What are panic attacks?


A panic attack is a period of intense fear or discomfort. They can happen suddenly, intensify very quickly, and manifest with up to four symptoms, including, but not limited to:


  • Pounding heart, palpitations, or quickening pulse
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered
  • Feeling like you are choking
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Abdominal discomfort or nausea
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint and unsteady on feet
  • Heat sensations or cold chills
  • tingling sensations (paresthesia)
  • Feel like you are detached from yourself or a feeling of unreality
  • Fear of dying
  • Feel like you are losing control or going crazy


A panic attack can strike without warning, regardless of whether you are in a calm or agitated state. Some people can have less intense panic attacks, which are referred to as limited-symptom panic attacks. They are similar to a full-blown attack but consist of fewer than four symptoms.


The Difference Between Panic Attacks and General Anxiety


Uncomfortable physical sensations are a common component of general anxiety and can include similar symptoms to panic attacks, such as knots in your stomach or a quickening pulse. An attack’s duration and intensity separate the two conditions, with panic attacks quickly reaching peak intensity in less than 10 minutes before subsiding.


The symptoms of a panic attack often bear a disturbing similarity to those present during heart attacks, breathing disorders, or thyroid problems.  Understandably, people experiencing a panic attack can mistake it for a more serious health condition that prompts them to visit the emergency room.


Panic Disorder can Develop from Panic Attacks


People with a panic disorder experience repeated panic attacks. They soon come to expect and fear them, which triggers even more attacks. They will often develop the belief that something terrible will happen or their intense experience is a symptom of them going crazy, dying, or losing control.


Panic attacks are horrible, terrifying ordeals, which can lead people who experience them regularly to worry excessively about the next one. Many will drastically change their lifestyle in their effort to avoid triggering another panic attack. They may avoid certain places or stop exercising for fear of elevating their heart rate too much.


Risk Factors for Panic Disorder


Some people will put up with panic attacks for months or even years before deciding to get a professional diagnosis. Many will keep it to themselves because they are too embarrassed to talk about it. They may also avoid socializing and distance themselves from loved ones, family, and friends in their effort to keep their condition hidden. Some may even be unaware that they have a treatable condition.


Ensuring people have access to educational material will help them feel confident enough to start talking about their panic attacks, seeking help from a mental health professional, and receiving appropriate treatment.


A lot of people with panic disorder have found relief through psychotherapy. During a session, a counselor will work through unresolved feelings and issues while also helping the client establish healthier behaviors and thought patterns to lessen the impact of a panic attack.


Ignoring or burying the condition will most likely lead to problems developing in other areas of your life, from relationships at home to your work performance.  Understandably, your constant fear of a panic attack can create the conditions for one to set in.

You are not alone, there is help available, and you can get control back of your life. Get in touch with a counselor today and find out how you can get your life back by learning effective methods for controlling a panic disorder. Read more about options for therapy here: Anxiety Treatment