Panic Attack Definition and Symptoms

Panic Attack Definition and Symptoms

A panic attack is a sudden and intense surge of anxiety that usually only lasts about 10 minutes, but it can be a terrifying 10 minutes for the person having the experience. Racing thoughts that the sufferer cannot control and paralyzing physical responses are both present during an attack. Panic attacks are not dangerous and do not cause any physical harm. A person who regularly has panic attacks may be diagnosed as having panic disorder. Basically, panic is acute anxiety.

what is a panic attack


Following are the primary symptoms of a panic attack, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, a mental health professional’s bible.

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying

A person must be experiencing at least four of these symptoms to be diagnosed as having a panic attack, as stated by the DSM.

Panic attacks are a form of severe anxiety, caused by the fear of anticipated events or even activities going on at the time. Anxiety can cause fear of certain situations due to a person’s long-term practice of internalizing negative thoughts and emotions. The collect these negative feelings from getting negative feedback from people or situations. They blame themselves for these negative feelings and begin to avoid any situations where they might encounter them again.

Panic Attacks Come On Like Wildfire

Enter the panic attack. A person may not even realize that they are particularly anxious about something, and them BAM! All of a sudden they can’t control themselves, neither their feelings nor their physical responses. They become terrified at what is happening to them, especially if it is the first time they have experienced a panic attack. If a person has experienced a panic attack more than once, they may recognize what is happening to them, but that only contributes to their fears because they know what they are about to go through.

An anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia is having such an acute fear of having a panic attack that a person will avoid public places, or traveling outside of a certain geographic area, or even leaving their homes. Almost any agoraphobic will not go anywhere, such as a supermarket, a church or public transportation, if they cannot see a quick escape route and begin to start feeling too anxious.

Is it Possible to Overcome Panic Attacks?

Overcoming panic attacks is not always easy. Doing so often requires the help of a professional, in particular, a cognitive behavioral therapist, who can help a person examine the internalized negative feelings and try to figure out why they are leading to panic attacks. Sometimes medication on a temporary basis will help someone get to even keel to approach their feelings objectively.

According to Dr. Kevin Solomons, anxiety triggers (and thus panic attacks) can often be avoided. It is possible to reset your “anxiety alarm” either cognitively or chemically and find freedom from the discomfort anxiety and panic can cause. Over time, with some effort, the panic attacks can lessen considerably and a person can enjoy a much better life knowing that fear and anxiety is not lurking around every corner, waiting to explode.

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