What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are short and intense events in which patients experience symptoms such as overwhelming feelings of dread, increasing heart rates, difficulty breathing, and trembling. These acute events can serve as signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), or they can occur without any underlying emotional disorder.

Panic Attack Timing

The core part of panic attacks last about ten minutes. During this time, symptoms are at their worst and patients are often unable to function normally. However, people who feel these symptoms often feel like they last much longer. Patients also experience some signs during the build-up and let down from the attacks.

Leading up to the panic attacks, patients may feel worried. Afterward, people can feel exhausted for up to a full day. Patients may then feel concerned about the feelings coming back, which causes worry and can even cause panic attacks.

Some people have one panic attack in their lives, and others experience recurrent events. People with frequent panic attacks may need to resolve an issue in their lives, or they could have panic disorder.

A Physical Reaction to an Internal Stimuli

People with and without anxiety disorders have several noticeable symptoms when they are in real danger. For example, mugging victims may feel increased heart rates, excessive sweating, and overwhelming dread during the robbery. People who have panic attacks experience the same symptoms in reaction to stimuli that do not threaten their health and safety.

Unfortunately, the lack of real danger can make patients feel as if they are “going crazy,” and even stop them from seeking treatment. People who have panic attacks must remember that the disorder is real and, most importantly, treatable.

Panic Attack vs. Everyday Worries

It’s normal and even healthy for people to worry about negative situations in their lives. People without anxiety disorders may feel stressed when problems arise in their relationships, work, finances, or health. It’s important to distinguish this type of worry from panic attacks.

When a person has a panic attack, the reaction far outweighs the stimulus that caused it. For example, someone with panic disorder may take the same worries and feel as though their life is completely over. Patients physically react as though their lives are in danger, even though the original trigger does not threaten their health.

Important Statistics

  • 1 in 75 people in the United States deal with panic disorder at some point
  • 1 million people in the United States have panic attacks each month
  • 1 in 3 people who have panic disorder also live with agoraphobia
  • 40 percent of panic disorder patients have depression as well

Panic Attack Symptoms

The signs that someone is having a panic attack include:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Not feeling in control
  • Weakness
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Believing that something awful is about to happen
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tingling in the toes and fingers
  • Chills and/or sweating

Many of the panic attack symptoms look like those of a heart attack. As such, many patients believe they are having heart attacks when they first have panic attacks. If you are ever in doubt, call 911 and tell the operator the symptoms.

How to Stop a Panic Attack

Anyone who experiences recurrent panic attacks should seek professional treatment. However, panic attacks may still occur between the patient’s appointments. Different methods work for different patients, but some popular methods include:

  • Focusing on breathing
  • Giving It a name
  • Grounding
  • Relaxing each muscle
  • Mantras

Focused Breath

With this method, patients close their eyes and try to only think about the breath that enters and leaves their bodies. They acknowledge and let other thoughts go. This technique takes practice.

Name It

Patients should not be afraid of calling a panic attack out for what it is. When people acknowledge that the brain is overreacting to a stressful trigger, they take the power from the disorder. This method can also help patients realize that they are not in danger.


This method helps patients slow their racing thoughts. Try naming three smells, physical feelings, and sounds in the surrounding area.

Methodical Relaxing

Patients start with the toes and consciously think about releasing the tension in each muscle.


Repeating a religious quote or helpful mantra can keep negative thoughts at bay. Some people like, “This too shall pass.” Even something as simple as, “I am safe,” can help.

Psychiatrists and therapists can help patients find other techniques that work for them. If you have panic attacks, find an Orlando psychiatrist near you.

Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack

Many people understandably confuse the terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack.” The two conditions have some similarities and a few important differences.

The most significant difference lies in the fact that anxiety attacks have very specific triggers, while the reasons someone has a panic attack are less clear. Anxiety attacks also end as soon as the trigger goes away. Finally, an anxiety attack is the reaction to something external while a panic attack is more internally driven.

For example, if someone is afraid of snakes and comes into contact with one, he might start to sweat, feel nervous, and even shake. Once the snake is outside his view, the symptoms subside.