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Conditions

Panic Attacks

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an acute event in which a person feels an intense feeling of dread and an array of physical symptoms like sweating, high pulse, and trouble breathing. While panic attacks can be a sign of underlying generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), they can also happen to people with no underlying anxiety disorder.

Panic Attack Symptoms

When people find themselves in real, physical danger, they may have several noticeable responses. For example, if a man finds himself face-to-face with an angry bear, his heart rate will rise, he may sweat, and he may feel extreme dread.

When people have panic attacks, they experience many of the same symptoms of facing a bear, but without obvious danger. This lack of logical stressors can make a person feel like they are “going crazy.” However, it’s important to remember that panic attacks are temporary and treatable.

Some people can easily confuse a heart attack with a panic attack. The symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling weak
  • Sweating or chills
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling out of control
  • Chest pain
  • Sense of immediate danger or unavoidable doom
  • Tingling in the extremities

You will notice that many of the symptoms of panic attacks are very similar to heart attack symptoms. If you suspect that you are having a heart attack, please call 911 and tell them your symptoms.

Afterward, a person can feel tired or groggy for a full day. Someone who has had a panic attack may feel anxious several days after and worry about it happening again.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

Each person with panic attacks has their own unique triggers–or what causes the intense reaction.

Panic Attack Treatment Options

People who have recurrent panic attacks may have panic disorder. Treatment for panic disorder may include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. 

Medication for panic disorder is often fast-acting. Patients take these medications when they feel a panic attack coming and the medication should prevent the episode. Some patients may need daily anti-anxiety medication to achieve a healthy baseline. 

Many people with panic disorder benefit from individual therapy. In these sessions, patients and providers identify the patient’s triggers. Then, they can find ways to better cope with these triggers. This may include changing the person’s thought-behavioral patterns. 

Finally, lifestyle changes may be necessary to treat recurrent panic attacks. This may mean removing certain stressors, such as a toxic relationship or high-stress job. Lifestyle changes may also mean including healthy exercise in the patient’s routine. 

How to Stop a Panic Attack in the Moment

Someone who has frequent panic attacks should consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. However, these attacks’ nature means that some people need strategies to help until they can get an appointment. Although not all methods work for all people, strategies to stop a panic attack include:

  • Focus on the breath
  • Call it by name
  • Try grounding
  • Methodically relax one body part at a time
  • Repeat a helpful mantra

Focus on the Breath

Try to breathe deeply and think only of the air coming in and out of the body. Closing the eyes can help someone focus only on the breath.

Call it by Name

Recognizing a panic attack for what it is can take some of its power away by recognizing the absence of danger.

Try Grounding Techniques

Connecting oneself with surroundings can help slow the thoughts. Try identifying three distinct sounds, physical feelings, and smells.

Progressive Relaxation

Starting with the feet, consciously unwind each muscle. Stay on each muscle as long as it takes to release any unnecessary tension. 

Repeat a Helpful Mantra

It can be a favorite quote or a religious verse. Some options include, “This too shall pass,” and “I am safe.”

A therapist or psychiatrist can help patients develop techniques that are unique to their situations. If you believe that you may require therapy for panic attacks, find a therapist near you.

Panic Attack FAQs