If you’ve ever experienced symptoms of panic attack, you know how debilitating they can be. Not only are they incredibly scary and intense in the moment, but they can also leave you feeling completely drained and exhausted afterward.
It’s no wonder so many people with panic disorder live in constant fear, always worrying that the next attack is just around the corner.
And in case you don’t know what a panic attack is or how it presents, this article takes you through the common symptoms of a panic attack and what you can do to prevent future attacks.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety that can cause physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness. Panic attacks can happen out of the blue, or they may be triggered by a specific event or situation. Some people have occasional panic attacks, while others have them frequently.
A panic attack typically peaks within 10 minutes and can last anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes. However, the attacks can recur, lasting for several hours.
While panic attacks can be frightening and uncomfortable, it’s important to know that they are not dangerous. Panic attacks are not harmful to your physical health and do not cause any lasting damage.
However, if you have panic attacks regularly, you could be having a panic disorder. Panic disorder is a treatable condition, but if not properly addressed, it can significantly impact your quality of life. If you think you’re dealing with a panic disorder, it’s good to seek professional help.
Common Symptoms of Panic Attack
There are many different symptoms of panic attacks, and it is important to be aware of them to identify when you have one. Some of the most common symptoms include:
1. A sudden, unexpected feeling of fear or anxiety
When you experience a sudden, unexpected feeling of fear or anxiety, it may be a sign that you are having a panic attack.
Panic attacks can be very frightening and may cause you to feel like you are in danger, especially if you have never had a panic attack before. So it’s important to reassure yourself, take a deep breath and try to relax then address whatever issue could have caused it.
2. Heart palpitations
When you have a panic attack, your heart rate increases, and you may feel like your heart is pounding or racing. You may also feel like you have chest pain or that you can’t breathe. These symptoms are caused by the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands in response to the perceived threat.
If you have heart palpitations during a panic attack, it is important to remember that they are not harmful and that they will go away on their own. But if you have heart palpitations that last for a long time or come back frequently, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Try to focus on your breathing and on relaxing your body. You may want to sit or lie down and close your eyes.
Sweating is one of the body’s natural ways of cooling itself down, so it makes sense that it would be triggered during a panic attack.
When you experience a panic attack, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. This causes your heart to race and your breathing to become shallow and rapid. You may also start to sweat. So if you find that you are sweating excessively when there is no physical reason for it, it may be a sign that you are experiencing a panic attack.
Sweating can also be a symptom of other anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. If you’re frequently sweating for no apparent reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor to rule out any other potential causes.
4. Shaking or trembling
Shaking or trembling is another common symptom some people may experience during a panic attack.
This can be extremely distressing, especially if you don’t know what’s happening to you. However, it’s important to remember that shaking is a completely natural response to feeling overwhelmed or panicked.
If you’re shaking during a panic attack, try to focus on your breath and slow down your breathing. This will help to calm your body and ease your symptoms.
5. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Dizziness or lightheadedness could represent different things, but they could also signify panic.
This is because when you’re anxious or stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, resulting in the symptoms. If you’re concerned about your symptoms or if they last for too long, it’s always best to speak to a doctor.
6. Nausea or stomach pain
If you’re experiencing nausea or stomach pain along with other symptoms of a panic attack, it’s important to remember that these symptoms are not indicative of any serious physical condition. They are simply another manifestation of the panic response.
Again, if they persist, you may want to see a doctor to rule out any other causes.
7. Fear of losing control or going crazy
A panic attack may make you feel like you’re losing control of yourself and your surroundings. Your heart may race, you may feel short of breath, and you may even feel like you’re going to pass out.
These feelings can be so overwhelming that you may start to worry about having another panic attack.
People with panic disorder often live in fear of having another panic attack. They may avoid situations that they think could trigger an attack or start to worry about when and where the next one will strike. This can lead to significant interference in their everyday lives.
8. Feelings of choking
When you have a panic attack, it can sometimes feel like you are choking. This is because the muscles in your throat constrict and make it difficult to breathe. The constriction of your throat muscles can also cause a sensation of tightness or pressure in your chest, which can be mistaken for a heart attack.
Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack
When it comes to panic attacks and anxiety attacks, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. After all, both can cause similar symptoms, including racing heart, shortness of breath, and palpitations.
So how can you tell the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?
One key difference is that panic attacks usually come on suddenly and without warning, while anxiety attacks tend to build up gradually over time.
Panic attacks also tend to peak within 10 minutes or so, while anxiety attacks can last for much longer.
Another difference is that people who have panic attacks often feel like they’re losing control, whereas people with anxiety attacks may not feel that way.
Panic attacks also tend to be more intense and debilitating than anxiety attacks.
If you’re not sure whether you’re having a panic attack or an anxiety attack, it’s important to seek medical help. A doctor can give you a proper diagnosis and rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
How to prevent panic attacks
If you’re prone to panic attacks, there are several things you can do to prevent them.
1. Identify your triggers and avoid them if possible
What situations, activities, places, people, etc., trigger your panic attacks? Once you know your triggers, you can avoid them or be prepared for them.
If you cannot avoid a trigger, try to prepare yourself mentally for the possibility of a panic attack and reassure yourself that all will be well. This can help you to stay calm and focused if an attack does occur.
2. Develop a relaxation response
This is a physiological response that is the opposite of the stress response. When you feel like you’re begining to panic, activate your relaxation response by doing things like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
3. Challenge negative thinking.
One of the main causes of panic attacks is negative thinking patterns. When you catch yourself thinking something negative about a situation, stop and challenge that thought. For example, “I can’t do this” can be changed to “I can do this” or “This isn’t as bad as I think it is.”
4. Get adequate rest
We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. But did you know that getting enough rest can also help prevent panic attacks?
When well-rested, our bodies are better able to cope with stress. This means we’re less likely to feel anxious or overwhelmed when faced with a challenging situation.
If you’re prone to panic attacks, make sure to get plenty of rest each night. That’s about 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Also, consider setting a regular sleep schedule and sticking to it as much as possible.
5. Talk to someone you trust about your panic attacks
Just knowing that someone else understands what you’re going through can be a huge relief. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, consider seeking out professional help. A therapist can provide support and guidance as you work on managing your panic attacks.
6. Expose yourself to your fears
It may seem counterintuitive, but exposing yourself to what you fear can help prevent panic attacks.
This is because when you face your fears, you’re teaching your brain that there’s nothing to be afraid of. This process is called “exposure therapy,” and it’s a proven treatment for anxiety disorders.
Exposure therapy works by gradually exposing you to what you’re afraid of in a safe and controlled environment.
For example, if you’re afraid of heights, your therapist might start by having you stand on a step stool.
As you get used to this, they’ll gradually increase the height until you’re comfortable standing on a higher platform. The key to exposure therapy is to start small and work your way up. It’s also important to do it in a safe environment where you can’t get hurt.
With time and practice, you’ll be able to face your fears head-on and prevent panic attacks from happening.
7. Manage stress
Stress is a major trigger for panic attacks, so it’s important to find ways to manage it in your daily life. This may involve making lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep.
You may also need to learn some stress management techniques like deep breathing or meditation. If you’re struggling to manage your stress on your own, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you develop a plan to get your stress under control.
8. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause anxiety and panic in some people. Taking a caffeine-containing beverage will cause a rapid heart rate and increase anxiety, both of which can trigger a panic attack.
So, avoiding caffeine is important if you are prone to panic attacks. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda, and chocolate. Be sure to read labels carefully, so you know what you’re consuming.
While it may be difficult for some people to completely eliminate caffeine from their diet, cutting back on it can help reduce your risk of a panic attack.
9. Exercise regularly
Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting and anxiety-reducing effects. A regular exercise routine can also help you manage stress better. When you feel more relaxed and less stressed, you are less likely to have a panic attack.
If you’re prone to panic attacks, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms so you can take steps to prevent them.
Common symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness.
If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms of a panic attack, there are many things you can do, but the most important one is to identify your triggers and work on correcting them.
Other factors that can boost your effort include getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, avoiding stimulants like caffeine, and facing your fears.
If you’re still having trouble managing your attacks, or if they occur regularly, you may want to speak to a professional.
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