June 23, 2021

What Are the Signs of A Panic Attack? Am I Having Panic Attacks?

This blog post explore what a panic attack is, what signs to look out for, how to distinguish between a panic attack and anxiety attack, and gives you tools to manage them.

By Annie Wright|Adulting, Anxiety

Our emotional responses can sometimes be confusing, and at times, we may respond to stress and other stimuli in ways that we don’t intend. 

But what can you do if you’re experiencing intense fear and panic as an emotional response with no triggering stimuli to encourage it? 

Let’s explore the nature of panic, what panic attacks are, signs of a panic attack, and how to cope when you’re experiencing a panic attack.

What Is A Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are defined as sudden episodes of intense fear with no apparent cause. 

These attacks can trigger strong physical and emotional responses, which can be frightening for individuals experiencing them. 

Many people who experience a panic attack feel like they’re having a heart attack or possibly dying due to how intense their response becomes. 

These attacks can occur at random and only come up occasionally, or they can become a recurrent problem that has a person in constant fear of having another attack.

What’s the Difference Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks?

The terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are often used interchangeably, but they do not have the same meaning

A panic attack arises suddenly, often with no triggering incident. These incidents typically last for a few minutes. 

An anxiety attack slowly grows in intensity, usually has a triggering incident (though not always), and can last for longer periods than a panic attack.

For reference, the symptoms of an anxiety attack include the following:

  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and muscle tension
  • Pounding heart
  • Upset stomach/ frequent need for the bathroom
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Anticipating danger

Signs of A Panic Attack

If you have experienced episodes of intense fear, you may be wondering if you have had a panic attack. 

Here are a few signs and symptoms of panic attacks to help clarify whether you have experienced one recently.

  • Sense of intense fear or terror
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain in the chest
  • Racing heart rate
  • Sweatiness or chills
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or hands

These symptoms usually last for a few minutes, but some symptoms, like the sense of impending doom, may persist longer. 

A panic attack can result in greater fear of experiencing subsequent attacks later.

How To Prevent (Intense) Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are difficult to prevent, but there are steps you can take to keep your panic attack from gaining intensity. 

Try the following tips the next time you feel a panic attack coming on

It may take a few tries to determine what method works best for your needs, so don’t become discouraged if one tip doesn’t work.

  • Try a deep breathing technique. Slow, deep breathing is key when it comes to preventing the intensity of a panic attack. Part of what makes panic attacks so frightening is the sudden loss of breathing control. When we hyperventilate, we send signals to our brain that we are in danger. If you find it challenging to remember your breath on your own, there are several breathing apps you can download to your smartphone.
  • Be still, or move with intention. Running away from an environment that poses no danger can intensify a panic attack. Taking a few steps back in order to take a break is okay, but try to move slowly and give your body time to catch up to your mind.
  • Have a mantra. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk to yourself when you’re experiencing a panic attack. Find a mantra that is meaningful to you and repeat it to yourself. You could say, “I’m okay, I’m not in any danger,” or if it helps, tell yourself, “I’m having a panic attack, and I am going to be okay.” Maybe, “this is a panic attack, and it is not life-threatening,” will work for you.
  • Tether yourself to reality. Panic attacks can cause strong disconnects from reality, so if you need a totem or device that will tether you to reality, feel free to carry one with you. You could use the sensation of touch, smell, or sound to anchor yourself. Smell an essential oil bottle you carry with you or rub a small piece of fabric. Listen to your own voice or make a steady sound (soft clapping, for example) that will help ground you.

Distracting Yourself

When you’re experiencing the beginning of a panic attack, it might be helpful to distract yourself with something that brings you joy. 

Many people who suffer from panic and anxiety turn to a trusted source of relief to help distract them from what they’re feeling.

Think about the distractions in your life. 

Do you have a song you like to listen to over and over again? Do you have a video you like to watch online time and time again because it brings you joy every time?

These sources are great for panic relief. Distracting yourself can help you get through the waves of panic more easily.

Seeking Help For Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can be very frightening and really unpleasant. 

If you find that your panic attacks are intruding on your ability to live your life, it might be time to speak to a licensed mental health professional

A licensed therapist can help you understand the root of your panic attacks, help determine coping strategies, and possibly help you prevent panic attacks from occurring moving forward.

If you’d like support in working through your panic attacks, you’re welcome to contact our offices as soon as you’re ready. We’ve helped many people struggling with panic attacks and we would be honored to help you, too. 

Please feel free to reach out to us to set up a complimentary consult call so we can match you with the best therapist for your situation.

Medical Disclaimer

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Schedule Your Complimentary Consultation Today

Schedule Now

What kind of therapy would you benefit from?

Take our 20-question, five-minute quiz to find out what kind of specialized therapy support you might need right now.