What Happens in a Panic or Anxiety Attack and What You Can Do About It

A panic attack is sudden; you aren’t aware of something that you could attribute to making you feel anxious. It comes out of nowhere, which is why many people believe they are having a heart attack. Hospital emergency rooms see people all of the time who are having panic attacks, not heart attacks because the symptoms seem that severe. If you don’t know what’s happening to you, it’s easy to think of a heart attack. And if you ever believe you have a heart attack, you do need to go to the nearest emergency room or your doctor’s office so something physical can be ruled out. Once you recognize the symptoms, it will be much easier for you to know panic attack or heart attack?

The advice above goes for people having an anxiety attack too. Unless they are familiar with their anxiety and know it’s very uncomfortable but not a heart attack they won’t do the exercises I list below.

The symptoms are very similar between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. However, with an anxiety attack, there’s usually a stressor involved. It could be that you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before, or you feel anxious about someone coming to your house, or you have a job interview. You might feel apprehension and worry distress or restlessness. The point is that you know what’s bothering you or maybe it rides around in the back of your mind if it’s moderate or mild and you should be paying attention to something especially if something is so frightening and uncomfortable that you couldn’t even take it out and examine it without sharing the information with another person. If you want a divorce and are afraid to say it, at least say it to yourself. Sometimes just allowing yourself to think about what’s wrong in your life can alleviate these attacks.

After the anxiety symptoms I’ve written above, the symptoms for both are the same:


Chest pain

Dry mouth


Accelerated heart rate

Shortness of breath


You may think you’re dying

Numbness or tingling

Upset stomach

A headache


Numbness or tingling

You might only have a couple of these symptoms. You don’t have to have all of them to qualify. So, what to do about it, whether it’s anxiety or panic, please see your doctor and have a physical malfunction ruled out that could be causing your symptoms. A typical medical issue is a thyroid gland that is either overactive or underactive. If your thyroid isn’t working correctly, you could have all of the symptoms listed above and not be having a panic attack or an anxiety attack so please do have yourself checked out by a physician.

Once a doctor has cleared you, it’s time to look at what you can do.  First, consider some counseling if you have either one on a regular basis. Whether you choose to get counseling or not you can recognize what is going on with you. Did you know you’re only breathing from the top third of your lungs? Take a long, slow, deep breath, inhaling through your nose then slowly blow it out through your mouth and again take in the air all the way down before you slowly blow it out. Do this five or six times. Notice what your panic or anxiety has caused you to feel. Notice that no matter how awful your symptoms are you’re able to function. You can get up, get a glass of water,  talk to other people. There’s no sense in having your workplace call an ambulance if you’re familiar with these feelings.

If it’s anxiety examine what you’re anxious about, do you need to make a change in your life? Do you need to say “No” to someone? Are you afraid of something that’s going to happen a long time in the future or occurred in the past? What are you doing right now?

Focus. Be in the now and not in past or future. Notice what’s around you. Is it raining, sunny, cloudy? Wherever you are, notice every detail about where you are and what you’re doing. The object of this exercise is to force your brain to come into the here and now. You know you’re not having a heart attack so learn what you can do when you get either panic or anxiety. You can take a quick short or long walk. It might feel like you can’t walk but you can. Force yourself to get some fresh air. If you’re at work, take five or six minutes to fast walk around the building or around the area where you’re working. If you’re home, you can do these things easily. Splash water on your face, take a shower. Another way you can begin to come back into the room is to sit down and write. Look at a clock, and start writing for fifteen minutes at least. Don’t worry about punctuation or grammar. The goal is to get those subconscious thoughts up, which is why you have to write whatever pops into your mind even if it seems stupid or dangerous to have those thoughts or feelings.

Once you learn you’re not going to die, you can begin searching your mind for what might be bothering you that you either don’t want to do anything about or you’re afraid to do or say something that you need to say to someone. Or you haven’t even allowed yourself to know what’s bothering you, so it’s sitting in your subconscious mind trying to get you to pay attention to something. I’ve never seen anybody in serious distress from anxiety or panic die or even be hospitalized. If you pass out, your body will take over, and you will begin to breathe normally.