- Understanding anxiety – for friends & family
- How useful was this page?
- Panic attack and panic disorder: What you need to know
- What is panic disorder?
- Explaining Your Panic Disorder to Friends and Family
- What You Should Know If You Love Someone Who Has Panic Attacks
- 9 People Describe What It Feels to Have a Panic Attack
Understanding anxiety – for friends & family
Fear is an emotion we have in response to real or perceived threat, whereas anxiety is the anticipation of a future threat. It is common to experience anxiety when faced with stressful situations. This is normal and it’s our body’s way of preparing us to act in difficult situations. Anxiety can actually help us perform better by helping us feel alert and motivated.
People experiencing an anxiety disorder find that their anxiety gets in the way of their daily life and stops them from achieving their full potential. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems experienced by young people.
They are characterised by excessive fear and related difficulties that happen a lot of the time, feel overwhelming and interfere with daily life. Different situations or objects can cause different types of anxiety disorder, but they can all be treated.
- a racing heart
- faster breathing
- feeling tense or having aches (especially neck, shoulders and back)
- sweating or feeling dizzy
- feeling sick in the stomach.
- persistent worrying and excessive fears
- being unable to control the worries
- being unable to relax
- avoiding challenging situations
- being socially isolated or withdrawn
- having trouble concentrating and paying attention
- feeling annoyed, irritated or restless
- poor sleep
- problems with work, social or family life
- panic attacks.
Panic attacks can occur as part of any anxiety disorder but not everyone with anxiety problems will experience them.
During a panic attack, a person may be suddenly overcome by strong fear and physical symptoms of anxiety, a pounding heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, shaking, feeling dizzy or feeling sick.
Panic attacks are usually short (about 10 minutes) and often feel overwhelming.
Someone experiencing a panic attack might feel they’re having a heart attack or an asthma attack, or they might feel they’re losing control.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. Some common anxiety disorders are:
- Generalised anxiety: Excessive worry about a variety of things, such as work or school performance. Someone experiencing generalised anxiety disorder may feel that their worries are control, feel tense and nervous most of the time, have trouble sleeping or find it hard to concentrate.
- Social anxiety: Intense anxiety in social situations due to fear of embarrassment or judgment by others. This often leads a person to avoid social situations, such as talking in class, going to parties, being the centre of attention or meeting new people.
- Separation anxiety: Intense anxiety about being away from loved ones, such as parents or siblings, or excessive worry about them being hurt.
- Agoraphobia: Intense anxiety about using public transport, being in open spaces, being in enclosed spaces, being in a crowd or being alone outside of home.
- Panic disorder: This is when a person has lots of panic attacks and experiences ongoing fears about having another panic attack.
- Specific phobias: Intense fear of a particular situation or object ( small spaces or spiders) that leads a person to avoid the situation or object.
If you suspect your young person may be experiencing anxiety, it is important to let them know that you are aware of the changes you have noticed in them. Let them know that you are concerned and give them the opportunity to talk to you about it.
Take the time to listen to them and to understand their experiences. Check that you have understood them by asking questions. Avoid telling them to ‘just relax’ or ‘calm down’ – it’s not that easy. Reassure the young person they are not alone and let them know they can talk to you about what’s going on
Gently support and encourage them to face the situations or objects that make them anxious in their own time.
Avoidance can perpetuate the anxiety because the young person never has an opportunity to learn that what they are afraid of may not happen or be as bad as they think.
Encourage them to try some of our ways to overcome anxiety, and try to model healthy ways of managing your own anxiety and share these with your young person, as appropriate.
If the young person denies there is a problem, try to be patient. Some people need time or space before they feel ready to accept help. Be honest about why you are worried and tell them that you care for them.
If they are not ready to talk, let them know you’d to check in again soon if you're still concerned.
Ensure the young person knows you love and care for them and that they can speak to you anytime about how they’re feeling (it’s always helpful to remind people you love them).
Learning more about anxiety will help you to understanding what your young person is going though and how you can help you to support them.
Many young people experiencing an anxiety disorder may also experience symptoms of depression. Some young people may also drink alcohol or take drugs to ease the discomfort or make them feel more confident. But relying on alcohol or drugs can make things much worse in the long run and cause long-term physical and mental health problems.
If your young person doesn’t seem to be improving over time, or if things seem to be getting worse, encourage them to seek professional help.
You could support them to visit their local doctor or their nearest headspace centre, or contact eheadspace for online and phone support.
If they are attending school or university, they may also be able to access a student counselling or wellbeing service.
An important part of professional support is often psychological therapy. This might involve helping the young person to understand their experiences of anxiety and to change unhelpful thinking and behaviour patterns. Medications can also helpful if needed.
The good news is that most young people with anxiety respond well to treatment. While their anxiety may still come and go from time to time, with support your young person can get back to enjoying life again. Remember, getting support and treatment early can make a big difference when dealing with anxiety, and help to prevent further episodes of anxiety in future.
Supporting a young person experiencing anxiety can be challenging. It is important that you take care of yourself, while being a supportive carer. Being at your best means that you can offer greater patience and a more considered approach as to how you can help others.
Ensure that you take care of your own physical and mental health by getting good sleep, doing regular exercise, having a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption and keeping up enjoyable and relaxing activities. Looking after yourself in these ways will also encourage your young person to do the same.
Remember, professional support is available for both you and your young person. For more advice and guidance on how you can best support your young person, visit the websites below or contact eheadspace and talk to one of our family and friends specialists.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 26 June 2017
Good mental health allows young people to deal with the changes and challenges life throws at them and live their lives in a positive and meaningful way. When things get tough, it can help to access the right support and talk to someone who understands what young people go through
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Panic attack and panic disorder: What you need to know
A panic attack happens because of heightened anxiety. Anyone can have a panic attack, but it is also a hallmark symptom of panic disorder. It can lead to a rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, sweating, shaking, and other symptoms.
In people who do not have an anxiety disorder, a panic attack can happen if an event triggers anxiety.
A panic attack and panic disorder can affect anyone of any ethnic background, but it is more common among women than men.
Share on PinterestPanic can lead to lightheadedness.
A panic attack often stems from a direct trigger or incident, but they can also begin suddenly and randomly with no obvious cause. They are believed to come from an evolutionary response to danger.
Having a panic attack is said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences in a person’s life.
The American Psychological Association (APA), notes that an attack may only last for 15 seconds, but symptoms can to continue for about 30 minutes or longer, and sometimes for hours.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack involves at least four of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain and discomfort
- Chills or feeling unusually hot
- Derealization, or feeling detached
- Dizziness and feeling lightheaded
- Experiencing a strong, sudden fear of dying
- Fear of losing control or feeling as if a person is “going crazy”
- Feelings of choking
- Heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, or rapid heart rate
- Nausea and stomach upset
- Numbness or tingling
- Shaking or trembling
- Trouble breathing, feeling as if a person is smothering
Panic attacks can also be associated with agoraphobia, a fear of places from which the individual considers to be dangerous, or difficult to escape from. People who have experienced a panic attack often say after that they felt trapped.
Sometimes the symptoms associated with a panic attack can mirror other medical conditions. Examples of these include lung disorders, heart conditions, or thyroid problems.
Sometimes a person may seek emergency medical attention for a heart attack, yet anxiety is the true cause. Panic attacks are highly treatable and don’t mean that a person is a hypochondriac or mentally ill.
What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder is an underlying medical condition, and panic attacks are a symptoms. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 6 million Americans have a panic disorder.
Women are most ly to experience the condition and it most commonly occurs when a person in early adulthood, from ages 18 to 25 years.
The condition occurs when a person has experienced multiple panic attacks and also lives in fear of having another panic attack. While everyone can experience a panic attack in their lifetime, those with a panic disorder experience recurrent attacks.
The fear they may experience another attack can cause them to withdraw from friends and family. They may fear going outside or in public places. A panic disorder can severely affect a person’s quality of life and should be treated.
Experts say that anxiety and panic, to a certain extent, are a necessary part of our survival. However, when levels become so high that they undermine regular thought processes, a person naturally becomes afraid.
When the brain receives a surge of nervous signals designed to warn of imminent danger, the amygdala, a part of the brain, is activated. The amygdala controls a person’s anxious response.
Some people’s amygdala reacts with anxiety when there is no imminent danger, making it much more ly that they will experience high anxiety and panic attacks.
When a person is given the signal to react with anxiety, they produce adrenaline, also known as epinephrine.
Adrenaline is released by the adrenal glands. Some people call adrenaline the “fright or flight” hormone. A release of adrenaline into the system can raise the heartbeat, cause sweating, churn the stomach, and provoke irregular breathing. These are all characteristics of a panic attack.
If there is no imminent danger and the system is loaded with adrenaline, that hormone will not be used up for running away. The buildup can cause a panic attack.
A number of risk factors can increase the lihood a person will have panic attacks and panic disorder.
Genetics may play a role. If a person has a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with panic disorder, they may be more ly to have a panic attack.
In addition to family history, experiencing major stress or life change can trigger increased anxiety and panic attacks.
Examples include a recent loss of a loved one or separation of marriage. Having a history of physical or sexual abuse may also increase a person’s lihood of having a panic disorder.
Habits such as smoking or drinking excessive amounts of caffeine are also risk factors associated with panic disorder. Use of drugs?
Panic attacks can also occur alongside conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sometimes, however, there appears to be no particular incident or family history to trigger an attack. They can occur without warning.
The APA publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The manual lists criteria to help a doctor diagnose mental health disorders, such as depression or panic disorder, and it aims to provide a standard for diagnosis across the country.
The criteria for diagnosing a panic disorder include:
- Experiencing frequent and unexpected panic attacks
- Having at least one month of ongoing fear of having a panic attack and its accompanying symptoms, such as losing control. A person may significantly change his or her behavior for fear of having a panic attack in public
- Having panic attacks that are not attributable to taking certain medicines or having another mental health disorder, such as social phobia
A person who has these symptoms is ly to have a panic disorder.
The most common treatments for panic disorder are medications and psychotherapy sessions.
Known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy involves talking with a licensed mental health professional to identify potential triggers of a panic attack in with the aim of overcoming fears.
Medications may also help to correct imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain that can lead to severe anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as hydrochloride (Effexor XR)
Sometimes one medication will work for one person with anxiety disorder, but not another. A person should always discuss potential benefits and side effects.
A doctor may also prescribe medicines known as beta blockers, which keep a person’s heart rate from becoming too rapid and contributing to further anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
In addition to these medical treatments for panic disorder, some lifestyle changes can help a person make to reduce the incidence of panic attacks and panic disorder.
- Avoiding substances known to contribute to panic disorders, including caffeine, smoking, or using recreational drugs
- Getting enough sleep every night
- Joining a support group for those who experience regular panic attacks
- Taking steps to reduce stress in one’s life, such as practicing yoga, engaging in deep breathing, or engaging in regular physical activity
If left untreated, a panic disorder can begin to impact many aspects of a person’s life.
Complications can include:
- Abusing alcohol or other substances as a way to “escape” the concerns of daily life
- Developing phobias, such as agoraphobia
- Experiencing financial problems
- Increased risk of suicidal thoughts
- Refraining from social situations
- Requiring frequent medical care due to health concerns
Seeking medical treatment for panic disorder can help to prevent these complications.
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Explaining Your Panic Disorder to Friends and Family
Sam Edwards / Getty Images
If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, you may be all too familiar with the impact your condition can have on your relationships. It can be difficult for loved ones to understand your experience.
For example, friends and family may not acknowledge that you have a real mental health disorder. Some loved ones may not realize how difficult it can be to deal with panic attacks.
Others may have false assumptions about anxiety disorders in general.
Considering the many misunderstandings and myths about panic disorder, it can be difficult for your family and friends to understand your condition. They may have many questions that are hard to answer.
But telling others about your panic disorder does not always have to be such a challenge. Here you will find simple ways to answer common questions that your loved ones may have about panic disorder.
Use these explanations to help you get the conversation going when discussing your condition with family and friends.
Explain that panic disorder is a real and diagnosable type of mental health condition known as an anxiety disorder. The main symptom of panic disorder is panic attacks.
Panic attacks involve many physical and emotional symptoms. Tell your loved ones how panic attacks feel.
“When I have a panic attack, I get chest pain, my heart races, I sweat a lot, and I feel afraid.”
“Sometimes when I have a panic attack, I feel as though I am having a heart attack or dying. Please get emergency medical help if I ever ask for it because I would rather be safe than ignore a potentially serious issue.”
“I have unexpected panic attacks, meaning that I can have a panic attack at any time without notice; there is not any type of situation that causes them.”
“I have expected panic attacks whenever I ________ (drive, fly in an airplane, leave my home, or whatever type of situation often causes you to have a panic attack).”
“When I have a panic attack, it may appear that I am overreacting, but I’m not. I would not choose to feel that way. Please do not try to force me into feared situations.”
Explain that panic disorder is diagnosed as occurring with or without agoraphobia. If you experience agoraphobia, describe what that means for you.
“I have panic disorder with agoraphobia. This means that I have fears of having panic attacks in certain situations.” (Let them know what situations cause you the fear, such as driving or being in large crowds).
Your loved ones may be unfamiliar with treatment options. Share with them what you've learned and, if you're comfortable, share the treatment plan you've decided upon for yourself.
“There are several treatment options for panic disorder. I have decided to ____________ (go to therapy, take medication, or both).”
“I am getting professional help and over time I may be more comfortable in feared situations.”
“Antidepressants can also be used to treat panic disorder. My doctor has prescribed ________ for me, which helps me manage my panic and anxiety symptoms.”
“Sedatives can help reduce the severity of my anxiety and panic attacks. My doctor has prescribed _______, an anti-anxiety medication that I take for panic attacks.”
- If there is something you are uncertain about (or prefer not to talk about), it is okay to let a loved one know that you would rather not discuss it.
- Be careful about with whom you choose to discuss your condition; some people may not be as trustworthy and understanding as others.
- Be willing to share additional resources about panic disorder with your family and friends. Consider emailing or printing out articles that address their questions directly.
Being prepared with answers to common questions can help you feel more confident when addressing your loved ones about your condition. It's also important to stay up-to-date and continue to learn more about panic disorder symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for yourself.
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Hoppe LJ, Ipser J, Gorman JM, Stein DJ. Panic disorder. Handb Clin Neurol. 2012;106:363-374. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-52002-9.00020-6
Hamm AO, Richter J, Pané-farré CA. When the threat comes from inside the body: a neuroscience based learning perspective of the etiology of panic disorder. Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2014;32(1):79-93. doi:10.3233/RNN-139011
Kolek A, Prasko J, Vanek J, Kantor K, Holubova M, Slepecky M, et al. Severity of panic disorder, adverse events in childhood, dissociation, self-stigma and comorbid personality disorders Part 1: Relationships between clinical, psychosocial and demographic factors in pharmacoresistant panic disorder patients. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2019 Dec;40(5):233-246.
Cisler JM. Semantic Networks and Mechanisms of Exposure Therapy: Implications for the Treatment of Panic Disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2020;177(3):197-199. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.20010008
Zhang B, Wang C, Cui L, et al. Short-Term Efficacy and Tolerability of Paroxetine Versus Placebo for Panic Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Front Pharmacol. 2020;11:275. doi:10.3389/fphar.2020.00275
- Oh S, Haha TH, Kim H, Lee H, Myung W. Emergency department visits for panic attacks and ambient temperature: A time-stratified case-crossover analysis. Depress Anxiety. 2020; doi:10.1002/da.23019
- Shuja KH, Aqeel M, Jaffar A, Ahmed A. COVID-19 Pandemic and Impending Global Mental Health Implications. Psychiatr Danub. 2020;32(1):32-35. doi:10.24869/psyd.2020.32
What You Should Know If You Love Someone Who Has Panic Attacks
Millions of American adults experience panic attacks, a debilitating side effect of some mental health conditions. The attacks can cause labored breathing, extreme anxiety and distress, heart palpitations and more.
Loved ones can play an integral role in helping someone who is going through an episode.
Yet, if you don’t understand what it’s to experience the issue, it can be hard to lend a hand or even feel compassion for someone dealing with it.
That’s where education can come in. HuffPost asked readers to share their experiences with panic attacks and what they wished everyone knew about them, whether it be correcting inaccurate stereotypes or describing the symptoms that occur.
Below are a few things friends, family and partners should keep in mind.
“It isn’t a show and it is not for attention. Believe me, I would nothing more than to hide it from the people I love because it is embarrassing. So when it happens, rather than condemning me, please just hold me, listen to me, talk me through it. Don’t accuse me of faking it for attention. That usually sends me into an even worse attack.” ― Katie Burton via email
“Whenever I had a panic attack, my family kept telling me to just ‘relax.’ Telling someone who is in a panic attack to just relax is basically useless. The best advice I can give is to just listen to the person having the panic attack on what his or her needs are and let the panic attack pass unless it gets control.” ― Meghan Reid via email
“It felt the room/ceiling was caving in on me. It made me feel small next to the room size. I couldn’t breathe or move. It continued until my 30s when I finally got help and learned coping skills with therapy. The worse part is sometimes it’s still too much. My husband is very understanding so I am lucky to have him.” ― Nicole Farley via email
Telling someone having a panic attack to “just relax” doesn't help.
“They are much greater than feelings of anxiety. Panic attacks feel impending death and doom. I feel I’m a second away from a stroke when they occur.” ― Kelly Kathleen via
“After I have a panic attack, I can’t do anything. My body is completely drained of energy. My most recent series of panic attacks kept me from doing the most basic of things. I didn’t do laundry for almost 3 months. And not being able to do basic things would give me more anxiety causing it to be a never-ending cycle.” ― Leah Miller via
“I wish my family could understand what my panic attacks feel . Not because I ever want anyone to suffer the way that I do, but because then they might not be hurt when I don’t respond to them the way they want or expect.” ― Kelsey Holmberg via email
“I would wish my loved ones to stop trying to ‘fix’ the attack, and quietly empathize and be there to keep me safe.” ― James Wong via
“I have been extremely lucky in that my fiancé learned early on that I need him to make himself available, but to let me come to him when I’m ready. He doesn’t push me to get it over with, he doesn’t tell me to ‘just calm down,’ and he doesn’t expect me to have a reason as to what’s wrong with me and why I’m so upset.” ― Kelsey Holmberg via email
You can help someone who experiences panic attacks by being a source of comfort.
“I think one of the biggest problems with trying to understand panic attacks is that they’re different for everyone who experiences them. It’s incredibly hard to explain to someone who has experienced panic attacks, and nearly impossible to explain to someone who has never experienced one. All we can really do is be as patient and sympathetic as possible.” ― Kelsey Holmberg via email
“There’s not just one type of experience. It can happen anywhere, anytime, in public or when you’re alone or anything in between. It can be one that lasts a few seconds, minutes or hours. You can cry a little, a lot or not at all. You can basically feel anything. And it’s impossible to describe it perfectly.” ― Harlee Schreckengost via
“When I need to leave a social situation, please don’t question me in the moment, just leave with me or allow me to leave with no questions asked. In my experience, if I know the person I’m with will be safe for me in this way, my anticipatory anxiety decreases, and thus the lihood of a panic attack.” ― Amy Marie via
Panic attacks can happen anywhere.
“It sucks that your reasonable, rational mind can know that everything in reality is fine, but sometimes because of your chemical imbalance, your brain suddenly freaks out and thinks you may be dying.” ― Melissa Williams via
“I’m not impatient. I don’t love them any less. It’s not that I don’t want to help. I don’t want to sit on my bed in tears while my husband tries to soothe our daughter to sleep. I don’t want to have to walk outside to try to catch my breath. I don’t want to react in a way that makes my husband question what he’s doing wrong.” ― Allyssa Siegrist via
“Basically, people need to understand it’s a real and physical disability. It is not in our heads. It is genuinely painful and draining.” ― Colette Royal via
“We’re trying. We would give anything to be able to calm down in situations that seem silly but cause our blood pressure to skyrocket. Just be patient.” ― Stephanie Sunde via
Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
9 People Describe What It Feels to Have a Panic Attack
When I was 24, I lived alone in a tiny studio apartment on a quiet block in Brooklyn, NY. I was sitting at my desk working on my laptop, I did every day, when my heart started thumping.
I could hear blood passing through my ears—thump, thump, thump—and see my chest moving up and down under two layers of clothing.
I noticed my hands trembling over the keyboard, and my vision became blurry when I looked at the computer screen.
Suddenly, I was hot and sweaty, so hot and sweaty that I stripped off my sweatshirt and went to run my face under cold water. But as I stood up to go to the sink, the hand trembling traveled down into my arms and legs, leaving me unsteady on my feet.
My heart seemed to pound even faster, even harder. I tried taking a deep breath to calm myself, but my breaths were sharp and shallow.
My vision got darker and narrower and looked kaleidoscopic, when you close your eyes and press down on your eyelids to “see stars.”
“You’re dying,” a voice in my head said. “This is what death feels , and you’re going to die alone.”
And then, I slowly sank to the floor. I don’t know how much time passed before I was able to get up and steady myself—it could have been 30 seconds or an hour. I crawled from the floor to the bed and slept for 13 hours straight, as though the life had been drained right me.
As I later found out in therapy, I’d had my first panic attack.
It wouldn’t be my last—I’ve had about a dozen since then (enough to classify as panic disorder, which the National Institute of Mental Health defines as “sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer”) but they’ve decreased in severity and frequency, thanks to anxiety medication, a good psychiatrist, and a strong support system.
According to the Mayo Clinic, panic attacks (also called anxiety attacks) are “sudden episodes of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
” Some people mistake panic attacks for heart attacks, or believe that they’re dying.
Symptoms of panic attacks can include rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, hot flashes, and lightheadedness—as well as a sense of impending doom, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, chest pain, headache, and numbness or tingling.
There’s no known cause of panic attacks, but genetics and high levels of stress might have something to do with it, according to the Mayo Clinic.
They also say you’re at a higher risk for panic attacks if other people in your family experience them, if you’ve gone through a stressful life event (death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness, moving), a traumatic event a sexual assault or robbery, if you’re a smoker or consume a lot of caffeine, or if you have a history of childhood abuse.
I had my first panic attack after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic and often debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.
Three months prior, I had been extremely ill and hospitalized at length, then discharged to face a lifetime of an unpredictable, incurable disease.
Though I’ll never know for sure what triggered that initial panic attack, my psychiatrist has hypothesized that my illness played a role.
I wanted to find out what panic attacks felt for other sufferers—did they think they were dying I did? Have they learned any coping mechanisms? Do they know their triggers? Here’s what nine of them had to say.
A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself) Listen to this podcast.
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Some people experience what is referred to as limited-symptom panic attacks, which are similar to full-blown panic attacks but consist of fewer than four symptoms.
Although anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or knots in your stomach, what differentiates a panic attack from other anxiety symptoms is the intensity and duration of the symptoms.
Panic attacks typically reach their peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside.
Due to the intensity of the symptoms and their tendency to mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or doctors' offices, convinced they have a life-threatening issue.
Panic attacks can occur unexpectedly during a calm state or in an anxious state.
Although panic attacks are a defining characteristic of panic disorder, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience panic attacks in the context of other psychological disorders.
For example, someone with social anxiety disorder might have a panic attack before giving a talk at a conference and someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder might have a panic attack when prevented from engaging in a ritual or compulsion.
Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and can be very frightening. As a result, people who experience repeated panic attacks often become very worried about having another attack and may make changes to their lifestyle so as to avoid having panic attacks. For example, avoiding exercise so as to keep their heart rate low, or avoiding certain places.
In the past it might have taken months or years and lots of frustration before getting a proper diagnosis. Some people are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or loved ones about what they are experiencing for fear of being seen as a hypochondriac.
Instead they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who could be helpful. Other people suffering from panic attacks don't know they have a real and highly treatable disorder.
It is our hope that through increased education, people will feel more empowered to discuss their symptoms with a healthcare professional and seek appropriate treatment.
- Blog Post – Helping Your Anxious Teen Cope with a Panic Attack by Sheila Achar Josephs, PhD
- Blog Post – Panic Attack or Heart Attack? by Reid Wilson, PhD, and Mark Pollack, MD
- Webinar – Managing Coronavirus Anxiety Part 3 – Expert Tips and Strategies – by Ken Goodman, LCSW, Debra Kissen, PhD, MHSA, David H. Rosmarin, PhD, ABPP
- Webinar – Ataques de pánico/Panic Attacks
- Webinar – Coping With Panic Attacks by Jenny Yip, PsyD, ABPP
- ADAA members Stefan Hoffmann, PhD, Aleena Hay, PhD and their Boston University colleague Abigail Barthal, BA discusses panic attacks and panic disorder: symptoms, treatment, causes, and coping strategies in this in-depth Anxiety.org article.
- Screen yourself or a family member for panic disorder.
Facing Panic: Self-Help Facing Panic: Self-Help for People with Panic Attacks by Reid Wilson, ADAA Publication, 2019