Even though we don’t always recognize them, feelings of anxiety and panic are common occurrences among everyone—not just people with anxiety disorders. Chances are, you might have had an anxiety attack or a panic attack before, but what exactly is a panic attack? What makes them different from anxiety attacks? Read on to learn more:
What Causes Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are sudden, intense bursts of fear that can trigger severe physical responses in the body. Unfortunately, panic attacks have no apparent cause, but can be typically explained by someone’s location and mental state. If someone is in an extremely stressful situation, or something happens that could be considered life-threatening, they may have a panic attack. Panic attacks are most common among people with Anxiety disorders, which cause the body to respond more dramatically to some stressors than others.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are best associated with an intense feeling of fear. You may feel like something terrible is about to happen, or that you may die. Physically, your body may tense up, experience hot and cold flashes, sweat, shake, and you may feel short of breath. Other symptoms include rapid heart rate, nausea, chest pain, headaches, dizziness or lightheadedness, and a feeling that you aren’t fully present in your surroundings.
Calming Yourself Down
A common way to calm down from a panic attack is to do deep breathing exercises. Breathe in through your nose as deeply as you can—usually for a count of 5—then out through your mouth for a count of 5 as well. This will force your body to calm down, and your mind will be focused on breathing slowly. Another common technique is to get an ice cube or cold compress, and put it on your forehead. This can help with the hot flashes and gently force your body back into the present. If needed, have someone help you with these exercises.
If you are struggling with a panic attack and have no one to help or talk to, a national helpline is available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. To contact them, dial 211 on your phone.
The Difference Between Panic and Heart Attacks
Knowing the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack may help reduce some stress as well. Panic attacks, unlike heart attacks, are much shorter and will subside after about 20-30 minutes. Heart attacks, on the other hand, don’t go away so easily. They’re more likely to get worse over time.
Another common indicator of heart attacks is where you feel pain. If the pain radiates from the chest and up to the jaw, it is a heart attack. Heart attacks may also be caused by overexertion as well, while panic attacks can happen while the body is resting.
In any situation where you feel unsafe or cannot tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack, contact emergency services immediately. If you have a history of panic attacks, consider speaking with your primary care physician as well for more information.