A panic attack can be a very scary and overwhelming experience. It can make you feel like you are losing control, having a heart attack, or dying. But what exactly is a panic attack? And is it possible to have a panic attack without having panic disorder? Let’s take a closer look.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden and intense feeling of fear or anxiety. It usually lasts between 5 and 20 minutes and can be so severe that it feels like you are about to die. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating, shaking, and dizziness.
People who have recurrent panic attacks often live in fear of not knowing when or where the next attack will occur. This can lead to chronic anxiety, avoidance of certain situations, and even depression.
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a crippling mental illness that is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and persistent worry about having more attacks. This can lead to problems like agoraphobia (a fear of leaving safe spaces), social withdrawal, and difficulty performing normal daily activities.
You Can Have Panic Attacks Without Panic Disorder
It is possible to have a single, isolated panic attack. In fact, most people will experience one or two isolated episodes and then never have another panic attack. For instance, someone may have a panic attack when frightened by an aggressive dog, but this does not necessarily mean that they have or will develop panic disorder.
However, if you have recurrent panic attacks – meaning you have multiple attacks over the course of weeks or months, you may have panic disorder. This is especially true if the panic attacks are unprovoked or you also experience persistent worry about having another attack or avoiding situations that may trigger one.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
The exact cause of panic attacks is not known, but many experts believe that they can be caused by a combination of factors. These may include genetic predisposition, environmental stressors (present or past), substance abuse/withdrawal, and underlying physical and mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and thyroid problems.
How to Calm Down From a Panic Attack
It might be seemingly impossible to calm down during a time when everything around you seems to be spiraling out of control. But there are steps you can take to calm down and overcome a panic attack. Some common techniques include:
- Taking deep breaths
- Engaging in an activity that requires your full attention (like reading or playing music)
- Distracting yourself by counting backward from 100
- Listening to soothing sounds/music
- Talking to a friend or loved one
- Use self-affirmation (“I am safe,” “This will pass,” “I am in control,” etc.)
- Go for a walk or engage in light physical activities
- Try relaxation techniques such as medication, aromatherapy
- Practice visualization
- Seek professional treatment
The Bottom Line
It is possible to have a panic attack without having panic disorder, but if you experience recurrent attacks, it’s important to talk to your doctor and explore potential causes and treatment options. Panic disorder can be managed effectively using psychotherapy, medication, and self-care/lifestyle changes.