Skip To Content

    15 Facts About Panic Attacks That Will Make You Feel Things

    The truth about the crippling condition that's scary AF.

    Maybe you’re out for a walk, at work, on a date, or sitting at home watching Netflix, and for literally no reason at all, you suddenly feel that something is very wrong.

    neilsanders.tumblr.com / Via giphy.com

    You're terrified, helpless, and sure that you're dying. That's what a panic attack feels like.

    1. Anyone can have a panic attack.

    2. About 6 million people in America have panic disorder.

    3. Some people are more likely to develop panic disorder than others.

    nevermindtheend / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: nevermindtheend

    It's more common in women than in men, and it most often starts in early adulthood, says Gur. You may also have a genetic predisposition to develop panic disorder if you have a family member with it or another anxiety disorder, psychologist Reid Wilson, author of Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks, and director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center, tells BuzzFeed Life.

    How you deal with a panic attack may also affect whether or not you develop panic disorder, says Gur. Some people may have a single episode or two and that's it, while others may experience extreme worry and fear after a panic attack, which can lead to full-blown panic disorder.

    4. The symptoms of a panic attack are crippling and very real.

    5. What you’re actually feeling during a panic attack is an exaggeration of the arousal of your sympathetic nervous system.

    So what's actually happening in your body to cause all this chaos? Wilson explains: First your brain picks up on some perceived threat, which might be something like a random scary thought that you're not even conscious of or a weird heartbeat rhythm. Your thalamus brings that sensory information to your amygdala, which translates it as danger and triggers the arousal of your sympathetic nervous system, which gives off the fight-or-flight response. During this time, epinephrine (your body's adrenaline) is secreted in your brain and body, which triggers symptoms like an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, a rise in blood pressure, dilating pupils, dry mouth, and others.

    These are normal sympathetic responses — they would happen naturally if you were in a fight with a lion — but because you're NOT faced with a lion, you start to panic and ascribe meaning to these symptoms to try to make sense of them, like you're having a heart attack/having an allergic reaction/about to pass out/actually dying/etc. This fear and panic can cause other symptoms to kick in and may also trigger hyperventilation (which can add on symptoms like shaking, tingling, dizziness, trouble breathing, chest pain, etc.).

    6. It’s totally common to see a handful of doctors or even go to the emergency room for a panic attack.

    7. Panic attacks seem like they come out of nowhere, but they actually don’t.

    8. You might even get panic attacks if you’re really in tune to your body.

    carolinedirector.tumblr.com / Via giphy.com

    Some people who are prone to anxiety are super attuned to their body sensations, and that alone can trigger a panic attack, says Gur. For instance, maybe you notice a weird heartbeat or trouble breathing or some blurred vision. Most people might not even pick up on it (or they'll attribute it to their morning coffee or allergies or whatever), but others can pick up on these tiny body sensations and focus in on them, triggering the panic attack. Again, you may not even be aware of these triggers, so it still might seem like it comes out of nowhere.

    9. For some people, the fear isn’t that you’re dying but that you’ll lose control or humiliate yourself.

    10. Breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques might help you in the moment.

    11. But the most important thing is to accept what’s happening, acknowledge that it’ll be over soon, and wait it out.

    12. Panic disorder can cause you to make tiny lifestyle changes that might seem like no big deal, but they can actually make your panic worse.

    13. If you’re having panic attacks and significant worry between attacks (or you're changing your behavior because of them), seek out a therapist who specializes in panic disorder or anxiety disorders.

    14. Medication may help, but it’s the least effective treatment method when used alone.

    jessicahtam / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: jessicatam

    If you're still suffering from panic attacks or panic disorder, a doctor or psychiatrist may suggest medication. Panic disorder is typically treated with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, also known as antidepressants), which you would take on a daily basis. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines (like Xanax), which would be more of a fast-acting but temporary solution.

    But here's the thing: Research shows that medication alone is the least effective treatment for panic disorder, says Wilson. The more effective options are therapy — typically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — or a combination of therapy and medication.

    15. Panic disorder is the most treatable mental health disorder.

    Remember, you're not broken or weird or weak.

    Want to be the first to see product recommendations, style hacks, and beauty trends? Sign up for our As/Is newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form