Defining a Panic Attack

Panic attacks can signal the presence of a Generalized Anxiety Disorder or else can occur absent of an associated emotional disorder. They manifest as rapid onset and intense events in which an individual experiences extreme anxiety, increased heart rate, and even shortness of breath and trembling.  

When Panic Attacks Happen

A panic attack typically lasts for around 10 minutes. To the patient themselves, these 10 minutes can seem to go for much longer. In the run-up to an attack, patients may experience feelings of worry. In the aftermath, the individual can feel completely spent for at least 24 hours. Patients may also experience anxiety and dread that the attack may reoccur. 

Sometimes a panic attack is a once in a lifetime event. For others, panic attacks can come again and again. In these situations, patients may need to be assessed for a panic disorder. 

Physical Reactions with no External Stimuli

The unique factor involved in panic attacks is that they occur with no external cause or stimuli. Whereas someone in a car accident for example might feel anxiety or shock in the aftermath, someone with a panic attack has no visible, physical cause of their experience. 

This fact can make those with panic attacks feel silly or even as if they are losing their minds. It is important for them to realize that it is a diagnosable and treatable condition. 

Panic Attack Statistics

  • Panic attacks affect 1 in 75 people at some point
  • 1 million people in the US experience panic attacks every month
  • 1 in 3 people with panic disorder also have agoraphobia
  • 40 percent of people with panic disorder also experience depression

The Symptoms of a Panic Attack 

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling that one is losing control
  • Feelings of weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tingling in the appendages
  • Chills and/or sweating


Sometimes panic attacks can feel like heart attacks. If you are unsure if you are experiencing a heart attack, call 911 and tell the operator the symptoms.

Stopping Panic Attacks

Those who suffer from panic attacks should seek out help from a mental health professional. When patients are not in sessions, however, they can still experience panic attacks. The following are ways in which one can ameliorate or stop a panic attack. 

Focusing on the Breath

Close your eyes and try to focus on your breath. Follow the air with your mind’s eye as it travels in and out. The purpose of this exercise is to focus and therefore calm the mind during times of panic. 

Identify the Attack

Identify the panic attack as a panic attack as it happens. This helps you cope with and accept the reality of the event and also serves to neutralize the power of the panic attack. 

Ground Yourself with Your Surroundings

One method for slowing racing thoughts involves grounding oneself in your surroundings. Focus on your senses and identify three things around you, be they scents, sensations or sounds.  

Muscle Relaxation

Start at the toes and clench and relax each small muscle group along the body. 

Reciting a Mantra

Reciting a mantra over and over again is another effective technique to calm oneself during a panic attack. You can work with your therapist to develop this or any other technique on this list. 

The Difference Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks have some things in common, but are distinct from one another.  The biggest difference is that anxiety attacks have direct and obvious triggers. Panic attacks, on the other hand, come from within and have no obvious external trigger. An anxiety attack will also disappear as soon as a trigger goes away.