Understanding How Panic Attacks Happen

A panic attack is a mental health episode in which an individual experiences dramatic physical symptoms, including trembling and shaking, shortness of breath, and an increased heart rate. This episode also comes with severe anxiety, and it can often stem from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD.) A panic attack can, however, still happen when no comorbid mental health disorder is present.

Panic attacks typically last for around 10 minutes. They can happen with some frequency, too, though some patients only experience them once. Patients who experience them often may have a panic disorder.

Individuals about to experience a panic attack feel their anxiety levels climbing in the minutes before. Afterwards, the individual is left emotionally and physically exhausted, sometimes for a whole day. A patient may experience additional stress in anticipation that the attack might recur.

When No Trigger is Present

The distinct feature of panic attacks is that they happen with no external trigger. One might expect someone to have an onset of panic and anxiety when something traumatic happens, such as an attack or an accident. In a panic attack, there is no such external trigger.

For this reason, many have the mistaken idea that panic attacks are somehow “made up.” Rest assured, they are very real for the patient. They are serious episodes, and they deserve compassionate and ethical treatment.

The Statistics

  • Panic attacks happen to 1 in 75 people at some point in their lives
  • One million Americans experience panic attacks each month
  • 1 in 3 people who have panic attacks also have a condition known as agoraphobia
  • 40 percent also experience depression

The Symptoms of a Panic Attack 

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but can include:

  • Feeling as if you are losing control
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling weak
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tingling in the limbs
  • Perspiration

The symptoms of a panic attack are very similar to the symptoms of a heart attack in some cases. If you are unsure whether you are having a heart attack or not, contact 911.

How to Stop Panic Attacks

if you experience panic attacks, working with a counselor or therapist is the best way to deal with this condition. There are some techniques you can employ in the meantime or in between your sessions to help with the symptoms, if an attack occurs.

Focusing Your Breath

If you feel your anxiety ramping up, focus your thoughts in on your breath. Breathe steadily and slowly, in and out. Watch your breath with your mind’s eye and use the repetition to help calm your mind.

Name the Panic Attack

Naming and acknowledging the panic attack can help neutralize its power. When you feel the symptoms coming on, acknowledge that it is a panic attack and not some unknown force.

Center Yourself in Surroundings

You can use your surroundings, too, to center yourself. Use your senses to focus in on a sound or a scent. This can help you stay grounded in the reality of where you are.

Muscle Relaxation

Beginning with your toes and working your way up, relax your muscles one by one.

Is It an Anxiety Attack or a Panic Attack?

Many people confuse anxiety attacks and panic attacks? What are the differenceS? Many of the symptoms are the same. The main difference is that an anxiety attack has a clear, external trigger. An agoraphobe who is triggered by crowds might have an anxiety attack at the sight of a crowd, for example. In panic attacks, there is no clear external trigger. The trigger stems from the person’s own internal thinking. In an anxiety attack, symptoms will go away or abate once the trigger is not present. There is no way to “remove” the trigger in a panic attack.