What Causes Panic Attacks and How to Manage Them
A panic attack refers to a sudden period of intense fear. Panic attacks usually reach their peak within minutes of onset, and common panic attack symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Fear of losing control and/or dying
- Shortness of breath
Most people experience one or two panic attacks during their lifetime. However, people dealing with recurring panic attacks may be diagnosed with panic disorder.
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder linked to ongoing panic attacks. It is more common in women than men, and people may start to experience panic disorder symptoms at a young age. Panic disorder sometimes makes it tough for people to engage with family members and friends. In extreme cases, panic disorder prevents people from leaving their homes.
If you or someone you know is dealing with panic attacks or panic disorder, help is available. In fact, if you can identify the root cause of a panic attack or panic disorder, you can treat the issue and discover ways to prevent it from getting out of hand.
What Causes a Panic Attack?
There is no known cause of panic attacks. However, research indicates any of the following factors may play a role in a panic attack:
- Changes in the way the brain functions
There are several factors that may increase a person’s risk of experiencing a panic attack, too. These factors include:
- Family history of panic attacks
- Excess caffeine or nicotine consumption
- Major life changes, such as a divorce or the birth of a child
A panic attack generally occurs without notice and may be triggered by the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to danger. In some instances, a panic attack happens when there is no sign of danger.
How to Manage Panic Attacks
If you experience a panic attack, you should seek medical treatment immediately. And remember, a panic attack may be uncomfortable, but it is not dangerous. If you get medical help right away, you can address your panic attack symptoms and identify ways to keep these symptoms from recurring.
Additionally, there are many things you can do to manage a panic attack as it happens, such as:
1. Practice Deep Breathing
During a panic attack, you may start breathing rapidly and shallowly from the upper lungs, and this may lead to shortness of breath, nausea, confusion, dizziness, and other physical symptoms. Conversely, if you notice your breathing rate and pattern begin to change, take a deep breath. You then can gently and slowly inhale air through the nose, fill your lower and upper lungs with air, and exhale slowly through the mouth. Thanks to this deep breathing exercise, you can slow down your breathing, relax your muscles, and overcome your panic attack symptoms.
2. Close Your Eyes
A panic attack sometimes occurs in a busy environment filled with bright lights, loud noises, and other stimuli. In this scenario, it may be difficult to focus, and panic attack symptoms may escalate quickly. When faced with this type of situation, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This exercise allows you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and focus on what’s most important — overcoming your panic attack.
3. Take a Walk
If you are dealing with a panic attack, a walk may help you alleviate your panic attack symptoms. Walking can trigger endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in the brain that help reduce pain or stress. Plus, walking is gentle on the body and is unlikely to raise your stress levels. Of course, if you are hyperventilating or struggling to breathe due to a panic attack, you should avoid walking or other physical activity until you catch your breath.
4. Use a Focus Object
Selecting a focus object may help you stop a panic attack. A focus object can be anything in clear sight, and as you look at this object, you can study its color, shapes, patterns, size, and other features. As a result, you can prioritize your focus object — and increase the likelihood that your panic attack symptoms will disappear.
5. Envision a Happy Place
When a panic attack strikes, think about a happy place you have already visited or want to visit. Whether it’s a serene beach or an awe-inspiring cabin in the mountains, you can picture yourself in your happy place to help calm your mind and body. With this approach, you can minimize stress and keep your panic attack symptoms at bay.
Take Steps to Address Panic Attacks
For people who continuously experience panic attacks, many treatment options are available, including:
- Medications: Benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and other medications have been shown to help people manage their panic attack symptoms. On the other hand, these medications sometimes cause unwanted side effects or do not deliver the desired results.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, aka “talk therapy,” helps people identify their panic attack triggers. It typically involves working with a therapist who helps a patient understand the root cause of his or her panic attacks and find ways to prevent these attacks from occurring.
- Lifestyle Changes: Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and recreational drugs may help an individual stop his or her panic attacks. Furthermore, aerobic activity and sufficient rest may help a person maintain a healthy lifestyle that lowers his or her risk of panic attacks.
Finding the right treatment to manage panic attacks can be challenging, but the team at Achieve Medical Center can help. We are a multidisciplinary psychiatric and mental health practice committed to providing comprehensive and compassionate care to all of our patients. We also focus on the biological, psychological, and social aspects of each patient to provide him or her with the best support possible.