What Are Panic Attacks? Symptoms And Treatments Explained

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/10/2020

If you have ever heard of someone having a panic attack, you may wonder what that means. A panic attack is a period of immense fear and dread that people feel, in which the reason for it is not easily explained. Take a look at this article for more information on symptoms of panic attacks and information on treatments for them.

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What Is A Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a sudden attack that a person experiences, which causes them to feel scared and, in some cases, they may also feel like they have a heart attack. These attacks can cause people who experience panic attacks to be fearful when the next one occurs. They generally only last 10 minutes or less, but since they can be quite intense, it can feel like they last much longer.

Symptoms Of Panic Attack

Here are panic attack symptoms that you should be aware of.

  • Pain in the chest
  • Trouble breathing
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Feeling faint
  • Having an out of body experience
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Feeling afraid
  • Upset stomach
  • Being too hot or cold

If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms and think you have a panic attack, you can talk to your doctor for more information. You can also take this panic attack test to see how you can be helped with this condition.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

There is no definitive cause for panic attacks, but there are a few things that may contribute to someone experiencing panic attacks.

One possible cause is a family connection. If a person in your family experiences panic attacks, there is a greater chance that you will.

Another cause is stress. When someone is under a great amount of stress, they may have a panic attack, especially if they are exposed to stress quite often, or the things that are causing stress don’t go away.

Research suggests that panic attacks may occur when someone has another condition, whether it is a physical condition or a mental condition. This was discussed in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care and Archive of Internal Medicine. This could mean that poor quality of life may be a cause of panic attacks.

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It is important to point out that experiencing a panic attack does not necessarily mean that you have a mental condition. It is fine to have one or two panic attacks in your life, but if you have them frequently or they are causing you to avoid certain people, places, or situations, you should seek treatment for panic attacks. You may be experiencing the panic disorder, which often requires treatment for symptoms to lessen.

Panic Disorder

If a person experiences panic attacks frequently, they are said to have panic disorder. This disorder is characterized by panic attacks and can greatly change a person’s routine.

Since panic attacks are hard to predict and no one can be sure when the next one will occur, someone with panic disorder may not be able to have a job, leave their house, or keep up with social relationships.

Treatments

Panic attacks and panic disorder can be treated in a few different ways. One way is by utilizing psychotherapy. This approach involves meeting with a therapist, who may have many different methods available, which can help someone learn how to think differently about the things happening to them. This may keep certain aspects of panic attacks at bay when these techniques are utilized over time and under mental health professional's supervision. For example, they may be able to help you learn how to stay in the moment instead of feeling out of sorts at the first signs of a panic attack. If you can prevent yourself from feeling detached, this may keep a panic attack from feeling as severe as it felt in the past, which is a positive thing. Once panic attacks don’t have the same severity, they may not cause as much fear, and you can feel like you are in better control of your life.

Another possible treatment option is medication. In some cases, a person may require medicines to change some of their symptoms. You can discuss this with your doctor to determine if this is something you would like to try.

Lifestyle Changes

Along with these treatment options, there are things you can do to change your lifestyle. These may play a role in helping someone get over symptoms of panic attacks, where they may not happen as frequently. Here is a look at some of these simple lifestyle changes you can employ.

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Improve Your Diet

One of the first things you should adopt is a healthy and balanced diet when it comes to staying healthy. You can check out medically reviewed articles online to see healthy meal plans, and they may be able to help you lessen anxiety and stress. These meal plans may be a good thing to keep in mind as you decide how you will structure your diet.

Keep Up With Your Treatment

To get the most benefit from your treatment program, you need to stick with it. Every person who experiences panic attacks or panic disorder is different, so there is no definite date for going away or subside. In some cases, people may feel better within a few months or years, and others may not feel better even after many treatment years. However, to have the best chance of seeing a change in your panic attack symptoms, you will need to stick with treatment and do what your doctor asks you to do. This means cooperating with them and being honest about what is working for you and what isn’t. If you feel that something needs to change during the course of your treatment, speak up about it instead of avoiding your psychiatrist or not taking the medicine they prescribed to you.

Exercise

Another positive change you can make is exercising. This is a great thing for your health, but it also gets your body moving. When you are exercising or working out, you generally will not have time to worry about certain things. Burning calories may be able to help you burn some of your excess energy or work through some of the things that are troubling you.

Keep Your Friends Close

Although the nature of panic attacks may have you isolating yourself and staying away from friends and family, try to reach out to them when you can. People you trust and care about can be a valuable support system to you when you need them. They are people you can lean on, and they can offer you advice or a different perspective on a subject. This can be a good thing and may be able to help you find solutions to problems that you wouldn’t have been able to figure out otherwise.

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Get Some Sleep

You should also try your best to get the recommended amount of sleep each night. Getting the sleep that your body needs may allow you to process your stress better, especially after you start your treatment plan. It can also help you keep your mood more stable. Besides that, sleeping allows your body to rest so that all your systems work properly.

Outlook For Panic Attacks 

Getting treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder is something you should do if you feel that you are experiencing these conditions. You may not be able to face these attacks alone, and there is help out there for you. Keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different, so while there is no cure for panic disorder, this doesn’t mean that panic disorder symptoms can’t be lessened or go away completely. For some, panic attacks will become less frequent, and in others, they may subside. However, you will have to work through your treatment to see how your panic attacks will behave. Don’t forget to keep up with your treatment, even when you feel discouraged that it isn’t working quickly enough, since a psychiatrist will be able to help you learn how to process your feelings in a way that can make panic attacks seem less frightening. This may lead to you being able to avoid fewer places and situations, allowing you to live your life the way you want to. Keep an open mind and know that you can benefit from therapy once you reach out for it.