A 7-Step Guide To Handling A Panic Attack

panic attack silhouette head down
Reading Time: 3 minutes

My most spectacular panic attack happened a few years ago while I was traveling alone through Europe on my way to the Middle East.

One morning, I awoke at my friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv to birds chirping outside of my bedroom window and a fragrant scent of freshly brewed coffee wafting in the air.

Everything was perfect until a moment later when I was sitting in bed with my heart pounding out of my chest, my hands trembling, and my lungs depleted of air as if an evil sorcerer was trying to extract my very soul out of my very body.

But this wasn’t sorcery, dear reader.

This was a panic attack of biblical proportions.

WHAT IS A PANIC ATTACK?

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that can create severe physical reactions in the body when there’s no real danger or apparent cause.1

About 11% of adults in the U.S. will experience one each year, and it could happen to anyone not just those suffering from depression or other mental health issues.2

Before you start freaking out, note that there’s a silver lining here aka a guide to handling a panic episode should you get blindsided by one imminently.

We’ll go over that in a few minutes. For now, try not to get your underpants in a bunch.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A PANIC ATTACK?

Chest pain. Shortness of breath. Numbness throughout your entire body. Not to mention hyperventilation and heart palpitations.

As you can see below, the symptoms of a panic attack are extremely unsexy.

panic attack symptoms list gif

PANIC ATTACK VS. ANXIETY: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Anxiety and panic disorders are often confused with each other, but they have different symptoms.

To point out their differences, please indulge me in a weather analogy:

Panic attacks are to tornadoes what anxiety episodes are to hurricanes.

That is, panic episodes come out of the blue. They’re unpredictable like tornadoes that come alive in a great swirl of f*ckery without warning.

They’re characterized by a burst of heightening emotions — the not-so-great ones like stress, fear, and anxiety.

By contrast, anxiety attacks can be triggered by certain events or situations such as caffeine withdrawal or medication in some people.

When a person goes through a panic episode, it’s more intense than when they experience an anxious episode, which usually comes on gradually over time rather than all at once.

What’s more, panic attack victims experience physical manifestations that those who suffer from general anxiety don’t necessarily feel during their times of high stress.

gray tornado whipping through rural farmland

WHAT CAUSES A PANIC ATTACK?

Panic attacks are somewhat of an enigma.

Their root causes are generally unknown, although some factors like genetics, stress, temperament, and life changes (e.g., moving to a new place, graduating from college, marrying a significant other, etc.) can trigger an acute case of overwhelming emotions.3

A predisposition to certain types of known stresses can also lead someone down this path, but the same could be said about new experiences that can amount to stress, such as traveling on your own (hint, hint) or changing careers later in life.

A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO HANDLING A PANIC ATTACK

To handle a panic attack like a bonafide champ, practice these seven steps if (or when) it happens:

how to survive panic attack list

PANIC ATTACKS ARE FLEETING

Panic attacks can be terrifying, but they’re not deadly. They’re as fleeting as that annoying tornado that comes out of nowhere and passes eventually.

When you feel like one is about to happen, you may feel as though you’ve lost control, or that the world is spinning out of your grasp for a few minutes.

But in reality, it’s just temporary. So breathe!

Also, know that you can handle a panic episode with aplomb should one strike unexpectedly. Just follow the above steps and you’ll put things back together in no time.

Finally, if this has been helpful for your understanding of panic attacks or other mental health issues, please share this post on social media so that others may learn from it, too!

  1. Mayo Clinic. Panic attacks and panic disorder. Updated June 30, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Panic Disorder. Updated June 30, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4451-panic-disorder
  3. Mayo Clinic. Panic attacks and panic disorder. Updated June 30, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021
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