man grasping chest in painDo you regularly experience a panic attack but have no idea what triggered it? According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a panic attack can fit into one of two distinct categories: expected and unexpected.


If you feel like you have experienced a panic attack that seemingly came out of nowhere, then it easily falls into the unexpected variety.

What Causes Unexpected Panic Attacks?


There are certain situations where panic attack sufferers will expect a panic attack, such as exams, crowds, or flying. Unexpected panic attacks seem to fly in the face of reason and rise seemingly out of nowhere. There’s no trigger that a sufferer can point to with any certainty.


There are many theories, but we do not yet fully know why panic attacks happen. We know that certain factors have a role in their development, including genetics, a predisposition to stress, or severe stress.


Physical symptoms of panic attacks are often mistaken for other symptoms, such as palpitations for a heart attack, breathlessness, and feeling faint as a sign of collapse or imminent death. Racing thoughts can also make a person feel like they are becoming mentally unhinged.


The person may not be aware that they are misinterpreting the symptoms and becoming aware of them may trigger a panic attack that seems to arrive out of nowhere.


What You Can Do During a Panic Attack


There are things you can do to help mitigate the effects of an unexpected panic attack.


Hyperventilation is common during a panic attack. When you feel yourself breathing rapidly and that a panic attack is imminent, stop whatever you are doing if it is safe to do so.


Focus on your breathing. Breathe in for three seconds, hold it for two, and breathe out for another three seconds. Take deeper breaths than you usually would. When you consciously control your breathing, you may find that you start to feel calmer.


Memorize a few positive mantras you can use to keep yourself grounded and break the panic cycle. A couple of examples you can use are:


  • “This is just my anxiety.”
  • ” These feelings will pass.”


A panic attack may make you feel like you will collapse, lose control, or have a heart attack. A simple but positive mantra will confront the anxious thoughts to reduce the severity of the attack.


Diverting your focus outward towards your surroundings will shift the focus from your inner turmoil, dilute its power, and speed up your recovery from the panic attack. Focus on anything that is within your line of sight. It could be a plant, artwork on the wall, or a building. Consider the shape, texture, and color of the object. By focusing on an everyday object’s mundane aspect, you prevent the negative thoughts of the panic attack from taking over.


Self-Care for People Who Experience Unexpected Panic Attacks


If you regularly experience panic attacks, it’s essential you develop a routine of self-care that teaches you relaxation techniques to help you control them.


Professional support from a qualified mental health professional is also highly recommended. Therapists can provide expert guidance and advice to help you recognize the symptoms and be proactive in preventing them.


daisy with blue green backgroundIn counseling, you can learn ways to effectively relax. Relaxing will prevent stress from building up to high levels and triggering an unexpected panic attack. There are techniques you can learn, such as self-hypnosis and mindfulness, that will help you release the tension and stress that has built up during the day.


Discussing your thoughts and feelings with a trained therapist can be cathartic, especially if the thoughts are the type to cause you some worry. You may also find you come away with some great advice and solutions you may not have thought of on your own.


In addition, there are other effective therapy techniques that have been shown to decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. You can learn more about these options by visiting this link: Anxiety Treatment.