What Causes Panic Attacks

Young woman having a panic attack

What Causes Panic Attacks

Are they real?

Yesterday, I saw someone panicking in a situation and another bystander came along and said to me “Seems like this person is having a panic attack!”. I was quite bemused, but experience tells me that this is the general interpretation of the term Panic Attacks.

In reality, we go through Panic Attacks when we experience sudden and intense feelings of fear and anxiety.

They can occur to us at any time of the day, even when we may be feeling relaxed.

Generally, Panic Attacks last between 10 and 20 minutes, but their effect can linger on for many more hours.

It is a very disconcerting to go through panic attacks. Further, if they occur frequently, they can impact on our day to day life and also have impacts on our friends and families. While they do pose emotional problems, they are not dangerous by themselves.

My experience of a panic attack can differ significantly from another person. The experience may also differ depending on the circumstances that caused the attack.

Typically we experience chest pain and shortness of breath when we have a panic attack. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for those of a heart attack, especially if we are suffering a panic attack for the first time. Other physical symptoms of panic attacks include faintness, nausea, hot flashes, lightheadedness, and dizziness.

What causes them?

The reason for the panic attack varies from person to person. But it is well known that a number of factors contribute to a panic attack.

Panic attacks are sometimes caused by major changes or stressful situations in life. They can be a new job or the loss of a family member.

Phobias and Panic Attacks

Persons who have phobias also experience panic attacks. These happen when they are exposed to circumstances or objects they are phobic too. When we have a panic attack in a certain situation, some of us tend to generalise and think that a similar situation will bring about another attack. If we experience panic attacks in these circumstances, we are experiencing what is known as situationally-bound panic attacks.

Panic Disorder vs Panic Attacks

Many other long-term factors can also contribute to panic attacks and make the person more susceptible to panic attacks in future. One such factor could be existing psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders.

Such long-term, recurring cases of panic attacks are known as panic disorder.

Panic disorders can affect anyone, but typically they are seen to affect young adults more than others. Also, they tend to occur more frequently in women than in men.

Panic attacks are usually treated using psychological therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Can We Help

Yes, we can help if you or someone else is experiencing panic attacks, panic disorder, phobias or other anxiety symptoms discussed in this post. Get in touch with us and rest assured that our team of psychologists will use the best evidence-based psychotherapies to treat these issues.


We understand that panic attacks can be confusing and scary, especially when they occur. But, developing an understanding of them is the first step in helping yourself to overcome them. Other things that you can do to reduce the onset and severity of panic attacks is to work on breathing techniques and cut down on the intake of caffeine and smoking.

Here is a tip before we end this post.

Hyperventilating can make many of the symptoms of a panic attack worse. In contrast, controlled deep breathing can help in providing relief from the symptoms.


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