Panic attacks are sudden, overwhelming feelings of anxiety, fear, or fear. They often occur without warning and can have both physical and emotional symptoms.
Many people will experience at least one panic attack in their lives, and these panic attacks can often be treated without medication.
While panic attacks can be intimidating, there are many ways to manage them when they occur, including using mind-body techniques such as relaxation, distraction, and mindfulness.
What is a panic attack like?
The first step in controlling a panic attack is the ability to recognize when it is happening.
Panic attacks can affect the entire body and mind and, along with physical symptoms, can cause feelings of doom, fear, and intense fear. They usually occur without warning and the cause may not be known.
Panic attacks can be so excruciating that they can make a person feel dead, and the experience of a panic attack can create additional fear or anxiety about future panic attacks.
If panic attacks continue to occur over time, this could be a sign of panic disorder .
Panic attacks are often mistaken for heart attacks, strokes, or other serious illnesses, due to their sudden onset and severe physical symptoms. They may include:
- Fast heartbeat or heart palpitations (fluttering or palpitations)
- Shaking or shaking
- Difficulty breathing or a feeling of suffocation
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chills or hot flashes
Panic attacks can be characterized by one or more of these symptoms, but not all of them need to be present during the episode.
Along with the physical symptoms, there are emotional or psychological symptoms caused by panic attacks. This includes:
- Feelings of dread, fear, or death.
- Lost of control
- Feeling crazy
- Fear of death
- Loss of contact with reality or feelings of detachment.
These symptoms can vary in intensity and can occur before, after, or in conjunction with physical symptoms.
How to deal with a panic attack
Panic attacks cause feelings of loss of control, which can make you feel powerless to stop them. Dividing panic attacks into phases and symptoms makes it easier to recognize when they occur and interrupt them before they become too overwhelming.
Panic attacks can occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Not associated with any specific trigger and unexpectedly : These types of panic attacks can occur even when you are relaxed or asleep, and are the most common type of panic attacks.
- Induced by the situation : This happens in response to something specific and expected, like being in a confined space. They occur while waiting for the trigger to be fired or immediately after impact.
- Situational predisposition : In these types of attacks, the trigger usually causes a panic attack, but not always. For example, fear of spiders and the sight of a spider can cause a panic attack, but sometimes the attack does not occur at all or it can occur after the trigger is no longer present.
- Emotionally induced : These types of panic attacks are triggered by specific emotional circumstances. These types of seizures are common at night.
- Situational : These types of panic attacks are common with certain types of phobias, such as social phobias. They are also common in panic disorder.
Knowing the situations and triggers that can trigger panic attacks can help you prepare for them. Having tools ready to use when needed gives some control over the situation and can reduce the intensity of symptoms.
Periods of intense stress or facing a known cause of extreme anxiety can trigger a panic attack. In these circumstances, focusing on the body and practicing relaxation can help stop symptoms before they appear or before they get worse.
Find tools that work before a panic attack
It helps to have a set of tools ready before a panic attack. Find techniques that help you relax and stay in the moment. Practice using these methods to know what to do when you have symptoms of a panic attack.
Panic attacks are different for everyone. Some people may have physical symptoms first and then emotional symptoms, while others may have emotional symptoms first or have different symptoms at the same time. Regardless of how a panic attack feels when it starts, there are ways to reduce or stop the symptoms.
Panic attacks can seem endless, but they usually peak within 10 minutes. Keep this in mind and use techniques that provide relaxation, distraction, and mindfulness to reduce symptoms during a panic attack.
Relaxation techniques can help prevent hyperventilation, slow heart palpitations, and disrupt the body's natural panic response to extreme stress. Here are some examples:
- 4-7-8 breath : Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight.
- Meditative breathing : Focus on the breath as it enters and leaves the body. When thoughts or distractions enter the mind, focus on the breath again.
- Breathing to earth : Combine the focus on breathing with a grounding experience, such as drawing circles on the palm of one hand with the finger of the other. This distracts the mind and returns attention to the body.
Panic attacks are often mistaken for a medical emergency because of the usual physical reactions that accompany them. If you are not sure you are having a panic attack, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room for an evaluation.
Distraction can help by diverting attention from fear and other experienced symptoms. The distraction may be because you are doing something else, visualizing something else, or focusing on something else. Here are some ways to get distracted:
- Do the exercises : Take a short walk outside to change your surroundings and change your heart and breathing rates.
- Use visualization : Think of a place that gives you a feeling of calm and happiness. It can be a real or imaginary place. Add as much detail as possible, including images, smells, sounds, tastes, and feelings.
- Stimulate your senses : To interrupt the automatic responses that come with panic attacks, use a strong aroma, such as peppermint oil, or touch something very cold, such as an ice cube, to remove current symptoms from your body and mind.
Mindfulness helps you focus on the present moment. Because anxiety is associated with an intense fear of the future or the unknown, using mindfulness reduces anxiety symptoms and shifts attention to the here and now. Some mindfulness exercises include:
- Object nomenclature : Look around the room and name as many items of a specific color as possible. If necessary, after completion, change to another color.
- Use your senses : Name five things in the room that you can hear, see, feel, taste, and smell. Pay attention to textures, flavor, and as much detail as possible.
- Pay Attention to the Body – Take a body scan, thinking about each part of the body and how it feels. Squeeze and relax each muscle during the scan. Move slowly up the body from the toes to the top of the head, representing each part of the body.
Once the panic attack has passed, it can help to practice self-care. Doing light exercise or stretching, taking a relaxing bath, or listening to soothing music can help return your body and mind to a calmer state.
You can also keep a journal to keep track of panic attacks. After the panic attack has passed, try to write down everything that triggered it, including any possible triggers. Keep a record of as much detail as possible, including the thoughts or feelings that occurred before and during the panic attacks. Over time, the magazine will help you identify trends that will help you prepare for the next one.
Remember, panic attacks are not your fault. They may feel lonely, but they are very common. Most people recover from panic attacks without the need for treatment, and very few people develop panic disorder after a panic attack.
Anxiety Against Panic Attacks
Both anxiety and panic attacks are very common. Both are often underestimated or misdiagnosed as diseases.
Anxiety is characterized by constant worry or fear for the future. For example, in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), anxiety symptoms are present in everyday life and can create mild or severe disruptions in a person's life. With anxiety, symptoms can be present at a certain level all the time or at certain times from known stressors, such as during a public presentation.
Panic attacks, as a rule, occur suddenly and can occur both in a calm state and in a state of anxiety. They often occur without warning or without a known trigger and cause feelings of doom, intense fear, and a sense of death.
Also, both anxiety and panic attacks have physical and psychological symptoms. However, with panic attacks, symptoms tend to come on quickly and often only last up to 10 minutes. With anxiety, symptoms can persist for much longer.
When to use medications
Sometimes panic attacks cannot be treated alone. If panic attacks become an ongoing problem or cause significant anxiety or fear of panic attacks in the future, you may need to see a therapist or doctor.
The types of therapeutic interventions that have shown the best results include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and humanistic therapy. CBT involves understanding the relationship between thoughts and behavior and working to change negative or distorted thoughts into more positive and beneficial ones.
One study found that CBT is 85% to 90% effective in treating panic disorder.
Humanistic therapy is an intervention that helps people make rational decisions and take responsibility. Common approaches to humanistic therapy include client-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.
If therapy alone is not effective in treating panic attacks, as may be the case in severe cases of panic disorder, a psychiatrist may recommend and prescribe medications. Commonly prescribed medications that have been shown to be effective for panic disorder include antidepressants and benzodiazepines .
Get the word of drug information
Whether you've experienced one or more panic attacks, the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of the symptoms can be extremely unpleasant. To control panic attacks, you must first understand what is happening and prepare yourself with effective relaxation and mindfulness techniques to intervene before symptoms become overwhelming.
Remember, dealing with panic attacks takes time, and change won't happen overnight. By starting small, doing a new relaxation exercise, and noticing your triggers, you will begin the journey to be able to manage your panic attack symptoms on your own.
Frequently asked questions
The duration of a panic attack can vary, but most panic attacks peak in about 10 minutes.
While they have some overlapping symptoms, anxiety and panic attacks are not the same. Generally, anxiety symptoms last longer, and triggers can be more obvious. On the other hand, panic attacks tend to appear suddenly, with no obvious warnings or triggers.
A mental health professional should be consulted whenever panic attacks recur or if they cause fear or anxiety for additional panic attacks in the future.
Often times, the symptoms of a panic attack can be controlled with relaxation techniques. If you are hesitant to take medicine, try breathing exercises, meditation, light exercises like stretching and walking, and other calming practices.