What are Panic Attacks?

You know that panicked scene in every terror flick, the one where the couple is screaming and trying like heck to get out of the dark and scary forest? Or that other scene, where they drive in panic down a two-lane road trying desperately (and in vain) to escape the murderer/monster chasing after them?

That is true panic. Even in B-Movies, we can feel the rush of fear and identify with the characters. Our breath gets shallow and our bodies tense up — that is panic.

Now imagine feeling like that all the time, or suddenly with no warning. This is a glimpse of what it feels like to have panic attacks.

Panic Attacks — Fight or Flight

The body is an amazing machine. It responds to various stimuli almost without the use of our conscious mind. Stories are reported of people displaying super human strength when a family member is trapped under a car, or in a situation where death may be imminent if they don’t find a way out. This is called the “fight or flight” response.

Adrenaline gets pumped through the veins at a high rate of speed. The pupils dilate so that you can see more sharply. The heart races pumping blood to the extremities, which prepares you to run for your life.

A true “fight or flight” response is a feeling like no other. The body is preparing itself to react quickly to whatever the encroaching danger is. You may need to use your arms and legs to defend yourself (fight) or you may need to run (flight).

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?

Now, imagine feeling that way for no apparent, visible reason. It’s like your body is on high alert with no explanation, and no resulting “fight or flight” necessary. This is what happens to those who suffer from panic attacks. In a nutshell, it can be described as an overreaction to a particular situation or event, especially when no menace is present. The body begins to respond just like it does when you are in a real danger situation.

Panic attacks can come on suddenly, without warning. Many who experience one for the first time believe they are having a heart attack. This may be a logical conclusion given the symptoms. A person who is unfamiliar with the symptoms of a panic attack may believe, and with good reason, that they are in the throes of a heart attack, stroke, and certain death when they experience one.

How Long Does a Panic Attack Last?

A panic attack may last ten minutes or even longer. It all depends on the stimulating event and how quickly it passes. But, that short period of time can seem like forever when you aren’t sure what is happening to you.

In the United States as many as 20 percent of adults will have a panic attack in their lifetime. That’s around 60 million people who will experience this heightened state of physical alert when there is no real danger around them.

What Should I do During a Panic Attack?

A panic attack can be a disabling event especially when you don’t know what it is. The body goes into defense mode for what seems to be no apparent reason. Panic attacks are frightening. If you believe you are having a panic attack, but are not sure, call for help.

The most important thing your doctor will do is make sure you are not experiencing a heart attack or other physical ailment. With proper knowledge, and treatment, panic attacks can be dealt with successfully so you can rest assured that you will be alright.



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