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Panic Attack and Panic Disorder: Everything You Need to Know

What is a panic attack? How can you identify one? Is there a cure? Find all the answers in this in-depth guide on panic attacks and how to deal with them.


What is a Panic Attack?

But first, let’s learn about the difference between a panic attack & a Panic Disorder in the next section.

Panic Attack vs Panic Disorder

Symptoms of a Panic Attack: How to Identify One

Here's a comprehensive list

  • Rapid breathing and racing heartbeats
  • An overwhelming sense of fear
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Chills or trembling
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Numbness or tingly sensations in hands and fingers
  • A feeling of nausea or abdominal distress
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest pain or constriction (in some cases)
  • A feeling of intense anxiety
  • A sense of losing control
  • A choking sensation

How to Identify a Panic Attack

Fear of the Fear: The Panic Cycle

Why is this important?

What Causes a Panic Attack?

Family History

  • Genetics and family history are often the top contributing factors for panic attacks and panic disorders, according to anxiety statistics.
  • Panic disorders often run in families and if you have a direct relative (parents, siblings, etc.) who has this condition, then you may be prone to it as well.
  • Does this mean you will necessarily have a panic disorder if you have a family history of it?
Absolutely not.
  • There is no conclusive study to prove that, nor is there a direct correlation, it's just one factor that may have an effect on your likelihood of developing a panic disorder.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

  • These are negative or even traumatic experiences that occur during childhood (1-17 years of age) that leave a lasting emotional impact.
  • Abuse, parental neglect, and parental substance use are among the top causes of such experiences. Check out the image below to learn some other causes of adverse childhood experiences.

Chronic Stress

Sudden Acute Stress

Chronic Health Conditions

Current Life Circumstances

You may be prone to having a panic attack

  • Constant pressure at work or school
  • Unemployment or money problems
  • Constant uncertainty about life situations
  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation
  • Negative experiences, such as abuse or discrimination
  • Loss of a friend or family member

Drug and Medication

Complications Caused by Panic Attacks

Here are some complications that may cause

  • Increased risk of suicide and frequent suicidal thoughts
  • Development of various phobias
  • Irrational behavior as a response to constant anxiety and fear
  • Social anxiety or hesitance to go out and meet people
  • Other mental health or psychiatric disorders
  • Alcoholism or substance abuse problems
  • Inability to keep a regular job

Prevention Measures: How to Reduce the Frequency and Likelihood of Panic Attacks

Exercise Regularly

  • Daily exercise has a plethora of physical and mental health benefits as it releases certain neurochemicals that have positive health effects.

Learn Grounding Techniques

  • Grounding exercises and meditation help people with anxiety focus on the physical environment around them and stay grounded in reality. This helps stop your brain from obsessing over made-up threatening scenarios that cause a panic attack.

Try Breathing Exercises

  • Choose from among various available options and practice breathing exercises regularly. This will help you learn to relax and focus your attention on your breath rather than negative thought loops.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

  • Have a well-balanced, healthy diet and reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, or other addictive substances.

Talk to Someone You Trust

  • Talking to a trusted friend or loved one about your worries can help alleviate some of your concerns. It provides you an outlet to share your thoughts instead of letting them play obsessively in your mind.

Maintain a Diary

  • Every time you have a panic attack write about your experience. This will help you identify your triggers and understand what typically causes your attacks, so you can be in more control of the situation in the future.

Seek Treatment

  • Despite all the prevention measures, if you still get a panic attack, seek immediate help. A professional will put you on a treatment plan to reduce the frequency of attacks and ensure the situation doesn't get worse.
Our 93-point anxiety checklist covers a lot of techniques you can use to calm your mind when you have a panic attack. It has severaltools to manage anxiety and self-care tips to take better control of the situation.

Diagnosis and Tests

To get further insights into your health, your healthcare provider may request

  • Various blood tests, to rule out underlying conditions like Diabetes and Hyperthyroidism
  • A complete and extensive physical examination
  • A complete psychological assessment of your anxieties and fears, and the various stressors in your life

How is a Panic Disorder Diagnosed

Here’s the gist: you may have a panic disorder if

  • You suffer from frequent panic attacks
  • After an attack, you continually worry about having another attack or what it may mean for your health
  • There are no underlying health conditions or substance abuse problems that are causing your panic attacks

When to Consider Professional Advice

If your symptoms are more psychological than physical, you should seek treatment if:

  • You live in constant fear
  • Your anxiety is disrupting your daily life
  • You're extremely irritable
  • You can't seem to concentrate on anything
  • Your panic attacks last longer than 15 minutes
  • You consistently have trouble sleeping

Medical Treatment Options

Here are some of the treatment options for panic attacks


  • This includes talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy that help you understand your symptoms and triggers. It helps you understand that there's no real threat and you can consciously relax your mind when having a panic attack. The image below lists some common types of psychotherapy.


  • Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be put on various medications. These include antidepressants like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam and lorazepam.

Where to Get Help

If your symptoms are more psychological than physical, you should seek treatment if:

  • Your regular doctor or healthcare provider
  • A psychologist
  • By searching for specialized treatments near you on theFindTreatment.govwebsite if you're based in the US
  • Depending on your location, you may also find local or federal helplines for anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

A panic attack is characterized by an overwhelming sense of fear and intense anxiety. It can also involve physical symptoms, such as rapid breathing, heart palpitations, numbness or tingling sensation in hands or fingers, etc.

If you are experiencing a panic attack one of the things you can do is take long breaths and focus your mind on feeling the inhale and exhale. By bringing your attention to something other than your feelings of worry, you can calm yourself down.

The most important thing is to stay calm and let them know you're there for them, in whatever capacity they need you. Talk to them and let them know that they might be having a panic attack and that it won't last long.

If they're receptive to it, help them with a breathing exercise or a grounding exercise, but don't force your advice if they're not receptive. Just be there for them and let it pass.

It is a grounding technique that requires you to focus on 3 things you see, 3 things you hear, and 3 body parts you can move when having a panic attack. The goal is to divert attention away from anxious thoughts to the physical environment around you.

Absolutely! It takes time and an effective treatment plan under the care of a medical professional.