Understanding Panic Attacks: Why They Happen and How to Cope

Sep 07, 2023
Understanding Panic Attacks: Why They Happen and How to Cope
A sudden severe panic attack can pop up at any time, leaving you helpless and unable to continue your day. Keep reading to learn why panic attacks happen and how to cope with the stress of an attack through lifestyle changes and medical help.

A panic attack is a significant experience; one may scare you so much that you feel like you're having a heart attack. Although you may realize the fear is harmless, you can't stop your mind and body from going into fight-or-flight mode.

Panic attacks are awful and may last for several minutes to several hours. If you're prone to them, you must figure out what triggers the event and how to successfully cope when they pop up.

At Pacific Phoenix TMS, our team specializes in mental health problems like anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Elia R. Gonzalez-Rodriguez is a psychiatry expert offering state-of-the-art therapies for various conditions, including panic attacks.

What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is a sudden physical reaction to non-threatening situations that generally wouldn't induce a problem. The symptoms of a panic attack come on rapidly and cause intense fear, along with other signs, including

  • Hyperventilation
  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Tingling in the feet

Some panic attacks are so bad that it feels as though you're experiencing a heart attack. Though a panic attack isn't directly harmful to your health, frequent attacks make it hard to live everyday life and cause extreme stress.

Panic attacks are directly related to panic disorder. Still, they can also happen with other conditions like anxiety, phobias, and substance abuse disorders.

Panic attacks are quite different from anxiety attacks, which often happen because of a stressful event and may come on gradually. On the other hand, panic attacks come on suddenly and often occur for no reason.

Causes of panic attacks

Doctors and experts don't know what causes panic attacks, but it could be an issue with how your brain handles fear and stress. A history of anxiety may also contribute to panic attacks, along with the following:

  • Genetics
  • Extreme stress
  • Changes in brain function
  • Negative emotions

Risk factors associated with panic attacks increase the likelihood that you'll experience them at some point. Some of the most common risk factors include the following:

  • Excessive intake of caffeine
  • Family history of panic disorder
  • History of physical or childhood abuse
  • Traumatic events
  • Major stressors, such as the death of a family member or other loved one
  • Divorce or the addition of a baby

There isn't always an exact trigger that brings on a panic attack. Sometimes, it's a mix of genetics, anxiety, and other factors that cause an attack.

Panic attacks can be so bad that you develop phobias or require treatment for other psychiatric disorders. Some people with recurrent panic attacks turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms, although that can worsen them.

Coping with the aftermath

Whether you're in the midst of a panic attack or are trying to figure out how to cope with them when they pop up, you aren’t alone. Dr. Gonzalez-Rodriguez provides support and treatments to help you through living with panic attacks.

Amid a panic attack, you can use several techniques to get through the situation until it subsides. Techniques Dr. Rodriguez-Gonzalez uses to cope during an attack include:

  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Mindfulness or meditation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Acknowledging the panic attack

Although these tips work well, you may require other treatments to help you deal with panic disorder and attacks long-term. We offer two main treatments for panic attacks, including:


Psychotherapy is a form of treatment that helps you identify and cope with negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

We can refer you to a professional who offers cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and exposure therapy to help you understand what triggers your attacks and to help you avoid these problems.


Medications are also helpful in dealing with panic attacks. We may offer various antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to help you cope with the attacks until you feel comfortable with lifestyle changes alone.

A combination of therapy and medications often benefits most people with panic disorder.

For expert treatment for anxiety and panic attacks, call 360-828-7802 to reach our team today at our convenient offices in Salmon Creek or East Vancouver, Washington, or request an appointment on our website.