Everything you need to know about Panic Attacks

What is a panic attack? 

Fearful bodily feelings are triggered by a brief bout of severe anxiety known as a panic attack. A pounding heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, and trembling are just a few of the symptoms that might occur. Panic episodes occur often and suddenly and are typically unrelated to any external threat. Uncontrolled panic attacks might last anywhere from a few minutes to a half-hour or more. However, the physical and psychological repercussions of the attack may persist for a few hours.

Frequent and persistent panic episodes may be crippling if left untreated. Because of the dread of experiencing it again, the individual may avoid a variety of circumstances (such as leaving their house or being alone).

In addition to panic disorder, other diseases such as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), substance abuse disorders (SUD), depression, and physical issues can also cause panic episodes. They can be triggered or happen at any time. Panic attacks are more likely to occur if you smoke, consume excessive caffeine, alcohol, or are under a lot of stress. If you suspect a thyroid disorder or hyperparathyroidism, rule out heart disease, lung illness, drug usage, and dysautonomia before making a diagnosis. 

Defining Panic Attack

In order to diagnose panic disorder, panic episodes must be well-defined and precise. These are the areas in which the DSM-5’s revisions are noteworthy.

There were three types of panic attacks in the previous version (DSM-IV): situationally bound/cued, situationally predisposed, and unexpected/uncued panic episodes. Panic attack classification is simplified in the DSM-5 with just two categories: anticipated panic episodes and unexpected panic attacks.

The DSM-5 is a diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

Mental health problems in the United States are diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). As a result of the DSM, mental health practitioners are able to categorize and characterize every known mental disease.

This was the first major upgrade to DSM since 1994. As part of the fifth edition (DSM-5), a number of modifications were made, including an update to the diagnosis of panic disorder.

Symptoms of Panic Attack

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During panic attacks, people may have flashing eyesight or faintness, numbness throughout the body, and hard breathing. They may also lose bodily control. As a result of the body’s natural protection mechanisms, some people have tunnel vision. An impulse to leave or depart the area where the attack began may result from these sensations (a consequence of the “fight-or-flight response,” in which the hormone is causing this response is released in significant amounts). This response floods the body with hormones, particularly epinephrine (adrenaline), which aid it in defending against harm.

A panic attack might occur when the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) does not control the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Most common symptoms include trembling, dyspnea (shortness of breath), heart palpitations, chest pain (or tightness in the chest), hot flashes, cold flashes, burning sensations (especially in the face or neck), sweating, nausea, dizziness (or slight vertigo), light-headedness, heavy-headedness, hyperventilation, paresthesias (tingling sensations), sensations of choking or smothering, and difficulty swallowing. Panic attack sufferers perceive these sensations as a cause for concern because of their physical nature.

According to DSM-5, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms (the presence of fewer than four symptoms may be considered a limited-symptom panic attack):

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • A feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  • Chills or hot flushes

What is a Panic Attack Like?

Experiences of panic attacks aren’t the same for everybody. Since a Panic attack is an involuntary presentation of bodily fear, not everybody shows the fear similarly. 

There is a short account of what a panic attack is like in the post. (link)

But familiar and widely seen symptoms are:

  • a lack of breath
  • fear of losing control or Safety
  • Racing and pounding heartbeat
  • Pain in the chest
  • nausea
  • dizziness and vertigo

What causes panic attacks?

Panic episodes can be caused by biological, environmental, and social factors over a lengthy period of time. However, it can occur at any age. It’s more common in women, and it’s more common in those with higher IQs. OCD, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, Wilson’s disease, mitral valve prolapse, pheochromocytoma, and inner ear abnormalities are some of the biological reasons that can be identified. Panic episodes have been related to dysregulation of the norepinephrine pathway in the locus coeruleus, a brain stem region.

Panic attacks can also be triggered by short-term stresses, such as work deadlines. Loss of a loved one, emotional commitment to a romantic relationship, transitions in one’s life, and major life upheavals can all cause a panic attack in certain people. It’s been shown that those with an anxious temperament, an excessive need for reassurance, a cautious perspective of the world, and cumulative stress are more prone to panic attacks. Social changes may also play a role in adolescence. 

It is common for people to have panic attacks after being exposed to an object or scenario that they are afraid of.

Because of a past attack, certain events may trigger panic attacks. Psychologists believe that panic attacks might be caused by a person’s cognitive or behavioral susceptibility to particular conditions.

In addition to avoiding panic-provoking events or surroundings, anxious/negative self-talk (“what-if” thinking), false beliefs (“these symptoms are harmful and/or hazardous”), and repressed feelings, there are other factors that contribute to the maintenance of panic attacks.

How to tell if you are having a panic attack?

Following are the signs that you may be having a panic attack 

  • Irregular and/or rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • unsteady or fast-paced pulse (palpitations)
  • wet and cold trembling unable to breathe (hyperventilation)
  • The feeling of being choked
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • rings in your ears
  • It may feel as if your heart is pounding rapidly or erratically, or even as if you’re about to die.

Can a panic attack kill you?

In most cases, panic episodes last between 5 and 20 minutes. However, despite it seeming as if something is off, they are not hazardous and shouldn’t hurt you. 

A panic attack is harmless, but the symptoms such as pounding heartbeats and shortness of breath may bring the fear of having a fatal heart attack.

10 ways to deal with a panic attack?

1. Take a deep breath: When you feel yourself starting to panic, take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it for a few seconds before exhaling slowly. Repeat this several times until you start to feel calmer.

2. Distract yourself: If you can, try to distract yourself from the things that are making you anxious. This could mean watching TV, reading a book, or going for a walk.

3. Talk yourself down: Remind yourself that the feelings of panic will eventually pass and that you are not in any real danger. Talk out loud if it helps to ground you in the moment.

4. Reach out for help: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend or family member. Talking about your feelings can be very cathartic and can help to calm you down.

5. Picture yourself in a safe place: When you’re feeling panicked, try to visualize yourself in a safe and calming place. This could be anywhere from your childhood home to a deserted beach.

6. Practice progressive muscle relaxation: Tighten and then relax each muscle group in your body, starting with your feet and working your way up to your head. This will help you to feel more relaxed and calm.

7. Try yoga or meditation: Yoga and meditation can be great ways to learn how to control your breathing and focus on the present moment. This can help to calm your mind and body.

8. Eat healthily: Eating healthy foods can help to regulate your mood and keep your energy levels stable. Avoid caffeine and sugary snacks, which can make you feel more anxious.

9. Exercise: Exercise is a great way to release endorphins and improve your overall mood. A moderate amount of exercise is the key to keeping anxiety at bay.

10. Seek professional help: If your panic attacks are severe or are impacting your daily life, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. A therapist can teach you coping mechanisms and help you to understand the underlying causes of your panic attacks.

How to help someone when they are having a panic attack?

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When someone is having a panic attack, it can be difficult to know what to do to help them. However, there are some things that you can do to make them feel more comfortable and calm down.

First, try to remain calm yourself. When someone is panicking, it can be contagious and only make the situation worse. If you can stay calm, it will help the person who is having the attack to relax as well.

Next, try to reassure the person that they are safe and that the attack is only temporary. Remind them that they will eventually feel better and that there is nothing wrong with them. This can help reduce their anxiety and make them feel more at ease.

Finally, distraction can be a powerful tool when it comes to helping someone during a panic attack. Suggest that the person do something that will take their mind off of what is happening. This could be anything from watching TV to reading a book to taking a walk. Anything that can help get the person’s mind off of their panic attack will be beneficial.

If you are able to follow these steps, you can help make someone who is having a panic attack feel more comfortable and calm down. Just remember to remain patient and supportive throughout the process.

Proven ways to cope with panic attack

There are many proven ways to cope with a panic attack. Some of the most popular methods include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization.

Other coping strategies that can be effective for some people include mindfulness meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and exposure therapy. It’s important to find a strategy or combination of strategies that work best for you and stick with them.

If you’re struggling to cope with panic attacks, it’s important to seek professional help. A therapist can help you identify and address the underlying causes of your panic attacks, and offer support and guidance as you work to overcome them.

What do you need to know about panic attacks in children?

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For children, a panic attack can be terrifying and may cause them to feel out of control. The good news is that panic attacks are usually not harmful and will usually pass on their own. In most cases, it is important for parents to provide reassurance and support to their children during a panic attack.

There are a few things that parents can do to help prevent or manage a child’s panic attacks:

-Encourage your child to talk about how they’re feeling. This can help them understand and cope with their feelings.

-Help your child develop healthy coping mechanisms, such as relaxation techniques and journaling.

-Teach your child about anxiety and how to cope with it.

-Make sure your child gets enough sleep and exercise. Poor sleep and physical fatigue can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks.

-If your child’s panic attacks are severe or frequent, seek professional help. A therapist can help your child understand and manage their anxiety.

Panic attacks in children can be frightening and confusing. With the right support and treatment, however, they can be managed and overcome. For more information on panic attacks in children, speak to your doctor or therapist.

Useful breathing techniques for panic attacks

There are a few breathing techniques that can be very useful for panic attacks.

The first is deep breathing, which involves taking a deep breath in through your nose and then exhaling forcefully out your mouth. This helps to clear your mind and calm your body down.

Another technique is called square breathing, which involves counting to four as you inhale, holding your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and then repeating the process. This helps to focus your attention and calm your body.

Finally, the last technique is called the 4-7-8 breath, which involves inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds. This is a very calming breath that can help to quickly reduce the symptoms of a panic attack.

All of these techniques can be practiced regularly to help reduce the risk of panic attacks. It is also important to remember that it is ok to seek help from a professional if the attacks are becoming too frequent or too severe.


A therapist can help you to identify the root cause of your panic attacks and develop a treatment plan that will work best for you. Remember, you are not alone and there is help available.


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