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Panic Attack Guide: What Is It, What Causes It, And Ways To Handle It

Panic Attack Guide: What Is It, What Causes It, And Ways To Handle It

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A panic attack is a period of intense, overwhelming, often temporarily disabling sense of extreme apprehension, panic, or psychological distress, typically of abrupt onset. It is accompanied by an explosion of physical symptoms that are uncomfortable and very similar to having heart attack symptoms, and emotional symptoms related to fear and terror, which are most of the time not in proportion to the true situation.

While you are experiencing a panic attack, which can also be described as an evolutionary body response; fight-or-flight response, the body releases large amounts of adrenaline into the bloodstream, which makes you feel like you are faint and you are detaching from this world. You find yourself trapped in your own head while floating somewhere outside, looking back at yourself, wondering what you are doing. Fighting for breath is your struggle and the floor feels unstable, even though it feels normal for everyone else. You feel like you are in a dream and you are screaming but you can’t make any noise. Your entire body is feeling everything and nothing, all at once.

panic attack

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash


Panic attack symptoms

Being an extreme wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity, there is a turmoil of feelings which overtake your body without warning. Symptoms that accompany a panic attack may vary and can be unrelated to what is happening around you. They can be triggered, even when there is no threat in front of you.

Several of the following symptoms are related to panic attack experiences:

– Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
– Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
– Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
– Feeling a loss of control
– Derealization (feelings of unreality)
– Depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
– Feeling of choking


To know more about panic attack symptoms and causes, read here: Everything You Need To Know About Panic Attack Symptoms And Causes 


Panic attack causes

Panic attacks can happen anytime, for whatever or no reason at all. It may occur when you are happy, relaxed or asleep, or it may happen when speaking in public or staying in a crowded room.

Sometimes, you experience recurrent panic attacks due to a specific reason, which may be related to a certain place or situation. So, when you are going through a similar situation which has triggered an attack before, you may feel endangered, having a fight-or-flight response, even if there is no danger to be encountered.

Other causes may be the biological vulnerability to panic attacks, genetics, major life transitions, severe stress, smoking and alcohol, hyperthyroidism, etc.

panic attack

Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash


Panic disorder

When a person experiences successive episodes of panic attacks, they develop a condition called “panic disorder”. Panic disorder is the most popular emotional disorder according to Casa Palmera. 1/3 of American adults experience a panic attack throughout a year, most of whom will never go through another.

To see if one meets the criteria for this condition, one of two behaviors should be monitored over a period of one month or more: A persistent fear of experiencing more attack episodes ahead, or a shift in one’s behavior to different permutations in order to avoid the places or situations associated with the attacks.

panic attack

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash


How to stop a panic attack?

 via GIPHY

To get a clear view of what you should be doing when you start to feel a panic attack and need to calm yourself down, here are a few techniques to use:

– Recognize you are having a panic attack
– Splash cold water on your face
– Take a deep breath
– Massage your scalp with lavender oil
– Listen to binaural beats or waves
– Practice mindfulness


When you should see a doctor?

If you have experienced a panic attack in the past, you can easier recognize when you are about to have another attack. Such past experiences can help you remember that they pass and cause no physical harm, despite the acute feelings they cause.

But, in case you are experiencing a panic attack for the first time, it is advisable to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Some symptoms that associate with panic attacks can also resemble symptoms of other serious health problems and can indicate heart attacks or strokes.

So, whenever you feel panic attack symptoms, but you are not sure what is causing those symptoms, seek medical help immediately.


Panic attacks and panic disorder treatment

The main treatment options for panic attacks and panic disorder are psychotherapy and medications. Depending on the severity of your state, you may be recommended one or both of the treatments.

But, if your condition is not an overwhelming one, check out below some of the effective self-help techniques to help you ease your symptoms:

– Learn that panic attacks are not life-threating
– Exercise regularly
– Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
– Get enough restful sleep
– Good nutritionYoga and meditation


Professional treatment

For some people, especially when not being treated, panic attacks may develop to a more severe condition called ‘panic disorder’ or if you are already diagnosed with panic disorder, it can become even worse.

The main form of professional treatment which is effective in tackling panic attacks (with agoraphobia or not) is therapy. The most helpful therapies include:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

3. Exposure Therapy


Learn more about each therapy here.



Medications are another form of panic attack or panic disorder treatment. They can temporarily control or reduce some of the symptoms, but they don’t really resolve the whole problem. This is why you should not use medications as the only treatment.

Some of the medications you can use when dealing with panic attacks or panic disorder include:

1. Antidepressants (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs))

2. Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan)


Keep one last thing in mind! Sometimes, it’s all in your imagination. So, a fulfilling life is within your reach!



Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The Content is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition.


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