Panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes of fear and anxiety that can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. They can strike without warning, leaving the person feeling alone, helpless, and terrified.

With an estimated 4.7% of adults in the United States experiencing panic attacks at some point, it is crucial to understand the causes, symptoms, and coping strategies to manage these distressing episodes. By increasing awareness and knowledge about panic attacks, we can better support ourselves and our loved ones as they navigate these challenging experiences.

Causes of panic attacks

Various factors, including biological, environmental, and behavioral influences, can trigger panic attacks. Understanding the root causes of panic attacks can help individuals and their support networks develop effective strategies for prevention and management.

Biological factors play a significant role in the onset of panic attacks. Genetics can predispose an individual to develop a panic disorder or experience panic attacks. Research suggests that there may be a hereditary component, with family members of those with panic disorder being more likely to develop the condition themselves.

In addition to genetic factors, brain chemistry also influences the occurrence of panic attacks. An imbalance in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, can contribute to increased anxiety and the onset of panic attacks. Further research is needed to fully understand the complex interactions between genetics and brain chemistry in the development of panic attacks.

Environmental factors are also crucial in the emergence of panic attacks. Stressful life events, such as a job loss, the death of a loved one, or relationship difficulties, can trigger panic attacks. The body’s natural stress response can be heightened during these challenging times, increasing the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack.

Additionally, traumatic events, such as accidents, abuse, or witnessing a violent act, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is often accompanied by panic attacks. It is essential to recognize and address the impact of these environmental stressors on one’s mental health.

Behavioral factors can also contribute to the development of panic attacks. For example, individuals with specific phobias, such as a fear of flying or public speaking, may be more prone to experiencing panic attacks when confronted with their fears.

Substance abuse, including excessive alcohol consumption and drugs like stimulants or hallucinogens, can also exacerbate anxiety and provoke panic attacks. In some cases, the fear of experiencing a panic attack can become a trigger itself, creating a vicious cycle of anxiety and panic.

Symptoms of panic attacks

Panic attacks manifest through a range of physical and emotional symptoms that can be distressing and frightening for the person experiencing them. These symptoms typically occur suddenly and peak within minutes, often leaving the individual feeling exhausted and overwhelmed once the attack subsides. Some common physical symptoms associated with panic attacks include:

  • Rapid heart rate (palpitations or tachycardia)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia)
  • Headaches
  • A feeling of choking or tightness in the throat

There are also emotional symptoms associated with panic attacks, such as:

  • Intense fear or terror, often accompanied by a sense of impending doom
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  • Fear of dying or suffering a heart attack
  • Feeling detached from oneself or reality (derealization or depersonalization)
  • Confusion or disorientation

The symptoms of panic attacks can vary from person to person and may change over time. In some cases, individuals may experience only a few of these symptoms, while others may experience several or even all of them simultaneously. It is essential to recognize that panic attacks mimic other medical conditions’ symptoms, such as heart attacks, asthma, or thyroid disorders. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis if you experience any of these symptoms frequently or consistently.

Treatment options for panic attacks

Coping strategies and treatments for panic attacks can help people regain control, reduce the frequency and severity of their attacks, and improve their overall quality of life. A combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can be particularly effective in managing panic attacks.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used and evidence-based treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder. It focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to panic attacks. Through CBT, individuals learn to recognize their triggers, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and confront their fears in a controlled and gradual manner.

Exposure therapy involves gradual and controlled exposure to the feared situation or sensation to help individuals become desensitized and reduce their anxiety over time. It can be particularly helpful for those with specific phobias that may trigger panic attacks. In many cases, a panic disorder may warrant medication to manage symptoms. A psychiatrist can work with an individual to determine the most suitable medication, such as SSRIs or benzodiazepines, depending on their specific needs and situation.

Lifestyle changes for managing panic attacks

Regular exercise and physical activity have been linked to reduced stress levels and improved mental well-being in general. Incorporating deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, or yoga into one’s daily routine can help reduce overall stress levels and decrease the likelihood of experiencing panic attacks. Consuming a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule can support mental and emotional well-being, helping to reduce the frequency of panic attacks.

There are also some things you can do to center and ground yourself if you feel a panic attack coming on. Taking a few moments to focus on breathing, engaging in a calming activity like reading or listening to music, or calling a friend for support can help reduce anxiety and manage symptoms. It is also essential to remember that panic attacks are not dangerous and will eventually pass.

Take the first step towards managing panic attacks with Serene Health

It is essential to remember that each person’s experience is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Consulting with a mental health professional can help determine the most appropriate treatment plan and coping strategies tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.

Serene Health is here to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with panic attacks, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Our experienced clinicians are available to provide individualized treatment plans and evidence-based strategies that can help reduce the intensity and frequency of panic attacks. With hard work and dedication, it is possible to manage panic symptoms and live an anxiety-free life.

Contact us today to learn more about our panic attack treatment options! We offer a wide variety of behavioral health and mental health services, including online therapy and PrTMS. We’re here to help you on your journey towards recovery. Call us at 844-737-3638 or visit to schedule an appointment.