Why Do I Get Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks affect a lot of people and they are more common than we realise. Some people have just one or two panic attacks and then don’t have any further episodes. But for others, it can be a frequent problem. It can be something that pops up on a weekly or even daily basis.

While the cause of panic attacks is obvious in some cases, other times they can happen for no reason. This can be frustrating if you’re struggling with them and don’t know why.

Panic attacks can be emotionally draining, and the physical symptoms can be exhausting too. A panic attack usually lasts between 5 and 20 minutes. But because they can be very intense, they can often make you feel very tired afterwards. Remember that while it feels scary at the time, panic attacks are considered harmless.

The Causes of Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are usually associated with a certain trigger. It might be getting nervous before taking an exam or going somewhere where there are big crowds. But they aren’t always connected to something specific. They can happen for no apparent reason.

When the body anticipates a threat or a danger, it develops a ‘fight or flight’ response. This is to prepare the body for getting out of harm’s way. But when a panic attack develops, the body goes into fight or flight mode, sometimes without a known cause. This can bring on some uncomfortable physical feelings such as,  a pounding heartbeat, breathlessness and feeling dizzy. It can also cause sweating, shaking and pain in the chest or stomach.

Doctors don’t know what causes people to get panic attacks. But stress and genetics can play a part in why some people have them regularly while others do not. People who have a family history of anxiety might be more likely to develop panic attacks. They are also more common in people who have mental health problems like anxiety or depression.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Panic can occur for different reasons. One reason why you might get them is because you are anxious about something that is due to happen. For example, when you have to give a presentation at school, or you have an exam that you are nervous about. This can make you anxious and tense, which can cause a panic attack.

Certain situations or environments might also make you worried or anxious. It might be because of a difficult experience you had there. Or because you had a panic attack there before and the memory makes it difficult to return. This can result in you feeling fearful of a panic attack happening again.  

You might worry that you won’t be able to get help in these situations. Or that it will be embarrassing. This can make you afraid and can increase the chance of a panic attack developing.


Stress can bring on panic attacks. A major life change, like moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone or switching to a new school, can make you stressed. This can trigger a panic attack. It’s your body’s way of protecting you from harm. The stress of trying to cope after losing someone close to you can also bring on panic attacks.

What can help?

Whilst doctors don’t know exactly what causes panic attacks,  you can reduce the risk of one happening by learning what your triggers are. This can help make sure your panic doesntt become worse or too regular. It is also a good idea to find things that help to calm you down and reduce your stress. Exercise can be good for this, as getting active has been proven to reduce stress and improve your health.

How are Panic Attacks Treated?

There are a few ways you can treat panic attacks. The most common ways are counselling and medication. There are a few different forms of counselling that work well in treating panic attacks.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is useful in helping you find ways of reducing negative thoughts. Talking to a therapist about your worries can also help. You can ask your doctor about the different types of counselling. Your doctor can also let you know about medication that can be very effective in preventing anxiety.

Change Your Routine

Sometimes, your school can help you cope by making changes to your normal routine. If school is something that triggers panic attacks for you, speak to a teacher or head of your year about how they can help you manage your symptoms.

Join a Support Group

There might be teenage peer support groups in your local area that can help you. These groups give you chance to talk to other people who are in a similar situation to you. Your doctor can give you more information if there are resources like this that you can go to. Or your school may have groups in place already. If there is nothing where you live, there are online versions of these support groups where you can chat to people over email or forums.

Stay Healthy

Maintaining a regular healthy routine is important for calming you down and reducing the risk of a panic attack occurring. Make sure you exercise regularly, stick to healthy meals and avoid drugs and alcohol as these can actually make your symptoms worse. It’s also a good idea to use techniques to help calm your body down when you get stressed or upset. These can include mindfulness techniques, meditation and writing down your thoughts and feelings or  journalling.

All these treatments have the same goal: to reduce your symptoms and encourage recovery. You might find that one of these options works for you or you might need to combine a few of them to get better.

But if you are experiencing panic attacks regularly, it’s worth speaking to your doctor. Panic attacks can sometimes be a symptom of another issue, like depression or anxiety. It’s a good idea to check if this is the main cause of the problem so you can treat it properly. But whatever the cause is, it is possible to recover and learn to manage panic attacks.


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