How to Recognize Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attacks can leave someone completely incapable for minutes to hours. What exactly does a panic attack look like?
Last Updated on
Everyone experiences some level of anxiety from time to time but panic attack symptoms are on a different level. Sometimes people misunderstand what exactly a panic attack is. It found its way into everyday conversation with people exclaiming, “You’re going to give me a panic attack!” at the slightest inconvenience.
Panic attacks aren’t as simple as a bit more stress than usual or feeling overly nervous. Panic attack symptoms are completely overwhelming and usually debilitating. Until you’ve experienced a true panic attack, you can only imagine how terrifying one actually is.
Continue reading to learn more about panic disorders and the panic attack symptoms that accompany them. It might cause you to reconsider the next time you lightheartedly proclaim an oncoming “panic attack” due to a few extra tasks at work.
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a specific type of mental health condition that falls under the general umbrella of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders refer to mental illnesses that cause overwhelming fear and worry on a consistent basis. When someone experiences panic attacks as a result of their anxiety, they qualify for a panic disorder diagnosis.
The characterizing feature of the panic attacks experienced by someone with panic disorder is the fact that they usually arrive out of nowhere. They come unexpectedly and leave the person in an almost constant state of fear because they don’t know when the next one will happen.
In order to receive a panic attack diagnosis, the person fears for at least one or more months that another panic attack will follow. They change their behaviors in order to avoid experiencing another one. This leads to avoiding certain activities or places they believe might trigger them to have a panic attack.
Not everyone who experiences panic attack symptoms receives a panic disorder diagnosis, though. Psychologists first ensure the attacks aren’t caused by possible triggers like:
- Effects of a substance (such as drugs, alcohol, or medications)
- Another mental disorder that include panic attacks as a symptom (post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobia disorders, separation anxiety, etc.)
Panic Attack Symptoms: How to Know If You’re Having One
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the official guide for diagnosing mental illnesses. Published by the American Psychological Association (APA), the DSM-5 outlines criteria for determining the presence of a mental illness. Professionals consider it the standard for diagnosing individuals with various disorders and other mental health conditions.
At their most basic, a panic attack is the sudden, overwhelming onset of extreme fear and anxiety. These episodes last at least a few minutes but usually panic attack symptoms last longer. During a panic attack, people often feel out of control of their body and mind and like they can’t make it stop.
The DSM-5 carefully outlines panic attack symptoms, especially in regard to panic disorders. Researchers aimed to thoroughly define a panic attack in order to leave little room for debate on what counts as one. This keeps doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists on the same page when diagnosing those they work with.
First, the DSM-5 splits panic attacks into two separate categories: expected and unexpected. Expected panic attacks refer to those triggered by an event known to cause extreme anxiety. Unexpected panic attacks happen when there is no obvious trigger to start them. Panic attack symptoms include at least four the following:
- Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or feeling entirely unable to breathe
- Choking feelings
- Shaking or tremors
- Feeling lightheaded
- Numbness or tingling
- Feeling out of touch with reality or out of control
- Fear of dying
Treating Panic Disorder and Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attack symptoms, especially unexpected ones, cause extreme fear both in the moment and afterward. When someone experiences a panic attack it is only natural to want to avoid having one again.
Some people avoid certain places or events that they think cause their panic attacks. Others will shift entire parts of their life around to do all they can to make sure they don’t have another. These extreme acts of avoidance may lead to a noticeably altered state of wellness.
For example, someone may avoid going into work if they have an overly stressful job. Another might not leave their house unless absolutely necessary. When the avoidance behaviors start to negatively impact their lives, it’s time to ask for help.
Panic disorder does not necessarily have an end-all, be-all cure. There are measures to take that will limit or eliminate many of their symptoms, though. Various types of therapy work well for those who experience severe expected or unexpected panic attacks.
Some clinicians use a combination of anxiety medication and cognitive behavioral therapy to treat panic attack symptoms. Seeing a certified doctor or psychiatrist provides the best insight on how to treat each specific case.
If you’re looking for help for yourself or a loved one who struggles with panic disorder, consider Hawaii Island Recovery. Trained, certified, caring staff members understand the overwhelming reality of those who struggle with panic attacks. Call us at 877-721-3556 to find out more about how we can treat your panic attack symptoms and get you back to your normal life!