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What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is characterized by a sudden wave of fear, discomfort, or sense of losing control. A panic attack can begin suddenly with no warning and there is usually no clear danger or trigger. Panic attacks are caused by an activated “flight or fight” response that then triggers the physiological symptoms. Because this “fight or flight” response, which is meant to fight off real-world dangers and protect us from harm, is triggered without an actual threat being present, panic attacks leave individuals feeling exhausted and depleted afterwards.

Panic attacks often include physical symptoms that can include: 

  • Heart-trembling, tingling or rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Physical trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath, tightness in throat/chest
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Headaches/dizziness
  • Fear of death

How is an individual impacted by psychosis?

Panic attacks can occur in stressful situations, but for some individuals they may occur frequently even when a stressful situation is not present. Individuals who experience panic attacks more frequently may have developed a panic disorder. 

Individuals with panic disorder may feel compelled to significantly change their lives to avoid experiencing panic attacks. For example, an individual may decide not to leave their home (agoraphobia) if they experienced a panic attack outside. Similarly, an individual may actively avoid any social outing if they experienced a panic attack with others present, leading to a sense of isolation, shame, and loneliness. This could also affect occupational functioning as well, leading to loss of productivity and income potential.

How can someone reduce the impacts of psychosis?

There are a few ways to cope through an immediate panic attack:

  • Breathing: Try to breathe deeply, trying to make your exhale longer than your inhale
  • Recognition: Recognize that you are having a panic attack. If you experienced this feeling before, remind yourself that panic attacks always have an end.
  • Focus: try to find an object to focus on and begin to describe it in detail, in your mind or out loud, to ground yourself.
  • Move: find a more peaceful spot or picture a “happy place” where you feel safe and calm.

If you are experiencing ongoing panic attacks, you can also explore the use of medications and long term psychotherapy to minimize the impacts on your daily life. Seeking an evaluation with a medical practitioner can rule out any medical concerns, as well.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.