A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort, which reaches a peak within 10 minutes, and includes at least 4 of the following physical sensations or thoughts:
Racing or pounding heart
Shaking or trembling
Shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered
Feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Chills or hot flashes
Nausea or upset stomach
Dizziness or lightheadedness
A sense of things being unreal or feeling detached from oneself (derealization)
Numbness or tingling sensations
Fear of losing control or "going crazy"
Fear of dying
4 common panic attack myths
Panic attacks will lead to fainting: Fainting is caused by a sudden and significant drop in blood pressure. When you're anxious, your blood pressure rises. So, it's extremely unlikely that you will faint when you have a panic attack.
Panic attacks will cause me to lose control: Although it can feel like you are out of control, you are still behaving in ways that show you are in control when you have a panic attack (e.g. asking to take a break and leaving the classroom or walking to the exit at the movies).
Panic attacks will cause me to go crazy: Panic attacks do not cause people to go crazy. No one has ever gone crazy from experiencing a panic attack. Never. Ever!
Panic attacks are really a heart attack in disguise: You are not having a heart attack. The chest pain you experience during a panic attack is the result of muscle tension (which is part of the "fight-flight-freeze" response). You are not going to suffocate. The feeling of not getting enough air is due to shallow breathing. You are still getting enough air to live.
What to know about panic attacks
A panic attack won't last for long, and it WILL end! Most panic attacks last about 2-10 minutes at most, and it will pass.
They're not harmful, even though they might feel scary.
A panic attack is the body's way of doing the right thing at the wrong time. Think of it as a false alarm. Remember the F3 system? Fight-Flight-Freeze. We need our body to do this to protect us from danger, or alert us to important things. Unfortunately, it is not dangerous to be sitting in math class so having our F3 system kick into gear is not helpful!
A panic attack is a list of symptoms just like a headache is a list of symptoms. These symptoms are NOT dangerous, just annoying and unpleasant.
It is helpful to remember that you can cope and function during a panic attack.
If you need to, you can exit the room without anyone having to know you are having a panic attack.
You can remind yourself that your F3 system has kicked into gear at the wrong time, and that this is just a false alarm- annoying but harmless.
Your F3 surges or attacks always end without anything bad or dangerous happening to you. ALWAYS!
Make a power play!
Tell those panic worries to GET LOST and take back your life!
Remind yourself "I can manage a panic attack. I've had them before and I survived!"
And if you have the courage—tell that panic attack, "Bring in on!I can cope!"
Tools you can use
The following list includes a variety of effective tools you can use to reduce the frequency and intensity of your panic attacks.
About the author
Anxiety Canada promotes awareness of anxiety disorders and increases access to proven resources. Visit www.anxietycanada.com.