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.
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
- 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.
Canadian Mental Health Association. (2016). Phobias and panic disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/phobias-and-panic-disorders/
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Panic disorder. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
Statistics Canada. (2015). Panic disorder. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-619-m/2012004/sections/sectionb-eng.htm#a4