Everything you need to know about panic attacks

A panic attack can be debilitating. Picture: Pexels ShvetsProduction

A panic attack can be debilitating. Picture: Pexels ShvetsProduction

Published Oct 23, 2023


When you have a panic attack for the first time, it can leave you feeling debilitated.

For those who have never experienced it, it can be described as if you’re having a heart attack or feeling as if you’re about to die.

That’s how intense and frightening the experience can be.

The worst part about it is that it can happen when you least expect it to.

Panic attacks are characterised by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and trembling.

While they can be frightening, panic attacks are however manageable, and understanding their causes and symptoms can help individuals cope effectively.

Now you’re probably wondering what exactly is a panic attack.

A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes but may last longer in certain cases.

It can occur without any obvious triggers or can be associated with specific situations. When experiencing a panic attack, a person may also encounter psychological symptoms like a sense of detachment from reality or a fear of losing control.

While the exact cause of panic attacks is not yet fully understood, there are several factors that can contribute to why they happen. Picture: DSC Studio/Pexels

While the exact cause of panic attacks is not yet fully understood, there are several factors that can contribute to why they happen.

Here’s what could possibly lead to someone experiencing a panic attack.

Environmental factors

High-stress levels, traumatic life events, or ongoing stressful situations can trigger panic attacks in susceptible individuals.

Substance abuse and withdrawal from certain medications or substances can also provoke panic attacks.

Cognitive factors

Certain thought patterns, such as catastrophic thinking or overestimating the severity of potential threats, can contribute to panic attacks.

Individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to experience panic attacks due to heightened anticipatory anxiety.

Biological factors

Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders, making them more susceptible to panic attacks. Imbalances in brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, can also play a role.

Panic attacks manifest through a combination of physical and psychological symptoms.

Here’s how you know that could be having a panic attack.

Physical symptoms:

- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations

- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation

- Chest pain or discomfort

- Sweating or chills

- Trembling or shaking

- Nausea or stomach discomfort

- Feeling lightheaded or faint

- Hot flashes or cold sensations

Psychological symptoms:

- Fear of losing control or going crazy

- Sense of impending doom or death

- Detachment from reality

- Feeling disconnected from oneself or surroundings

- Fear of having a heart attack or dying

You could feel like your going crazy. Picture: Unsplash Simran Sood

While in the moment you can feel out of control, there are ways to try and cope with it. Here are some coping strategies that can help those who suffer from panic attacks:

Deep breathing and relaxation techniques

Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can promote relaxation and alleviate symptoms.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping strategies.

Lifestyle changes

Regular exercise, sufficient sleep, a nutritious diet, and avoiding excessive caffeine or alcohol can contribute to overall well-being and reduce anxiety levels.


In severe cases, doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants to manage panic attacks. These should strictly only be used under medical supervision.