What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear.  Your heart will start to beat faster, you will have trouble breathing and you may even feel like you are going to faint, have a heart attack or even die.  A panic attack can develop very quickly and will usually reach its peak within 5 -10 minutes. The length of an attack can vary hugely but typically lasting between 5 and 30 minutes.  Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. Although Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant they cannot harm you mentally or physically. Panic attacks may come out of the blue but they are always triggered by something. Finding the trigger may help you manage the attacks.

Physical Symptoms

  • Breathing difficulties – Pains or tightness of the chest
  • Trembling – Dizziness
  • Sweating 
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

Psychological Symptoms

  • A fear of not being in control
  • A feeling that you can’t cope
  • A feeling of being trapped
  • A feeling of losing control

The Fear Response

All anxiety disorders are centered around our natural reactions to fear. Fear is a natural response in all of us. It keeps us safe by making sure that most of the time we are not in dangerous situations. Everyone of us experiences anxiety at some point in our lives, it is part of being human, it’s the body’s way of signalling a problem or a threat; crossing the road in busy traffic or going through financial/family difficulties, etc. But when anxiety takes control of your life and stops you from doing certain things it becomes a real issue.

Sometimes when we are not thinking about what we are doing, we do things that are dangerous, e.g. stepping off the pavement without looking and almost getting run over. The vehicle, as it is getting close, will probably sound its horn and our ‘fear response’ will get us out of danger. The shock to our system, when something like this happens, is enormous and very unpleasant. This may cause us to have some unpleasant symptoms, sweating, shaking, trembling, feeling nauseous, and our heart pounds. Without this fear response, we would not have reacted but stood where we were on the road and the consequence of that is not hard to imagine.

Fear is something we learn. How many times do we see children run onto a busy road? They have not learned the fear response. Therefore it can be seen clearly that fear in the right place is essential to our well-being. Without it, not many of us would survive very long. Having established that, we need it to survive, what has this to do with phobias or anxiety disorders? The answer is that, over a period of time, the sufferer has learnt to link the fight or flight response to a certain situation, activity, or location as if they were in real danger.

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2 thoughts on “What is a Panic Attack?”

  1. You were right when you said fear is a skill, because as we age we learn to master this skill when we realize we have more to lose.

  2. Excellent site and Really does help. Its hard work. Sometimes dealing with my own panic, it, s like the Sword Of Damocles hanging over me but its not. Small steps each day and if possible, acknowledge the progress. Two or three more steps walking somewhere is a great thing for those of us who fear panic.

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