What is a panic attack?

A panic attack can best be described as an overwhelming wave of anxiety that passes through your body and normally ends within 15 minutes. During a panic you may experience many different physical sensations and thoughts. Here are some common sensations and thoughts that you may experience:


  • hot or cold flushes
  • sweaty
  • dizzy, feeling faint
  • upset stomach, nausea
  • vomiting, diarrhea
  • tingling, numbness
  • heart racing
  • difficulty breathing, choking feeling
  • tremor / shakiness
  • feeling of unreality or being detached from oneself


  • “something is terribly wrong with me”
  • “I am having a heart attack”
  • “I am going to pass out”
  • “I am going to lose control”
  • “I am going crazy”
  • “I am dying”

If I have a panic attack does that mean that I have panic disorder?

No. Panic attacks are extremely common and about 1 out of 3 people will experience a panic attack during their lifetime. Panic disorder is defined by the DSM-V as:

recurrent unexpected panic attacks AND
at least one of the attacks has been followed by 1 month (or more) of the following:
1. persistent concern about having additional attacks and its consequences (e.g. losing control, having a heart attack, going crazy)
2. a significant change in behavior related to the attacks


How do you get rid of panic attacks?

Sometimes panic attacks go away without any intervention. Once a panic attack has started, it is very difficult to make it stop. However, there are many different ways to decrease the frequency and impact of your panic attacks, including:

  • self-help : maintaining regular sleep, diet, and exercise
  • mental exercises : mindfulness, meditation
  • physical exercises : yoga, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises
  • therapy : cognitive-behavior therapy, supportive psychotherapy, dynamic psychotherapy
  • medications : as-needed medications (e.g. benzodiazepines, buspirone) or daily medications (e.g. antidepressants)

Education is the first step in dealing with panic attacks. We recommend that you ask your doctor for more information about panic attacks so that you can decide what kind of treatment is right for you. Many people prefer to start with self-help or mental/physical exercises. If you try the self-help and exercises and are still suffering from repeated panic attacks you may want to consult with a psychiatrist to see if therapy and/or medications might be right for you.

If you would like to consult with one of our psychiatrists about your panic attacks, please give us a call at 919-636-5240 option #1 or email office@dev.cognitive-psychiatry.com.