7 Common Myths About Panic Attacks

Panic Attack Facts

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Panic attacks are typically begin with a sense of dread and anxiety. During a panic attack, the person can experience 4 or more of the following symptoms:

Accelerated heart rate or heart palpitations

Choking or suffocating sensations

Chest pain

Trembling or shaking

Shortness of breath

Depersonalization and derealization

Nausea or abdominal pain

Fear of losing control

Excessive sweating

Feelings of nervousness

Fear of dying

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about panic attacks. It can be frustrating for panic attack sufferers to explain their condition to others, especially when there are so many misunderstandings and false assumptions about these attacks. Read ahead to learn about common myths about panic attacks. Each myth is followed up with the facts about panic attacks.

Myth: Panic attacks are an overreaction to stress and anxiety.

You may have heard someone say something along the lines of “Oh I was so worried, I just about had a panic attack,” “You scared me so much, I started to have a panic attack,” or “I had a panic attack because I was so nervous.” These types of statements undermine what it means to truly have a panic attack. Expected anxiety or nervousness over life stressors or situation are not the same as having a panic attack.

Additionally, people who have panic attacks are not overreacting to anything in their environment. That would imply that the person somehow has control over their symptoms. People with panic disorder have attacks that occur out-of-the blue, without warning or any cue in the environment. Panic sufferers may learn to manage these attacks, but they do not have control over the fact that they experience them.

Myth: Panic attacks are only a symptom of panic disorder.

Although panic attacks are the main symptom of panic attacks, these attacks can occur with other mental health or medical conditions. Panic attacks have also been associated with mental health disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia, eating disorders, social anxiety disorder (SAD), depression, and bipolar disorder. These attacks may also be linked to certain medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). other digestive disorders, and sleep disorders.

Myth: Panic attacks can only occur when the person is awake.

Panic attacks more commonly occur while a person is awake, however, they can also happen while the person is sound asleep. Known as nocturnal panic attacks, these symptoms can wake a person out of their sleep. It is not unusual for a person to feel frightened when this occurs. Nocturnal panic attacks are frequently met with feelings of fear and a sense disconnection from oneself and one’s surroundings. The person may believe they are having a nightmare and can find it very difficult to fall back asleep once the panic attack subsides.

Myth: Panic attacks can make you go insane.

When panic strikes, the person may become afraid that they are going to completely lose control. There is often a sense of embarrassment. Additionally, many fear that they are going to completely lose their minds and go insane. The truth is that although panic attacks are most likely caused by an underlying mental health condition, they are no indication that a person is about to “go crazy.” In fact, panic attacks generally reach a peak within 10 minutes before gradually subsiding. Once the attack eases up, the person can expect to still feel on edge for quite some time but has no reason to worry about going insane.

Myth: You can die from a panic attack.

Many first-time panic attack sufferers end up in the emergency room out of concern that they are experiencing a medical emergency. Symptoms such as accelerated heart rate, chest pain, excessive sweating, and shortness of breath can all be perceived of as a frightening ordeal that necessitates immediate help.

Panic attacks may have symptoms that imitate other medical conditions, but they are not considered life threatening.

If in doubt, you should always seek medical attention.

Myth: Panic attacks can be avoided.

Many people hold the belief that you can prevent panic attacks by avoiding the stimuli that trigger them. For example, a person may have come to the conclusion that if fear of flying leads to panic attacks, then the person should simply not fly. However, this is false for several reasons.

First, panic disorder sufferers have panic attacks that occur unexpectedly, without environmental cause. There isn’t anything they can avoid, as the attacks can occur at any time. Second, a person with a phobia as described above may have panic attacks when faced with a particular fear, such as flying. However, avoiding the objects or situations will only increase a person’s anxiety and fear. One of the most effective ways to get past anxiety triggers is to face them while trying to maintain a relaxed state.

Myth: There’s little you can do to lessen your panic attacks.

Facing your fears and learning to manage your panic attacks can best be accomplished through professional help. You will first need to schedule with your doctor so that you can be evaluated to determine the mental health or medical condition that is causing your attacks. Once your diagnosis has been made, your doctor can assist you in deciding on a course of treatment. Common treatment options include medications and psychotherapy. Through continued treatment, you may be able to control these attacks and return back to your previous levels of functioning. 

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