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Debamita Banerjee


Panic Attack and Panic Disorder

A panic attack is characterized by a sudden bout of overwhelming fear and distress without any apparent cause. A person often experiences intense physical reactions while having a panic attack. As scary as it might be, panic attacks aren't abnormal if someone is going through a traumatic period in their life. But, if a person experiences panic attacks repeatedly and lives in constant terror of them, then they're said to have panic disorder. A panic disorder would mean that a person has at least one or more panic attacks every month.  

Panic disorder can be a frightening condition to go through because it instills a feeling of loss of control over one's life and emotions but, it can be managed by following the correct treatment procedure.    


Healthcare professionals are yet to find a definite cause for panic disorders but theories are circulating backed by a fair amount of evidence. Currently, panic disorders are said to be triggered by both biological and sociological causes.  

Here are a few factors that might cause a panic disorder in an individual.  

Genetic Affinity  

If you have people in your family that have had recurring panic attacks in the past, then you could be more prone to having a panic disorder compared to an average person.  

Big lifestyle transitions  

If you're going through a significant change in your life such as moving to a new city, getting married, starting at a new job, etc. then you might be triggered to get a panic attack as you're overwhelmed by your circumstances.  


If you have been through serious trauma recently or in the past, then you could be vulnerable to panic disorders. Incidents such as death, accidents, and abuse can leave a lasting effect on the brain that could surface in the form of panic attacks.


It's commonly reported that symptoms of panic disorder surface early in one's life, around teenage and early adulthood. A panic attack usually lasts for 15-20 minutes. An average person is said to experience one to two panic attacks in their entire lives. If you've already crossed that number then you might have a panic disorder.    

Here are some symptoms of panic disorder.  


It's the primary symptom of panic disorder. If you encounter panic attacks often and are in an impending fear of them happening at all times, you likely have a panic disorder.  

Below are some signs of panic attacks.  

  1. Heart Palpitations: During a panic attack, a person's heartbeat gets fast as the brain experiences irrational fear and goes into fight or flight mode. People often mistake this reaction for a heart attack. 

  2. Rapid Breathing: As panic hits one's nervous system, their lungs start demanding more air, and hence, the breathing tends to quicken up. 

  3. Intense Shaking: A person might start shaking uncontrollably as a result of a panic attack. The body cannot contain the shock due to the attack and reacts by extreme trembling. 

  4. Sweating: Sweating is one of the initial signs of a panic attack. Sweating for no specific causes reflects stress and nervousness in general but it can also eventually turn into a panic attack. 

  5. Detaching from Reality: A person going through a panic attack often has this moment where they feel like they have transcended reality and are only a spectator to the world around them. This happens due to the loss of control of one's reactions during the attack.

  6. Dizziness: An individual's brain is in hefty distress during a panic attack, as a result of which, they might get dizzy and not be able to stand upright.

  7. Chest pain: Going through a panic attack can be coupled up with pain or tightness in the chest. This happens because your heart just like the rest of your body is under a lot of agonies.

  8. Fear of Death: A panic attack causes your body to be in intense discomfort within a brief period. This can trigger fear of dying at the moment.  


People with panic disorder develop a heightened fear of panic attacks. This is because they've experienced it numerous times and can truly grasp how terrible it can make them feel. This could lead to them not wanting to be a part of any high-pressure situation or even avoid social callings. Losing control over themselves can persuade them to seek isolation to avoid public embarrassment. Any negative emotion and circumstance can also throw them off because their panic attacks in the past have convinced them that they're inadequate for handling stress.  


Unlike people who've had an occasional panic attack owing to their state of affairs, a person suffering from a panic disorder starts to notice a pattern in their reactions and develops a fear of places where they have experienced panic attacks in the past. Humans tend to relate inanimate objects to the emotion they've felt around them. This propensity is further aggravated when the feelings experienced are negative as our brain is functioned to avoid anything it associates with danger. 


If you've experienced all or most of the above-mentioned symptoms, there is a strong chance that you have a panic disorder. You can try incorporating some lifestyle changes to pacify your brain and thoughts. But, if the panic attacks persist then you must seek professional help. People frequently mistake their initial panic attacks as cardiac arrests or heart attacks but as soon as you refer to a health care expert, they'll properly diagnose your condition and let you know if you have a panic disorder or not.  

Here are some ways that can help you manage and even cure your panic attacks.  


Refer to a psychotherapist who caters to your psychological needs. They can apply treatment options such as Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) which can help you modify and control your thoughts according to your conditions. This will help you regain your composure and have greater authority over your reactions. Over time you can learn to let go of your irrational fears and hence, minimize your panic attacks.  


If your panic attacks have gotten out of control, then considering seeing a psychologist. After thorough checking of the severity of your condition and your health statistics, they may prescribe you medication that will soothe your nerves. Panic disorders often accompany mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, so getting a proper consultation is crucial in serious cases.  


If you've recognized that you're going through a panic disorder, then learn some deep breathing techniques. You can just practice the fundamental deep breathing or look up advanced strategies on the internet. By doing deep breathing techniques, you can cope with a panic attack at the moment by distracting yourself from the chaos and focusing on your breathing. This will help you stay calm and recover from the attack.  


If you are suffering from recurring panic attacks, then your brain is overwhelmed by the surroundings. Any additional stress from work, family, finances, or relationships will only worsen your condition and trigger further attacks. Hence, try to take your life slowly and do not put too much pressure on yourself. If you're going through an exceptionally rough patch, then take a break to evaluate everything.  


Exercising induces the release of endorphins which can automatically uplift your mood and make you less prone to mental disorders of all kinds, including panic disorders.    

If you're having a particularly stressful day, then go outside and engage in some light exercise or movement to let the steam off and avoid your brain going into panic mode.  


The consumption of alcohol, smoking, and caffeine can negatively impact your nervous system, triggering panic attacks. Such substances have an addictive effect on your body and build dependency. As a result, going without them even for a little while can start causing withdrawal symptoms and inducing panic attacks. Hence, they are furthermore dangerous for people suffering from a panic disorder.  


Going through a panic disorder can be quite stirring. It can lead to a loss of self-belief in your mental strength and also cause immense confusion. Do not be afraid of seeking support. Talk to your family or loved ones about how you feel so that they can better understand your situation and assist you accordingly. Try to talk to them about the negative emotions that might be bubbling in your brain so that you can feel lighter after the conversation.  


The stigma and lack of information regarding panic attacks and panic disorder can make it difficult to talk to your family and friends about it. If you're looking for a place to vent out anything that has been bothering you, visit iAmEars. It's is a platform that provides a haven to people from all walks of life in need of a place to express their feelings. You can write about your feelings on the website while preserving your anonymity. The experts can mental health professionals on the panel will answer your queries and provide you the right advice according to your condition. The doctors and therapists on the team can provide counseling if required. You can also find support groups where people who have been through the same issues as you discuss their own experiences, struggles, and journey to recovery.    


Being panic-stricken at any point in time is a terrible feeling, living with a disorder that leads you to experience it, again and again, is a real nightmare. But, panic disorder can be cured with consistent treatment and patience.      

Remember that the true strength in your character is showcased by how you deal with the shortcomings you face in life.  

In the video below, Dr. Ashish Mittal briefly summarizes panic attacks and panic disorders from the perspective of a psychologist.