically threatening situations. As an example, someone facing a mugger might have symptoms similar to those in a panic attack.

In a panic attack, however, those symptoms present with no identifiable external trigger. Since there are no external threats involved in a panic attack, patients can sometimes feel as if they are losing their minds. It is important for those experiencing panic attacks to realize they are real and that they can be treated.

Panic Attack vs. Everyday Worries

It is important, too, to understand that the symptoms of a panic attack vary from the everyday worries many of us experience. Stressful experiences at work, home, or in a romantic relationship can inspire negative feelings in any of us. In a panic attack, the patient has a larger-than-life reaction to the same situations, imaging that their life is over, even, and feeling severe physical symptoms.

The Stats

  • Around 1 million people in the US have a panic attack each month
  • One-third of panic disorder patients also have agoraphobia
  • One in 75 Americans will have a type of panic disorder at some point
  • Depression is present in 40 percent of panic disorder cases

The Symptoms

Symptoms that often occur in panic attacks include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling dizzy or weak
  • Feeling chilled
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Labored breathing
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Chest pains
  • Feelings of inevitable doom
  • A tingling sensation in the hands and feet

These symptoms can resemble some of the symptoms in a heart attack. If you think that you may be experiencing a heart attack, call 911 and tell them your symptoms.

Stopping a Panic Attack

Anyone with multiple panic attacks should reach out to a mental health professional right away. There are some strategies people can employ to help cope with panic attacks in the interim, however. These include:

  • Focused breathing
  • Acknowledging that the episode is a panic attack
  • Grounding oneself in one’s surroundings
  • Relaxing the body section by section
  • Using a mantra to calm and center the mind

These techniques can also be worked on in session with a therapist. If you are experiencing panic attacks, contact our offices to set up an initial appointment with a therapist.

Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack?

While they share some symptoms, panic attacks and anxiety attacks are actually two very different things. The main distinction is that anxiety attacks are triggered by external things that might trigger almost anyone.

As an example, a person walking alone at night might feel anxiety if someone is walking closely behind them for several blocks. This type of scenario might escalate into an anxiety attack, the symptoms of which would disappear as soon as the other person was no longer present.

In a panic attack, no obvious external trigger is present, and symptoms do not cease by changing the external setting or stimuli. A panic attack is entirely internal and caused by internal triggers.