What are Panic Attacks?

A panic attack is an extremely fearful reaction to a relatively small outside stimulus. People can have panic attacks as part of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or with no other mental health issues to speak of. These attacks come on quickly and are often intense. People who have them have anxious emotions alongside physical symptoms like rapid breathing.

Panic Attack Timeline

Before a panic attack happens, a person may feel worried, but not in an extreme way. Eventually, those feelings build into a panic attack that usually lasts about 10 minutes. For some patients, panic attacks can last much longer. During the duration of the attack, time can seem slow. So, the episode itself can feel like it lasts hours.

After the panic attack, most patients feel exhausted for at least a full day. Many people who have a panic attack also worry a lot about another one coming on. Some people have just one panic attack in their lives. Others have recurrent panic attacks. The latter should be assessed for possible panic disorder.

Physical Reactions Without External Stimuli

Fear is a normal and even healthy reaction to some things. For example, if a lion is chasing you, it’s 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.

Panic Attack Statistics

  • 1 out of every 75 people will have a panic attack during their lives
  • 40 percent of people who have panic disorder also live with major depression
  • 1 million individuals in the United States have panic attacks each month
  • One-third of people who have panic disorder also live with agoraphobia

Panic Attack Symptoms

During a panic attack, people may experience:

  • Chills or sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the chest
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling out-of-control
  • A feeling that something horrible is about to happen
  • Rapid pulse
  • Tingling in feet and hands

Panic attacks share many symptoms with heart attacks. If you believe you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

What to Do If You Have a Panic Attack

People who have panic attacks should get help from qualified mental health professionals. However, panic attacks can happen in between counseling sessions. Below are some ways that people can cope with panic attacks in the interim.

Focus on Breathing

Shut the eyes and think only of your breath. Visualize the air entering and leaving your body. By focusing on just one thing, you can calm your mind and allow the body to follow suit.

Call It Out

If you have had panic attacks before, you know that they will pass eventually. Calling out the panic for what it is can help take the power from the attack itself. Name it as a panic attack and remind yourself that it is not a threat to your physical safety.

Practice Grounding Techniques

Grounding yourself in your surroundings can help you slow down the scary thoughts and get back to normal. Try naming all the things you can small, hear, and feel.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Clench and then slowly relax every muscle in your feet. Then, move to your lower legs. Continue up the body until all muscles are fully relaxed.

Recite a Mantra

Repeating helpful phrases, or mantras, can help bring calmness during a panic attack. The following phrases can help:

  • This will pass
  • I am calm
  • I am safe

Your counselor can help you successfully do any of the techniques on this list.

The Difference Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks

As the names indicate, panic attacks and anxiety attacks are similar in a lot of ways. People who have anxiety attacks feel many of the same symptoms as those with panic attacks. However, there is a key difference between the two.

While panic attacks have no obvious stimuli, anxiety attacks do. Sometimes, the anxiety attack is an outsized reaction to the trigger, but the cause of the attack is still clear.