What are panic attacks?

Taylor Adams, Mental Health America

If you’ve ever experienced acute anxiety, you know how frightening panic attacks can be. Your body is responding in “fight-or-flight” mode to a threat that either doesn’t exist or one that doesn’t merit as extreme a reaction. They happen unexpectedly, even when you feel at ease.

When I experienced my first panic attack, I felt my heart pounding faster than normal. I was sweating all over my body while sitting completely still. It sounded like bombs were exploding in my ears and that I was watching my body from above. I thought I was having a heart attack. You may have felt similar symptoms. The good news is that an attack usually won’t last longer than ten minutes, and even though it feels like you’re dying, you will survive it unharmed.

If you have ever experienced a panic attack, talk to a parent, friend, counselor, or whoever you can trust about your concerns. Therapy and medication are two (but not the only) options to consider when treating panic attacks. If you have panic attacks frequently or you find yourself avoiding certain places in fear of having another attack, it could be symptomatic of a panic disorder. It is hard to find the exact cause of the disorder or a specific attack. By finding a treatment option that works for you, addressing your underlying anxiety and triggers can help identify ways to manage panic attack symptoms in the future.

When an attack is occurring, there are a few things you can try to help get through it. Breathe slowly and deeply, remind yourself that you are not in any real danger, find a quiet spot to regroup (excuse yourself from a class, meeting, or a conversation if necessary), ask for someone to sit with you until the attack passes, or try to focus on and relax each muscle in your body. It’s important to determine what works best for you by talking to a mental health professional.

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