What is a Panic Attack?

A person who has a panic attack may experience symptoms such as overwhelming fear, rapid pulse, and difficulty breathing for a short period of time. These short and intense mental health events cab ne signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). However, people can have panic attacks without living with any underlying disorder.

Panic Attack Timing

The lead up to a panic attach can last for a few hours or even days. People may feel worried during this time, but they can still continue with their daily activities.

The most intense parts of panic attacks last for approximately ten minutes. However, some people have longer attacks. During the main part of a panic attack, a patient may not be able to function normally.

The letdown after a panic attack can be exhausting. People can feel the tension and fatigue for a full day after the panic attack. Furthermore, patients often feel worried about another attack for a long time after they have one.

Some people have one panic attack and never have another for the rest of their lives. Others have recurrent attacks, but they only occur during the worst times in life. People with panic disorder may have panic attacks frequently.

A Physical Reaction to an Internal Stimuli

When someone is in real physical danger, they feel certain physical reactions regardless of their mental health. For example, someone who is being mugged may have a rapid heartbeat, start sweating a lot, and feel terrified. These are healthy reactions to real-life stimuli.

When someone has a panic attack, they have the same physical reactions, but without the real-life stimulus. Their bodies react as though their lives are in danger, but there is nothing happening.

The lack of an external stimulus can make a person feel like they are losing touch with reality when they have a panic attack. They may fear that people will think they are crazy, which keeps them from getting the help they need.

Remember: panic attacks are relatively common and treatable.

Just how common are panic attacks? Studies show that 1 in 75 Americans will experience panic disorder at some point in their lives. In fact, one million people have panic attacks each month.

Panic Attack Symptoms

When someone is having a panic attack, they may:

  • Feel dizzy
  • Have chest pains
  • Find it hard to get a full breath
  • Feel out of control of their bodies
  • Experience weakness of the limbs
  • Have trouble seeing
  • Start sweating excessively
  • Feel tingling in the toes and fingers
  • Believe that they are in serious danger

Panic attacks symptoms look very similar to those of a heart attack. In fact, many people believe they are having heart attacks if they have never had panic attacks before. If you are not sure which type of problem you or a loved one is having, call 911.

How to Stop a Panic Attack

People who have panic attacks should seek help from mental health professionals. However, panic attacks can happen before a person can get seen, and they need tools to deal with the attack. Although methods work differently for each patient, there are a few common techniques that often calm people during panic attacks.

Focused Breathing

Close your eyes and think only of your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Try to slow your breathing down. If other thoughts come up, acknowledge their presence and then envision them leaving on your next exhale.

Name It

Call your panic attack out for what it is. By acknowledging that there is no real-life danger, you take the power from the anxiety.


Slow your racing thoughts by naming three physical feelings, sounds, sites, and smells in your immediate area.

Methodical Relaxing

Start with your toes and consciously relax every muscle in your body. This only of releasing the tension in each area.


Repeat something to yourself such as “This too shall pass,” or “I am safe.”

A professional counselor can help you devise personalized methods for dealing with panic attacks.

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