About one in four people experience panic attack symptoms at one point in their life. If you have experienced a panic attack, want to know about panic attack symptoms or are looking for ways to control and manage the symptoms of a panic attack, then you have come to the right place. By the end of this article, you will know not only how to diagnose a panic attack. You will also understand exactly how both your brain and body react to anxiety and panic.
We have all experienced panic one time or another. We know that typical panic attack symptoms include a racing heart, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and hyperventilation. Physical discomfort is also problematic for people dealing with panic attack symptoms including sweating, weakness in major muscles, dry mouth and hot and cold flashes. What a lot of people don’t know is that panic attacks can also trigger a series of powerful, upsetting thoughts and characteristic behaviors.
Powerful and Upsetting Thoughts
In addition to the common symptoms of a panic attack, people with this type of anxiety also experience intense and particularly scary thoughts. The most common thoughts associated with panic attacks include:
- “I’m dying.”
- “I’m going crazy”
- “I’m about to make a fool of myself.”
- “I’m about to lose control or faint.”
- “I have to pretend that nothing is wrong.”
- “I have to escape from here.”
As you can imagine, the combination of physical panic attack symptoms and powerful, upsetting thoughts can leave people desperate to take some kind of action to alleviate the symptoms. In dealing with panic attacks, a set of characteristic behaviors often exists that may include tensing up the major muscles in the body, fleeing the scene, holding your breath and trying to distract yourself. Clearly, panic attacks are more complex than most of us believe.
Basic knowledge of the common panic attack symptoms can help you recognize a panic attack. A certain criteria also exists for the professional diagnosis of a panic attack. For a complete diagnosis, the following must apply:
- The person experiences a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort.
- The panic attack symptoms occur suddenly.
- Symptoms reach a peak within 10 minutes.
For a complete diagnosis, a person must also experience four or more of the following 13 panic attack symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
- 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.
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
- Fear of losing control or going crazy.
- Fear of dying.
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
- Chills or hot flashes.
What Causes Panic Attack Symptoms?
You may be wondering what causes panic attack symptoms. A better understanding of the way panic attacks manifest in the body will help you to more effectively and efficiently manage and control them. In the professional world, experts point to the Amygdala as the main culprit behind panic attacks. The Amygdala is the part of the brain that controls the anxiety response. Its function is critical in dealing with panic attacks.
To a certain extent, anxiety and panic are necessary for survival. The fight or flight response kept our ancestors alive and will continue to drive our instinctual nature to avoid potential danger and death. Extreme levels of anxiety and panic, on the other hand, can undermine our thought processes and ultimately make us afraid of them. Here is a quick lesson on the panic response.
In the presence of danger, the body releases adrenaline into the system. A surge of adrenaline can raise your heartbeat, churn your stomach, make you sweat and provoke irregular breathing – just a few of the most common symptoms of a panic attack. In most cases, the ‘fight or flight” response kicks in and uses up the adrenaline hormone. Adrenaline eventually subsides, along with the anxiety.
For some people, the Amygdala reacts with anxiety when no imminent danger is present. This loads the system with adrenaline that will not be used up for “fighting” or running away. Unable to leave the body, the adrenaline hormone builds up in the body and thus causes a panic attack.
Try to think your anxiety response as an overprotective watchdog. A watchdog who barks at burglars is great but one that barks at children and squirrels certainly needs retraining. Like an overprotective watchdog, you too need retraining in your ability to distinguish the difference between an actual threat and imagined danger.
How to Manage and Control Panic Attacks
Whatever the cause of your panic attack symptoms, there are strategies you can use to manage and control them. The most common strategies to beat panic attacks include:
- Exercise – this gets rid of hormones like adrenaline.
- Limiting alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
- Relaxation techniques.
- Slow breathing.
- Distracting yourself with mental activities such as counting.
- Improving your self-talk – notice it, talk through it and challenge negative beliefs.
As always, talk to your doctor about your panic attack symptoms for additional help working through your panic and figuring out the cause.