Panic: Am I Making Too Big a Deal Out of It?

If you've ever had a panic attack, you know what it’s like. You’re just going about your life, perhaps in class or a meeting or a store or somewhere else, even home, when bam! Out of the blue, your heart begins to pound and your head begins to swim. The world around you blurs. Your hands shake and sweat. You can’t breathe, and your chest constricts painfully. The ground wobbles, making it all the more difficult for your weak legs to keep you steady. You’re nauseated and oh god you don’t want to get sick. And as if symptoms like these (they can vary a bit from person to person) aren't horrible enough, on top of all this you begin to doubt and question yourself.

If you've ever had a panic attack, you’re not alone. Over six million people live with panic disorder, and an uncalculated but very high number of people have experienced one or more panic attacks without having panic disorder. Among these millions and millions of people who deal with panic attacks, there are common thoughts. Am I Dying? Am I going Crazy? And Where did this even come from? Take heart. There are answers to those questions. In order: No; No; It may or may not have a discernible cause. These are all good answers. Let’s take a better look.

Panic Makes You Feel Unwell and Uncertain

Panic attacks can be frightening, making us wonder what's happening and question our sanity. Panic attacks are real, which means they can be addressed.It’s okay to wonder if you’re dying, because panic attacks mimic a horrendous dying process. The physical symptoms of panic are intense, and they are real. The brain lights up with activity, and it sends the body into overdrive in order to respond to a threat. Obediently, the entire body responds, and the result is the overwhelming, electrifying sensations that hurt physically and emotionally.

While it feels like you’re having a heart attack, a stroke, or are choking or suffocating, know that, despite how it feels, you really are okay. These sensations are caused by the brain revving up the body. (Note: If you’re concerned, it’s always wise to see a doctor to rule out any underlying condition.)

As annoying as it is when the brain panics and send the body into a hyper-fight-or-flight response, it does have a positive implication. Panic attacks are real, with biological and physiological causes and effects. Scientists can measure this via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans and other means. Therefore, you truly aren't “going crazy” or losing your mind. It’s normal to question your sanity during or after a panic attack, but that’s part of the tricks of panic.

Panic Attacks May or May Not Have a Cause

Often, people who experience panic attacks lament that part of the hell of them is that they don’t always know what makes them happen. If you think the same thing, again, know that you’re not alone. To worry about the cause, or lack thereof, is common.

Frustratingly, there sometimes isn't an obvious cause. With panic disorder, the attacks seem to come out of nowhere, without a trigger. Some would argue that there is a subconscious trigger, while others argue that such panic attacks are completely physiological in nature.

With panic attacks not associated with panic disorder, it is more common for there to be a stressor that insights a panic attack. Environmental triggers, anxieties and worries, and underlying negative thoughts can be contributing factors. My own fall into this category, and both triggers and irrational thoughts are at work.

The Good News? All of this Means it Can Be Okay

As anyone who has had panic attacks knows, they truly are miserable and frightening. Thankfully, you aren't doomed to experience them forever. When you are aware of what’s happening:

  • You can begin to reduce the natural anxiety and fear that you’re dying or going crazy.
  • If there are no underlying causes, you can begin to fully accept what your brain and body are doing, and you can distance yourself from it (through things like breathing, meditation, or yoga).
  • If there are underlying causes, you can work with a therapist to identify and address them.
  • You can work with a doctor knowledgeable about panic and anxiety to learn techniques and possibly use medication to help.

Panic is very real. One of the worst things about panic attacks (and there are many horrible things about them) is when we live in fear and heightened anxiety about what is happening and whether it will happen again. Armed with understanding, you can begin to free yourself from these awful attacks. It’s a gradual process, but it’s a very possible process.

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2014, September 5). Panic: Am I Making Too Big a Deal Out of It?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 16 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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