Have you recently asked yourself, “What is a panic attack?” If so, you may have just had a high anxiety-filled experience that left you rattled, confused, terrified and embarrassed. It likely lasted several minutes, but the terror you felt in those moments is still hard to forget many days later.
If you can relate, it’s understandable you want to know why this happened. Because while a panic attack is incredibly troubling, a lack of knowledge only leaves you feeling much worse.
In light of this, let’s explore a bit more about panic attacks. Although knowing what took place won’t ‘cure’ this struggle, it will at least help you understand what you’re dealing with. And that can be an incredibly empowering feeling as you travel on your journey toward panic attack relief.
What is a Panic Attack?
According to Mayo Clinic, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.”
Panic attacks are somewhat similar to anxiety attacks with one significant difference. With both panic and anxiety attacks, you experience extreme physical and mental feelings of terror that last several minutes. Both episode types can also make it difficult for you to breathe or think.
However, the significant difference between the two is that an anxiety attack happens due to a discernable stressor or trigger. An anxiety attack could be brought on by public speaking stress, walking down a dark alley or driving on a crowded interstate. Virtually any other potentially fear-inducing event could also be a trigger.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
What triggers panic attacks, however, typically is a mystery to sufferers. When a cause-and-effect pattern can’t be determined for why a panic episode took place, this only adds to the anxiety of strugglers who fear another attack could happen without warning.
And unlike an anxiety attack, you often can’t simply avoid a trigger because you usually don’t know what that trigger is. It can be an understandably scary and seemingly impossible life obstacle.
Panic attacks can lead to debilitating avoidance measures since sufferers develop a strong urge to stay away from places and situations where they’ve experienced a panic attack in the past. For instance, panic attacks may happen in a crowded park and lead to the extreme fear or phobia of crowds.
The presence of the crowd may not have been a discernable trigger. However, just the fact that a large group of people happened to be an aspect of the previous terrifying experience can be enough to cause an ongoing and strong fear of crowds. The fear of embarrassment can be very strong with panic attacks too, leading to desires to isolate due to social anxiety.
Panic Attack or Panic Disorder?
Some individuals experience panic attacks only intermittently. Mental health professionals also are developing better strategies to measure the severity of any given panic attack. Not all panic attacks are equally troubling or severe.
When someone suffers panic attacks frequently and severely enough, this can lead to a panic disorder diagnosis. The presence of an occasional panic attack doesn’t necessarily merit such a diagnosis. There has to be an ongoing, consistent history.
Now that we’ve talked about some of the more general aspects of panic attacks, let’s go into greater detail about specific symptoms you may experience during a panic episode. If you’re struggling with anxiety attacks, you’ll likely relate to many of these indicators too. Again, the only difference is you’ll be able to identify a trigger for your intense anxiety episodes.
Common Panic Attack Symptoms
The signs of a panic attack (or anxiety attack) may include:
- Feeling of soon-occurring danger or doom
- Fear of death
- Fear that you’ll lose control
- Chest pain
- Shaking or trembling
- Excessive sweating
- Tightness in the throat or shortness of breath
- Hot flashes
- Pounding and rapid heart rate
- Abdominal cramps
- Sense of detachment from reality
- Feelings of tingling or numbness
- Dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness
Would You Like to Discover How to Stop Panic Attacks?
If so, you don’t have to settle for a life where you constantly feel held back by your anxiety. Feelings of stress and anxiety are a common problem, so you certainly aren’t alone in your struggle. We can provide panic attack help through evidence-based methods and explore how to get rid of panic attacks with you.
The OC Relationship Center can assist you through anxiety relief counseling. We also can help you if you’re struggling to cope with situational anxiety from the pandemic. Regardless of the nature of your anxiety and stress, our team looks forward to assisting you.
We offer anxiety counseling in Mission Viejo, CA and anxiety counseling in Newport Beach, CA, Inland Empire and the city of Orange. We also can provide counseling through teletherapy. Whether you need individual therapy, marriage counseling or relationship counseling, we’re here for you. Feel free to schedule an appointment with a SoCal Counseling Center anxiety therapist at your convenience.