What is a Panic Attack?

A Panic Attack is unmistakable. Your first one may be very traumatic. You’re doing something normal, ordinary, and then your heart pounds, breathing becomes difficult. Your legs become wobbly, you know something terrible is about to happen, you may even die. For sure you are having a heart attack. Most will end up in emergency (hospital) when they experience an attack for the first time, Trembling, sweating, shaking.. fearful… feeling like they are losing their mind perhaps.


continued from… NATURE IS CALM, AM I

So what is it? What is a panic attack?

The human mind is remarkable. The mind  can take over. like an auto pilot and control your body. It isn’t always right though. The panic attack is your “fight or flight” instinct. telling your body that there is imminent danger, be prepared to do battle or run.

So it preps the body. The heart pounds, pumping blood. Lungs begin to breathe at a much higher rate, hyperventilating you, filling the blood with oxygen so the muscles can react. Arms and legs may tremble or become numb. pins and needles, tingling.

Adrenaline surges. Fear grows. Your body is ready to react… to something.

Panic attacks are not uncommon. If you have many, you may have a  panic disorder. Often when you have one attack, you fear them, fear having another. They are traumatic.

So what causes them? Sorry, there is no easy answer to that. It could be genetic, it could be chemical. Depression, a disorder, phobias… an on going list of things that will cause them. There are physical conditions too, that can cause them. You should see your doctor.

They can happen in your sleep as well.

The body releases adrenaline, a lot of it, you also begin rapid breathing, lots of short breaths, hyperventilating, this increases the effects of the attack, too much oxygen and carbon dioxide enter into the blood.

They don’t last for long periods, maybe only ten to thirty minutes. But the effect afterwards does, and the fear of another attack lingers. Your body will feel the attack for some time as well.

You notice triggers, things that may cause an attack to occur. Often crowds will do this. So you avoid them. Some people will not want to leave the safety of their homes, so they can avoid further attacks, because when you feel the attack begin, the fear of it, causes it to grow. Anxiety may lengthen the attack.

So stopping the attack, *nods* this is what you want to do… well sorry again, but once started, it is going to have to run its course, the chemicals and messages have been released in your body, in the next post, I can offer things to help you deal with the attack.


The amygdala and hypothalamus as well, are where your attack begins. Parts of your brain, contained in the  limbic system. This is where the fear begins, where memories of fear are stored. A good thing at times. Fear of things is needed. It keeps us from doing some silly things.

Interestingly enough, people with panic disorders often have a smaller amygdala.

Sight, smell, sound.. these senses send information to the amygdala, it interrupts this information, misinterpreting sends the wrong stimuli to the body, resulting in panic.

A smaller amygdala may result in incorrectly receiving the inputs. We know depression will cause the hippocampus to become smaller from my PTSD post. The hippocampus  releases cortisol which is also released in the attack, giving bursts of energy, when smaller there are less receptors to tell it to stop, that there is no danger, so the attack may start or last longer.

So what damages the amygdala? Smoking will. Trauma as in a fall or accident, infections, disease. But traumatic events can as well, neglect, abuse.. and so on.

Does it help to know what causes the attacks? No, and yes too.

Yes because one fear during the attack, or the fear of one, is that you are losing your mind, the helpless feeling, frustration, fear you are different, there is no reason, why is it happening… so this is perhaps why.

And no, because knowing will not just stop them. Fear not though, hmmm, no not a pun, treatment can eliminate them, or help you deal with them, meds too.

This will be on post number three, Dealing with panic attacks, can you.

Also how to help someone that is going through an attack.

When they are crying for no reason

their heart is beating so fast they are scared it is a heart attack

the pins and needles or numbing or tingling is scaring them

their legs are rubbery

head is pounding

can’t catch their breath so they panic more


choking, dislocation, hot, cold, scared.

It is obvious to see why one would fear having another. Next I will discuss treatment, also what you should and shouldn’t do to help.

continued… Dealing with panic attacks, can you how to help, perhaps how to contend with them.



About sensuousamberville

I am a Practitioner, teacher and student. I think we should always be students, we should keep our minds open, to continue to learn. :-) Now a mother of two little ones.

13 responses »

  1. I can honestly say I have had one real and notable panic attack in my life… It was a very surreal experience. One part of my brain was trying to shut me down, and another part was ‘talking’ me through it…

    It was shortly after my mother was diagnoses with cancer and I was supposed to be meeting some friends downtown… and all of a sudden there were just too many people, too much noise my senses were heightened and I kept feeling that fog when you think you might pass-out… but the other part of my brain knew what was going on and kept telling me “you are upset about mom.. its all OK… just put your head down and put one foot in front the other and get out of here…” so that’s what I did, I put my head down and walked, past the people, through the noise – even though I kept feeling like I would pass-out at any second, and I had to fight for breathe and steel my will not to cry like a crazy person… (I am sure people must have thought I was strung out on drugs or something)… I don’t know how I really did it but I got to an quiet neighbourhood and just sat down on the sidewalk and breathed till I felt “clearer”… then I headed home…

    I don’t think I will ever forget that…

    • Oh … it really must be as Amber said … something you would never forget….because you recall … I can tell you are remembering without having any problem remembering. I hope you do not get another ever again.

    • They are traumatic. That dislocative foggy feeling is common as well, often an out of body experience can result, looking at your body standing there trembling. Imagine having them over and over, never at times that are convenient,
      *hugs* I too hope you never have another. I suspect you won’t. 🙂

  2. As I have mentioned … I have never had a panic attack … so reading about this is enlightening. I have heard of others having them … and I am VERY interested to read about how to respond to one. As you say, how to help someone … and also the what not to do portion.

  3. I know them well – only by living through my daughters… excellent post Amb – I remember one time my daughter going out of the house and forgetting her keys (I wasn’t home) she rang her grandfather to come and let her in to get them, he said she was hysterical by the time he arrived (7 minutes drive away) and could not console her. Shaking, fretting, breathing irrationally. I thank ‘whoever’ for the medication that has eased her once before very troubled life. xx

  4. I have panic attacks in crowds as you well know as they’re never easier to deal with overtime and as much as you try to control it, some people can control it so they’re in a safer place I am one of the lucky ones in that respect but others can’t. Panic attacks are horrible, awful things.

    • I know, the emotions and chemicals that are flowing through you, leave you feeling terrible, When you are anticipating one… concerned you may get one,… know you will get one in a given situation, like shopping… and you have to shop… it is more than terrible. *so hugs you tight*

  5. Pingback: Dealing with panic attacks, can you « sensuousamberville

  6. Having gone through several of these myself….the only way I can get out of them is to sit in a shower and hope it passes. It honestly feels like you are about to die – like everything is breaking inside you. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.


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