What is a panic attack and how can you handle them?

Have you ever been thinking about something troubling and started to feel physically sick? Have you noticed your thoughts racing, and then found it difficult to breathe normally? Have you had an intense episode of anxious thoughts and body pains that caused you to faint or become immobile? If so, you might have experienced a panic attack .

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are usually the result of a panic disorder, or can even be common in people with generalized anxiety disorder. When you experience a panic attack, your body and mind is reacting to real or imagined fear that manifests in psychological and physical ways. Your body and mind are putting up their defenses to something troubling, stressful or even dangerous, even when there might not be a clear source for your fear. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you’re not alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that about 6 million Americans experience the effects of a panic disorder every single year.

People experience the effects of panic attacks in different degrees. Some people can have one panic attack due to a source of extreme stress and never experience them again. Others are so affected by panic attacks, whether it’s having them frequently or being fearful of them recurring, that they become unable to do things they used to not even think about twice, like leaving their home or socializing with friends.

Reasons for panic attacks

There can be a number of reasons for panic attacks, some more easily understandable than others. Some feel signs of a panic attack coming on after experiencing or thinking about something traumatic, especially if the traumatic event caused them to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others feel the effects of panic attacks when they think about something they are afraid of, such as riding on a rollercoaster, being underwater or speaking in front of a large group of people. Those with mental health disorders like social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or depression can have panic attacks as part of their overall illness. And, in some cases, the reasons for panic attacks is seemingly random with no connection to underlying disorders or triggering incidents.

Signs of a panic attack

Do you think you or someone you know has experienced a panic attack? While everyone has experienced stress or fear on some level, panic attacks are serious episodes that can create adverse effects in your mind and body. Here are common signs of a panic attack:

Racing, negative thoughts

When you experience a panic attack, you’re usually dealing with extreme feelings of anxiety, stress or fear. During the attack, you might have a strong sense of impending doom or feel like you’re losing control. These thoughts often go in a loop, feeding one another and causing them to grow stronger.

what is a panic attack

Increased heart rate

woman dealing with panic attack

As your mind starts to race, so does your heart. Many people who experience effects of panic attacks report increased heart rate and a weighted sensation on their chest, which can make it difficult to breathe. They may even confuse signs of a panic attack with a heart attack.

Changes in body temperature

One sign that you may be experiencing a panic attack is feeling unable to regulate your body temperature. Hot flashes and chills are both associated with these episodes and, though they can happen at any time during the day, are experienced most often while sufferers are trying to sleep.

signs of a panic attack

Abdominal issues

what causes panic attacks

Does your stomach feel like it’s clenched? Are you experiencing painful cramps in your midsection or bouts of nausea? Physical symptoms such as these could be related to a digestion issue, but if they persist and no medical cause is found, they could be signs of a panic attack.

Headache or lightheadedness

Some people experience dull to sharp headaches, even migraines, while others experience a feeling of faintness. These episodes can be especially frightening if you’re driving, operating heavy machinery or are engaged in another activity where you could be injured.

headaches during panic attacks

Are panic attacks dangerous?

In the short term, the answer is no. You won’t die from the effects of panic attacks. In a broader sense? Definitely. You can experience a panic attack and be completely fine once it’s over. However, when your body is worked up to a point of feeling an intense sense of panic or dread, and then reacts physically by experiencing a shortness of breath, racing heart and more, you’re putting lots of undue stress on your body. This can lead to a steep decline in your physical and mental health and lower quality of life.  

Effects of panic attacks

Frequent panic attacks can greatly affect your overall well-being. They can lead to poor work performance that could result in job loss or lack of promotion, a loss of social support, a decrease in the quality of personal relationships and could even lead to an increased risk of suicide. Those who have frequent panic attacks may avoid social situations for fear of experiencing an attack in public. This withdrawal from others only adds to the problem, as it leads to isolation and a continuing deterioration of friendships and other relationships.

Whether your signs of a panic attack are severe or more controllable, you still need to learn about panic attack remedies that can help you. Here are a few tips on managing a panic attack:

Practice stress management and relaxation techniques

Learning how to control your breathing, meditation and other forms of relaxation techniques can help you lessen the signs of a panic attack.

Get physically active

Living a healthy lifestyle with plenty of aerobic activity is a natural way to calm your nerves and reduce stress.

get active

quality sleep

Focus on quality sleep

Effects of panic attacks are amplified when you are exhausted and unable to think clearly. Get eight hours of quality sleep each night to ensure you are well-rested and able to use panic attack remedies when necessary.

Finding the cause of your panic attacks is also an important step in treating them. Are you having a hard time coping with a traumatic event or memory? Are you showing signs of deteriorating mental health that’s resulting in the attacks? Speak with a medical professional about what could be causing your attacks so you can move toward treating them accordingly. Your health is essential, and without it, you won’t have the energy you need to work toward your goals and create a fulfilling life.

Important note

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.

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