A panic attack is an extreme version of disordered anxiety that comes on suddenly and reaches a peak within a few minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack include heart palpitations, chest pains, hyperventilation, tingling or numbness in the limbs, racing thoughts, sweating, dizziness and nausea. You may also have a terrifying sense that your surroundings are somehow unreal, or that your own thoughts or body do not belong to you. And while a panic attack is not fatal, it is common to think you are having a heart attack and that your life is in danger.
Panic attacks may occur reliably in specific situations, such as exposure to certain animals, feeling as though you are stuck in a crowd or other environment where escaping would be difficult, or being reminded of a past sexual assault, violence or other trauma. On the other hand, panic attacks are often unexpected and seem to occur randomly.
When panic attacks feel random, an ever-present sense of worry about the next occurrence can settle in. After experiencing such an extreme state of anxiety and fear, it makes perfect sense that you would want to avoid it happening again. So, you may start to live life in a state of high-alert, constantly monitoring your body for warning signs and avoiding situations you worry might bring on another attack.
Therapy can be very useful for treating panic attacks. Before seeking therapy, someone experiencing symptoms similar to a panic attack should be examined by a medical doctor to rule out other possible causes.