Understanding Panic Attacks: Causes, Effects, and Coping Strategies

What Causes Panic Attacks?

You experience a panic attack when you feel unsafe, which creates a fear response. This could be anything that makes you believe that your safety is threatened.

The catalysts for these believes are previous experiences, such as:

  • Being in a car accident
  • Experiencing a severe illness
  • Having lived through an abusive relationship

Or, you may not have had these experiences yet, but you worry that you might. For instance, you may never have been in an airplane crash. Yet, being on an airplane, causes you to experience anxiety.

What Happens During a Panic Attack?

This depends on each individual person. However, it is possible to make some generalizations. Understanding panic attacks means identifying with what symptoms they manifest themselves in you.

Some of the signs of a panic attack include:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Shaking

One other symptom of a panic attack includes feeling that you are in immediate danger. This feeling hijacks the logic center of your brain. Instead of being able to make rational choices, you panic. You are, in turn, much more likely to make poor decisions in an effort to feel safe.

What are the Effects of a Panic Attack?

The effects of a panic attack can vary. One the one hand, you must deal with the physical symptoms, which can be distressing or uncomfortable. There are also the mental effects of a panic attack. You wind up feeling jittery and on edge, and become stressed-out.

Both the physical and mental effects are emotionally draining.

Moreover, some of the effects of a panic attack may involve other people. For example, strangers may not understand what is happening to you. Or, your panic attacks begin draining on your relationships with those close to you. Either way, panic attacks are embarrassing and cause a lot more stress than you would like.

How to Cope with Panic Attacks

Understanding panic attacks will help you determine how best to cope with them. There are several effective ways. Here are two that work for most.

Lower Your Stress Levels

One of the simplest ways to manage panic attacks is to consciously make choices that reduce the amount of stress in your everyday life. If you are already feeling stressed, then a panic attack will only magnify it.

Consider reducing stress by:

  • Creating relationships with others that are affirming and supportive
  • Distancing yourself from those who only cause more drama and, thus, stress in your life
  • Avoiding smoking or drinking too many caffeinated beverages
  • Refraining from alcohol use
  • Exercising regularly

Using Mindfulness

Another technique you can use to cope with panic attacks is mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you to slow down. That way, you don’t get as worked up over a situation that could be triggering an attack.

For instance, if you start to feel the beginnings of a panic attack, use a breathing exercise to calm down. Also, be observant of your surroundings. Ask yourself, “Am I really in danger, or is this just in my head?”

Staying level-headed is the key to not getting so worked-up that it leads to a panic attack.

Get Professional Help

It is important too to get professional help for panic attacks. A counselor or therapist can help you understand why you have panic attacks. Perhaps it is an unresolved issue from your past which causes you to feel in danger.

During a session, they can suggest more ideas for coping with panic attacks and help you develop those skills. For the next session, they may check-in with you again to see if the ideas worked.

Clearly, panic attacks are distressing and difficult to experience. However, by lowering your stress levels, using mindfulness, and consulting with a therapist you can begin understanding panic attacks and learn to beat them.