How to Stop a Panic Attack

A Healthier Michigan

| 4 min read

When a panic attack hits, one can feel out of control or in extreme danger. Anxiety over the panic attack or attempts to avoid or prevent an oncoming panic attack can add to the feelings of urgency and panic, according to study in BMC Psychology. This can make the panic attack last longer and the symptoms may be more difficult to handle.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden onset of symptoms associated with panic, fear, or danger. It is a sudden, rapid onset of symptoms such as a feeling of loss of control, fear of or feeling as if you are dying or having a heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people will experience a panic attack in their lifetime, but do not have them routinely or often. If you have multiple, recurring, or routine panic attacks that is a sign of a panic disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Panic attack symptoms may include:
  • chills or hot flashes
  • rapid heart rate
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and cramping
  • headache
  • lightheadedness or dizziness

What causes a panic attack?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic and anxiety disorders have genetic factors, but more research is needed to determine if specific biological factors for panic disorders are passed on. Imbalances of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid are tied to panic disorders, according to a 2023 study in Frontiers of Psychiatry, and these may be treated with medication.
Acutely, panic attacks can be brought on by many different situations or stimuli or may onset out of nowhere. Panic attacks by nature are a misbalanced or errantly triggered fear response, according to a study in Psychiatry Investigation. According to the NIMH, some common triggers or causes of panic attacks include:
  • respiratory issues such as those from asthma or allergies, or hyperventilation
  • too much caffeine
  • hormone imbalances or changes such as those from puberty, pregnancy, or menopause
  • serotonin imbalances, either inherent or from drug use
These are some common factors seen in research on panic attacks, but everyone may have their own unique triggers or causes for panic attacks.

Ways to stop a panic attack

According to the Mayo Clinic, in most cases panic attacks do not need medical attention or emergency care. You may feel like you are in danger, but this is a biological response that confuses you. It is hard to do, but one of the best things to do for a panic attack is to try not to focus on the panic attack. This has been studied to be a trigger for panic attacks to onset and attempts to avoid a panic attack tend to make the attack worse.
Avoiding known triggers can also be an effective tactic. If you have claustrophobia, social anxiety, respiratory issues, or mood disorders that have known triggers or warning signs, these can be avoided if it does not interfere with your daily life.
If you are often actively taking measures to avoid panic attacks, it is likely you could benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy or other therapeutic approaches to panic disorders, according to the NIMH. If you are spending time and energy thinking about possible panic attacks, it is actually more likely for you to have them, according to the study in BMC Psychology.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is often the first approach for treatment of panic attacks and panic disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. This type of therapy can better equip you and prepare you for panic attacks and triggers. In some cases, medication may be useful or needed to manage panic disorder.
Contact your primary care provider (PCP) if you believe you are prone to panic attacks or fear you may experience one in the future. Together, you can discuss treatment options.

Related Links:

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
No Personal Healthcare Advice or Other Advice
This Web site provides general educational information on health-related issues and provides access to health-related resources for the convenience of our users. This site and its health-related information and resources are not a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians or other health care providers.
This site and its health-related information resources are not meant to be the practice of medicine, the practice of nursing, or to carry out any professional health care advice or service in the state where you live. Nothing in this Web site is to be used for medical or nursing diagnosis or professional treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding a health condition. You should not disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice, because of something you read in this site.