5 Signs of a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear that can cause debilitating physical reactions. The experience is so visceral that many people believe that they’re having a medical crisis.

Whether you’ve never had a panic attack before or are familiar with them because of a condition like PTSD or a panic disorder, it can be tricky to identify if the thing you’re feeling is truly a panic attack.

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These five signs can clue you in to the presence of a panic attack:

Racing Pulse

People who have panic attacks for the first time often confuse them with heart attacks. One of the earliest and most common signs of a panic attack is the feeling of your heart racing at speeds of over 100 beats per minute. Don’t worry —  your pulse will slow down again once your attack has begun to subside with no long-lasting ill effects.

Breathing Disruptions

When a panic attack begins, your body goes into a fight-or-flight response and becomes flooded with adrenaline. This causes your breathing to become fast and shallow so that you can take in more oxygen.

However, this change in your breathing pattern can dizziness and confusion. Patients may even become lightheaded or faint. Sit down and take slow, deep breaths through your nose and exhale through your mouth to begin to mitigate the symptoms.

Temperature Dysregulation

The nervous system reacts in many ways during a panic attack. In some cases, the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature, may be affected. The result of this dysregulation is often unpredictable. Some people experience chills, while others feel overheated and sweat excessively.

A Sense of Detachment

Some panic attack sufferers experience depersonalization, which is a persistent feeling that your consciousness is removed from your body. People also deal with derealization, which is a sense that what’s happening in your environment isn’t real.

These feelings can be jarring and frightening and can lead to increased panic and anxiety. Ground yourself with sensations like pinching your hand or touching an ice cube.

Fear of Dying

Even if you control your breathing and can identify that your pulse is racing, it can be difficult to shake the fear that you might die during a panic attack. Patients have come up with a number of different coping strategies to deal with this lingering fear.  Reaching out to a licensed therapist can help you discover the things that will work best for you.

The world can be an incredibly stressful place sometimes. It’s not abnormal that people can become deeply affected by that fact, which can in turn manifest through panic attacks. Know that the things you might be feeling are not uncommon.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741