How do I know I am having a panic attack?

Panic attacks are moments of intense fear or an unpleasant feeling which comes on very suddenly, combined with several of the following symptoms or signs:

  • heart palpitations or a faster than normal heartbeat,
  • trembling or shaking,
  • an uncomfortable feeling or ache in the chest area
  • stomach issues or nausea
  • dizziness, a feeling of light-headedness or fainting
  • fear of losing control or going mad
  • fear of dying
  • numb tingling sensations, also called paresthesia
  • chills or hot flashes
  • transpiration or sweating
  • a feeling of suffocation or lack of oxygen
  • violent gasps for air

What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is a violent moment of fear with, among others, the symptoms mentioned above. Like any form of anxiety, panic attacks are a specific expression of stress. Whether this stress is caused by something physical or psychological, only your doctor is able to determine. This is why you should see your doctor about this if you suspect you suffer from panic attacks. In most cases in our Western society, mental stress plays a large role, but some diseases like hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid can also cause this issue. In this last case, a medical clinical treatment should be the main treatment, while stress management techniques can be used as a useful extra tool, if used at all.

How does one treat a panic attack?

After having ruled out and/or treated physical causes with your doctor, learning how to deal with your stress and your panic attacks is the next step.

1. Stress management

General stress management in order to reduce your general stress level is very much of a useful and necessary tool used to guarantee long-term success. You can do this with the help of your doctor, a psychologist or a psychotherapist. In many cases, too, this can be achieved by signing up for a proper online self-help program to learn to deal with your stress.

2. Anti-worrying method

It is also generally recommended to get to know specific anti-worrying methods or relaxation techniques, so that you can recognize an oncoming attack and break it off before it gets all too bad. Such techniques can be taught by a hypnotherapist, a solution focused therapist, but also in some online self-help programs which have this as a built-in factor.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It can even be worth your time to learn how to recognize your, sometimes subconscious, negative thoughts which might be part of the cause of your panic attacks. This is what cognitive behavioral therapists as well as solution focused therapists are specialized in, and high-quality online self-help programs also offer this. There are, of course, tens of other methods like EMDR, hypnosis, or self-hypnosis, which could have a positive effect, too.

Self-test for anxiety and panic

Would you like to know to what extent stress, tension, anxiety or even depressed feelings might play a role in your panic attacks? Then you can simply test this by filling out a short test consisting of 21 simple questions.

Paul Koeck, MD