What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

A panic attack is an occurrence of strong anxiety and fear (and accompanying physical reactions) that seems to happen without an obvious cause. Panic attacks are a result of our ‘fight or flight’ instinct engaging, without the threat of immediate physical danger being present.

The symptoms of a panic attack can be very intense and frightening, especially if you’re not used to experiencing them.

A panic attack is an occurrence of strong anxiety and fear (and accompanying physical reactions) that seems to happen without an obvious cause. Panic attacks are a result of our ‘fight or flight’ instinct engaging, without the threat of immediate physical danger being present.

 

Panic attack symptoms

  • Intense feelings of being swamped or overwhelmed
  • Galloping heart rate
  • Extreme perspiration
  • Constricted or tight chest
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Uncontrollable shaking or trembling
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Tightness in the stomach or nausea
  • Strong feelings of fear
  • Feeling distant or detached.

The attack can last from a few minutes to half an hour, with the peak intensity usually occurring within ten minutes before subsiding.

 

What causes panic attacks?

Panic attacks are still being studied and are not yet fully understood, but we do know that some of the contributors include prolonged stress, traumatic events, illness and overly intensive exercise.

They can occur at any time and can begin from a calm or highly anxious state.

 

How do panic attack symptoms differ from anxiety?

Although they are closely related and feel quite similar, there are a few differences between the symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. Anxiety usually has a shorter duration and tends to have a specific ‘trigger scenario’ (such as a job interview), so often fades away when the situation passes.  Conversely, panic attacks seem to happen suddenly, often without the presence of a specific reason or cause, which can make them all the more frightening.  Of course everyone experiences these things differently, but in general panic attacks are usually much more all-encompassing and overwhelming than feeling anxious.

 

Is it a panic disorder?

A panic disorder is usually marked by the frequent experience of panic attacks. Attacks occur fairly often and can prevent normal functioning. Attacks happen unexpectedly and the possibility of repeated attacks weighs heavily on the sufferer’s mind. Someone experiencing a panic disorder may make major changes to their behaviour and habits to minimise the chances of an attack happening.

 

How to stop a panic attack

Self-help and self-talk

You can help yourself to stop a panic attack:

  • Re-assure yourself that a panic attack is not life threatening and it will usually subside within a few minutes.
  • Control and slow your breathing by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through your mouth.
  • Close your eyes and count to five on each inhale and exhale.
  • Focus on your immediate surroundings – pick a point of interest and direct your attention to something external.

 

Seek professional help

If you experience regular panic attacks, consulting a professional can help you find ways to manage occurrences. Your GP can usually offer some advice and can also conduct a physical examination to see if the attacks result from an illness of some sort like asthma, heart problems or diabetes.

A counsellor or psychologist can also help you manage attacks using techniques like cognitive behaviour therapy. These strategies can help you identify and challenge thoughts and behaviours that can cause feelings of panic, such as self-monitoring and relaxation techniques.

 

If you need to talk, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or access online chat.

More from men's mental health

The power of a good support network

Having a good support network is a vital tool in maintaining your mental health and wellbeing. As social creatures, our relationships and connections are a basic and core need, behind only physical and safety needs in importance.

Read more

Making a safety plan

A safety plan helps to get you through the tough moments when experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. Here MensLine Australia outlines the prompts required to help you work through the steps of your personal safety plan until you feel safe.

Read more

Helping a mate who is suicidal

It can be hard for some men to express their feelings. They may be embarrassed or worried they’ll be seen as weak. Here MensLine Australia explores ways you can help a mate who may be experiencing feelings of suicide.

Read more

Helping yourself when feeling suicidal

Feeling as though your life is out of control, and that it will never get better is a common feeling. Here MensLine Australia discusses ways in which you can help yourself through this difficult time.

Read more

Why do I want to end my life?

There are many reasons why people think about ending their lives. Here MensLine Australia looks at some of the common experiences that can lead to people feeling this way, and the support options that are available.

Read more

Helping a mate who is suicidal

It can be hard for some men to express their feelings. They may be embarrassed or worried they’ll be seen as weak. Here MensLine Australia explores ways you can help a mate who may be experiencing feelings of suicide.

Read more

Helping yourself when feeling suicidal

Feeling as though your life is out of control, and that it will never get better is a common feeling. Here MensLine Australia discusses ways in which you can help yourself through this difficult time.

Read more

Why do I want to end my life?

There are many reasons why people think about ending their lives. Here MensLine Australia looks at some of the common experiences that can lead to people feeling this way, and the support options that are available.

Read more