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What are the symptoms of panic attacks?

At Priory, we understand that panic attacks can be extremely difficult to cope with and can cause a wide range of frightening and distressing symptoms.  

Panic attack symptoms can vary from person to person, and can be categorised into physical, psychological and behavioural/social symptoms, with some of the most common including:

Physical symptoms of panic attacks:

  • Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed  
  • Chest pains and shortness of breath - a tightness of the chest and feeling as though it’s a struggle to breathe
  • A racing or pounding heart
  • Hyperventilating
  • Feeling as though you are choking
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Muscle spasms and palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Numbness and tingling, for example, tingling lips and numbness in your fingers and toes
  • Fluctuating body temperature – feeling very hot or very cold
  • Appetite changes – either increased or reduced appetite which may also result in weight fluctuations

Psychological symptoms of panic attacks:

  • A feeling of being out of control and disconnected from your surroundings
  • Believing that you are having a heart attack, or that you’re going to die
  • Worrying that you are ‘going crazy’
  • Intense anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Paranoia
  • Hopelessness, confusion and frustration
  • Constantly worrying about when your next panic attack will happen, which can prevent you from enjoying your everyday life
  • Drugs and alcohol abuse as a way of self-medicating to help you to manage and cope with your panic attacks. Substance abuse may lead to a harmful addiction which can hinder your recovery and lead to further problems
  • Feeling tearful and emotionally tired – finding that you are crying more than usual and for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exacerbation of any pre-existing mental health problems including anxiety, depression, stress, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Behavioural/social symptoms of panic attacks:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation – not wanting to meet with family and friends, in order to try and hide your condition and reduce the chances of a panic attack occurring
  • Reduced school or work performance
  • Inability to manage day-to-day tasks effectively
  • Frequent visits to emergency departments
  • Seeing your GP more than usual

Self-help tips for dealing with panic attacks

Below are some self-help tips that you can use, to help you to better manage and cope with your panic attacks:

  • Understand the symptoms that are associated with panic attacks so that you can recognise any patterns in your behaviour and identify certain situations where the feeling of panic may occur
  • Know your triggers and remove any negativity, stress or pressure which may be adding to the situation
  • Accept a panic attack for what it is and the symptoms will be greatly reduced
  • Realise that you are not alone – panic attacks are incredibly common for all kinds of people from lots of different backgrounds
  • Speak to friends and relatives about your problem - it is very likely that you will receive a great deal of support and understanding from your friends and relatives, which is hugely important in the treatment and recovery journey
  • Make sure that you are getting plenty of sleep and are eating well. Try to avoid ‘junk food’, alcohol and other triggering drugs/medication
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to ‘get over it’ - these things take time to understand and conquer

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Ed Burns (MBChB, MRCPsych, MSc) in May 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in May 2020. To view all Priory panic attack specialists, please click here.

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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