A panic attack is the body’s way of responding to fear. It’s an exaggeration of the feeling your body gets to danger or stress. Some people describe a panic attack as an intense feeling of extreme nervousness. They can come on without warning.
These brief episodes of fear or anxiety often happen when there is no actual danger present. Whether you’ve experienced a panic attack before or not, it can be extremely scary. And having panic attacks frequently can be exhausting and disruptive to your life.
There are various physical symptoms that you can experience when you’re having a panic attack. These symptoms can vary from person to person, and you might have just one or a few of them at a time. People experience panic attacks differently. They might have a mild episode, or it could be very severe and feel intense. A lot of people have experienced panic attacks at least once in their life.
What are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?
The symptoms of a panic attack can build quickly. They can include:
- A pounding or racing heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy or like you’re going to faint
- Feeling very hot or cold
- Sweating or shaking
- Teeth chattering
- Feeling sick
- A pain in your stomach or chest
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling suffocated
Some people describe a panic attack as feeling like they are having a heart attack or like they are losing control of their body. When a panic attack is intense, it can be very frightening. There are many reasons why an attack might happen. You might be nervous about an event, like giving a presentation at school. Or it might be pressures from your life that are making you anxious, like bullying.
What Happens in the Body?
Everyone has a natural ‘fight or flight’ response to danger or threats. It’s your nervous system protecting you from what it thinks is going to hurt you. The hormone adrenalin floods your body and puts it on high alert. This makes your heartbeat speed up and your breathing quickens to get more oxygen into the body. These changes in the body happen in seconds and they are supposed to give your body energy so you can confront the danger or quickly get out of harm’s way. But with a random panic attack, your body does this without a reason.
Getting Through a Panic Attack
When you’re having a panic attack, it can feel like your whole body is out of your control. But it is possible to get through a panic attack. There are different techniques you can use to your body return to normal.
Control Your Breathing
The first tip for getting through a panic attack is to focus on your breathing. Your breathing can become fast and out of control during a panic attack. This can cause your heartrate to speed up and make you feel dizzy. Getting a grasp on your breathing is an important step of getting through a panic attack.
To start, breathe in slowly through your nose over the course of a few seconds. Then breathe out slowly and repeat. Try to pause for around three seconds between each breath to slow it down.
Your muscles are also likely to tense up during a panic attack. So, the next step is getting your body to relax. Pay attention to each muscle in your body and slowly relax it as you do your deep breathing. Remind yourself that the panic attack won’t last forever and that it is just temporary. You can try to focus on an object in the room to bring your attention back to the present moment, like a plant or a clock. Consider the shape of it and the colours as you try to relax.
Face Your Fears
One of the best ways to control your panic attacks is to face your fears. Understanding what causes your panic attacks can help you prevent yourself from having attacks in the future. Because having a panic attack is a scary experience, it can sometimes cause people to avoid things that might bring on an attack. They might stop doing things they used to enjoy or choose to do things that make them feel safer.
But this can reinforce your fear and cause a panic disorder. It’s better to face your fears head on, even if it’s difficult. If you are having panic attacks regularly, it can help to speak to your doctor or a therapist who can help you cope with your emotions.
Should You See a Doctor for Panic Attacks?
A panic attack can be scary in the moment, but they are usually harmless. If you are getting panic attacks regularly, it could be a sign of a different problem like anxiety. It can help to speak to your doctor if you’re worried about your panic attacks. They can help to rule out any other health issues.
You might also find it helpful to speak to a therapist. There are treatments for panic attack disorders, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can help you identify causes for your attacks. This might help prevent panic attacks from happening to you in the future.
Recognising when you’re having a panic attack can help reduce the fear that can come with them. It can help you feel more in control because you know what is happening when an attack happens.
The most important things to remember is that the fight or flight response is harmless and won’t hurt you. Even though it feels scary, panic attacks are common, and they are not a sign of weakness. You should also remember that recovery is very common and there are ways to beat panic attacks.