What Do Panic Attacks Look Like?

A panic attack can happen to someone that experiences overwhelming levels of anxiety. While many panic attacks fit the criteria for panic or anxiety disorders, anyone can have a panic attack. Panic attacks can occur anywhere at any time and can happen without warning or a specific cause. It is important to be familiar with what a panic attack may look or feel like so that if the situation ever arises, you will know proper measures to take to calm the mind and body of someone experiencing one. 

Anxiety Disorders Explained

Anxiety is an inevitable part of life and can be beneficial in many ways. For example, anxiety may provide the energy you need to finish preparing for a job interview, work presentation, class project, or studying for an exam. You might also feel anxious in risky or unsafe situations, which may motivate you to leave the situation. However, when anxiety begins to interfere with daily functioning, you may be at risk of having an anxiety disorder. 

Common anxiety disorders include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder)
  • Phobia and fear-related disorders

Anxiety and mood disorders are often accompanied by panic attacks, although you do not have to have an anxiety disorder present to experience a panic attack. One kind of anxiety disorder is known as panic disorder, which causes panic attacks. These attacks produce sudden feelings of panic even when there are no dangerous or threatening stimuli present. When someone experiences a panic attack, they often feel like they are losing control. They may fear the places and situations that their panic attack occurred in, attempting to avoid these places in the future for fear of another attack. Some people experience panic attacks so severe that they may not want to leave the comfort of their homes. 

What You Need to Know About Panic Attacks

Although there are commonalities between panic attacks, it is important to note that panic attacks can look different for everyone. A panic attack can come on suddenly or build up over time, with symptoms typically peaking within 10 minutes. Effects from a panic attack can linger for several hours after an initial attack. There is a combination of cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms that a person may experience while having a panic attack. 

Physical symptoms of a panic attack may include: 

  • Increase in heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Stomach aches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Numbness in extremities such as hands or fingers
  • Trembling

Cognitive symptoms of a panic attack may include:

  • Fear of losing one’s mind
  • Fear of dying
  • Dissociation

How to Recognize a Panic Attack

In addition to the symptoms listed above, it is essential to identify a panic attack in yourself or someone else through non-verbal cues. While some people experience panic attacks with visual symptoms, others may become closed off or isolated completely. The internal feelings experienced with a panic attack may produce distressing emotions, such as uncontrollable anger or rage, intense crying or sadness, or dissociate from their emotions completely. Because of feelings of lightheadedness, panic attacks may also cause an individual to faint. By bringing awareness to some of these other ways to recognize a panic attack, you will be better able to know when to step in and what to do next. 

How to Stop a Panic Attack

If you have not experienced a panic attack before, it can be an incredibly scary and overwhelming situation. The first thing you can do to stop a panic attack in you or someone else would be to focus on mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing. As hyperventilation can be a symptom of a panic attack, focusing on your breath can bring you back to what you can control. Recognize the symptoms you are experiencing and teach your mind to believe that a panic attack is a temporary, uncomfortable experience. It will pass. You can focus on surrounding objects and tunnel vision in on all you can notice about its details. Along with mindfulness, you can also use muscle relaxation techniques to bring your body out of its fight-or-flight response. 

Treatments for Anxiety Disorders and Symptoms

For individuals that experience regular panic attacks, consider talking with your doctor about your symptoms. If you are diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder, your doctor may suggest psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. 

Common types of psychotherapy that help treat anxiety-related symptoms include: 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure therapy (for fear-related disorders)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy

Many people suffer from anxiety disorders and anxiety symptoms. Therefore, we must identify ways to cope with distressing feelings to persevere beyond them. 

Panic attacks are episodes of sudden, intense anxiety that can happen anywhere without warning. Many people that experience panic attacks also fit the criteria for panic disorder or other anxiety diagnoses, although you do not have to have an anxiety disorder to experience a panic attack. Panic attacks are accompanied by a range of cognitive and physical symptoms that cause an individual to feel like they are losing complete control of themself. Recognize that panic attacks look different for everyone, but most people experience difficulty breathing, an increase in heart rate, and nausea or dizziness. Through mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing or muscle relaxation, you can learn to cope with the distressing feelings that are experienced with a panic attack. At Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center, we work with teenagers experiencing overwhelming symptoms of anxiety and panic. We want to help your teen persevere beyond their anxiety. Call us today to learn more at (303)- 443-3343

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