A panic attack is a sudden moment of intense anxiety. A person who is in the midst of an attack will often resist other people’s efforts to calm him down. Instead, he will lash out and attempt to physically leave the situation. If it is impossible to do so, the panic attack will likely worsen. Most attacks end on their own, though it can take a few hours for this to happen.
Panic attacks are very scary to people who are not used to having them. They feel that they are suffering from a serious physical ailment such as a heart attack. The outward manifestations are so pronounced that it does not immediately occur to sufferers that their symptoms are caused by emotional stress.
A panic attack is characterized by chest pain, feelings of nausea, the disappearance of tactile sensations, reduced vision and difficulty breathing. A surge in adrenaline may cause sufferers to act in ways that are dangerous to themselves and the people around them. People who have mental health disorders often have anxiety attacks, but not everyone who has frequent anxiety attacks has a mental illness. Someone who has panic attacks on a regular basis is considered to have a panic disorder.
Genetics play the biggest role in determining who will develop a panic disorder. These disorders tend to emerge during childhood, though someone can start having attacks at any age. There is a strong environmental component as well. Children who grow up in stressful, high-pressure environments have higher chances of developing panic disorders than children who are from happier homes. A parent who has mild twinges of paranoia could trigger a full-blown disorder in his or her child.
A panic attack is often a response to another disorder. For example, someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder might be overwhelmed by anxiety when something is beyond her control. An attack may occur when someone is confronted by the object of an intense phobia. The physical manifestations of a panic attack are the body’s way of protecting itself against perceived threats.
Interestingly, panic disorders are common in people who have trouble standing up for themselves. Instead of making their needs and opinions known, they internalize their feelings. The body eventually reacts to all of this suppressed unhappiness by acting out against the stressful, toxic environment. Almost everyone will have a panic attack at some point. One or two attacks during stressful periods of time are not causes for concern.