What Are Panic Attacks? Symptoms and How to Deal With Them

What Are Panic Attacks? Symptoms and How to Deal With Them

What is a panic attack and what are its symptoms?

A panic attack is an attack of intense causeless fear that can overtake anytime, anywhere, even in a dream. It seems that now you are going crazy or die.

Attacks usually occur in adolescents and young people and women suffering more often than men.

During a panic attack, some of these symptoms appear, or all at once:

  • a feeling of loss of control over yourself or a situation;
  • a sense of unreality of what is happening;
  • heart palpitations;
  • weakness, dizziness, sometimes even fainting;
  • headache;
  • tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers;
  • hot flush or chills;
  • increased sweating;
  • chest pain;
  • shiver;
  • shortness of breath or lump in the throat;
  • abdominal cramps or nausea;
  • labored breathing.

Typically, episodes last 5–30 minutes, although some symptoms persist longer.

When to call an ambulance?

Medical assistance is needed if:

  • A panic attack lasts longer than 20 minutes and attempts to stop it do not lead to anything.
  • If you feel a sudden strong physical weakness and malaise. Usually, it ends in a swoon.
  • During a panic attack, your heart ached. This may be a sign of a heart attack.

Where do panic attacks come from?

It is not clear what exactly causes them. But experts believe that seizures can occur due to stress or changes in life. For example, dismissal or entering a new job, divorce, wedding, childbirth, loss of a loved one.

Genetics also plays a role. If one of the family members suffers from panic attacks, then you can be predisposed to this.

Smokers, coffee lovers and those who use drugs are also at risk.

There is a breakdown of self-regulation in the body, control of your own mental state, and the adaptive capabilities of the body. Often this is a reaction to physical or mental strain, to stressful and conflict situations.

Why panic attacks are dangerous?

Single episodes are usually harmless. But panic attacks must be treated if they recur, otherwise, they will go into panic disorder. Because of it, a person lives in constant fear.

There are other complications:

  • Specific phobias. For example, fear of driving or flying.

  • Closure, unwillingness to communicate with other people.
  • Depression or anxiety disorders.
  • Thoughts of suicide, up to attempts to commit suicide.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Financial difficulties.

How to cope with a panic attack on your own?

My attacks most often happen at night, when nobody is around. The first thing I do is immediately turn on the light and any film (just not a horror movie) so as not to feel alone. Silence and darkness cause even greater fear.

It may seem that the panic will not pass and you can no longer control yourself. But this is not so. There are several ways to calm down.

1. Breathe deeper

During an attack, shortness of breath may appear, and the person feels that he is not in control of himself. Tell yourself that shortness of breath is just a temporary symptom, it will pass soon. Then take a deep breath, wait for a second, and then exhale, mentally counting to four.

Repeat the exercise until normal breathing is restored.

2. Relax your muscles

This will return your body's control. Squeeze your palm into a fist and hold in that position, counting to 10. Then unclench and completely relax your hand.

Try also to strain and relax your legs, and then gradually move up the body, touching the buttocks, stomach, back, arms, shoulders, neck, and face.

3. Repeat a positive attitude.

Try to say a few encouraging phrases to yourself or aloud. For example: «This is temporary. I'll be ok. I just need to breathe. I calm down. All is well».

4. Focus on an object

Examine it to the smallest detail: color, size, pattern, shape. Try to remember other objects similar to it. Compare them with each other, mentally find the differences. This will help you get distracted and think less about the fear you experience.

5. Open the windows

If you are in a stuffy room, fresh air will help you recover.

How to treat panic attacks?

If seizures recur, consult your doctor. This will help prevent panic disorder or begin treatment.

First, consult a therapist who will prescribe an examination, depending on the symptoms, and then refer you to a neurologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist. It is important to take tests to rule out diseases of the internal organs, as well as problems with the thyroid gland, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

Panic disorders are treated medically, with the help of psychotherapy or in a complex manner.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used. During it, a person learns to control himself, his feelings and emotions. Panic attacks will be faster if you change the response to the physical sensations of fear and anxiety.


They will help to cope with panic. Drugs are especially needed if the attacks are severe and it is very difficult to control them yourself.

Some medications cause side effects: headaches, nausea, and insomnia. Usually, they are not dangerous, but if you feel them constantly, tell the doctor about it.