Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear or extreme anxiety. They occur when the “fight or flight” response in your brain is triggered, even though there is no sign of danger. The fight or flight response is a survival system that your body uses. It means that when your brain thinks it is in danger, your body gets ready to fight or run away. If you are experiencing a panic attack, the body will react like you are in a dangerous situation even though you are not.
Panic attacks can happen without any warning. The attack could last for a few minutes or up to half an hour. After the attack, it might take some time to start to feel O.K. again. It is not unusual to experience a panic attack. At least 10% of people will experience a panic attack this year.
What causes panic attacks? The causes of panic attacks aren’t fully known although it could be that stress is associated with panic attacks. Stress alters the chemicals in your body that influence the fight or flight response.
Seek help. If you are having a lot of panic attacks, or if they are preventing you from doing everyday things that you enjoy, it is possible that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. You might want to see a counselor or another person that specializes in these disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy, and in some cases medication, can help ease panic attacks. Panic attacks can be frightening experiences, but if dealt with properly, can be overcome. The important thing is that you look after yourself and seek help to avoid future panic attacks.
Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at ReachOut.com, a website that helps teens get through tough times.