Panic attacks

Human beings experience panic when they are in a situation of danger, triggering a normal “fight or flight” instinct to help them get out of a situation that is potentially life-threatening.

A panic attack, however, is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that arises without a distinct situation of danger. It is far more intense than a common feeling of being “stressed out”. Some people feel as though they are suffocating, or having a heart attack, or fear they are dying. While terrifying and stressful, a panic attack is not dangerous and will go away on its own.

Panic Attacks


There are several symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, including:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing, feeling as though you “can’t get enough air”, choking
  • Terror that is almost paralyzing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
  • Trembling, sweating, shaking
  • Chest pains
  • Flushing or sudden chills
  • Tingling in fingers or toes (“pins and needles”)
  • Fear that you’re about to die or you’re losing touch with reality

A panic attack is marked by the following conditions:

  • Occurs suddenly, without warning
  • Level of fear is extremely high, without any environmental threat or danger
  • Passes within a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the “fight or flight” response for a long period of time, however, repeated attacks may continue to recur for hours

Panic Disorder

  • A panic disorder is marked by repeated and unexpected panic attacks. People who are suffering from panic disorder typically fear they are going to experience more panic attacks, and as a result they avoid people, places, and situations that they have identified as potential triggers for a panic attack.
  • Panic disorder can be caused by, or can cause, phobias and other mental health challenges.


If you are, or suspect that you may be, experiencing panic attacks, a mental health professional can help you build strong, positive coping strategies to resolve the challenges and regain control of your life.

Content adapted with permission from Dalton Associates.