Panic attacks happen when people suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of fear. They feel like they can’t breathe and their heart pounds, and many feel like they are going crazy or are even dying. If panic attacks happen regularly, and treatment is not sought, people may develop a panic disorder, which can lead to various other problems, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and agoraphobia. But just what are panic attacks?

Understanding What Are Panic Attacks:

Human beings are predisposed to experience fear, which is a self-defense mechanism. When we fear something, we engage in the “fight or flight” response. But fear and panic are not the same thing, so just what are panic attacks? Essentially, a panic attack happens when our body engages the fight or flight response without there being any danger. This response is incredibly intense and is described as immobilizing and debilitating. It can happen at any time, even when someone is sleeping.

Some people only have a single panic attack, but most will have more. In some cases, there is a specific trigger, such as public speaking, flying, or crossing a bridge. This is particularly true if that caused a panic attack in the past.

Panic Attack Signs and Symptoms:

Panic attacks can happen anywhere, at any time. The symptoms develop very quickly, peaking after about 10 minutes but lasting about half an hour in total. Common signs and symptoms include:


Racing heartbeat

Chest pain


A choking feeling

Feeling of detachment from your surroundings



Dizziness and faintness

Tingling and numbness

Cold or hot flashes

Extreme fear

Causes of Panic Attacks:

It isn’t known what causes panic attacks, although there seems to be a genetic link. They also often first happen during major transitions, such as a first job, having a baby, or getting married. Severe stress may also cause a panic attack, but those are usually one time only occurrences. Medical conditions may also cause a panic attack, which is why you do have to speak to a physician to rule out other problems.

Panic Attack Treatment:

Panic attacks are treatable, and even a full panic disorder can be treated. It is important to seek treatment because not doing so can lead to various other problems. The most common forms of treatment include:

– Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), whereby you try to understand the root cause of the panic attacks and learn to respond differently to triggers

– Exposure therapy, which is particularly important in people who have started to develop a “fear of fear”, which is common in panic disorders. Here, you are confronted with your perceived threats in a controlled environment.

– Medication, particularly antidepressants and benzodiazepine, although these should only be used for a short period of time.

– Self-help, including breathing techniques and medication.

If you have experienced a panic attack, the first thing to do is seek medical attention to make sure that it was just panic. If that is the case, then you should consider undergoing therapy and self-help options as soon as possible. This will stop the condition from progressing.