What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort, which reaches a peak within 10 minutes, and includes at least 4 of the following physical sensations or thoughts:
- Racing or pounding heart
- Shaking or trembling
- Shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- A sense of things being unreal or feeling detached from oneself (derealization)
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Fear of losing control or "going crazy"
- Fear of dying
4 Common Panic Attack Myths
1. Panic attacks will lead to fainting: Fainting is caused by a sudden and significant drop in blood pressure. When you’re anxious, your blood pressure rises. So, it’s extremely unlikely that you will faint when you have a panic attack.
2. Panic attacks will cause me to lose control: Although it can feel like you are out of control, you are still behaving in ways that show you are in control when you have a panic attack (e.g. asking to take a break and leaving the classroom or walking to the exit at the movies).
3. Panic attacks will cause me to go crazy: Panic attacks do not cause people to go crazy. No one has ever gone crazy from experiencing a panic attack. Never. Ever!
4. Panic attacks are really a heart attack in disguise: You are not having a heart attack. The chest pain you experience during a panic attack is the result of muscle tension (which is part of the “fight-flight-freeze” response). You are not going to suffocate. The feeling of not getting enough air is due to shallow breathing. You are still getting enough air to live.
What to Know About Panic Attacks
- A panic attack won’t last for long, and it WILL end! Most panic attacks last about 2 -10 minutes at most, and it will pass.
- They’re not harmful, even though they might feel scary.
- A panic attack is the body’s way of doing the right thing at the wrong time. Think of it as a false alarm. Remember the F3 system? Fight-Flight-Freeze. We need our body to do this to protect us from danger, or alert us to important things. Unfortunately, it is not dangerous to be sitting in a business meeting so having our F3 system kick into gear is not helpful!
- A panic attack is a list of symptoms just like a headache is a list of symptoms. These symptoms are NOT dangerous, just annoying and unpleasant.