What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like: Separating the Myth from the Reality

It may surprise you to know that anxiety is one of the most commonly occurring mental health conditions in the world. On an average, one out of four people experience anxiety and panic attacks at some point of their life. One of the biggest myths is that panic attacks or anxiety disorders are quite rare. Not only this, but there are in fact, many myths surrounding panic attacks. These myths often create a stigma around this condition and prevent patients from seeking help. This is why it is so important to know the reality of a panic attack. What does a panic attack actually feel like? Today we try separating the myth from the reality.

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like: Separating the Myth from the Reality

Myth 1: Everyone Suffers From The Same Symptoms of Panic Attack

The reality is that everyone experiences a panic attack differently. It largely depends on individual experience. Some of the common symptoms of a panic attack may include:

  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Feeling out of control or experiencing a loss of control over a situation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain or constriction in the chest

Apart from these common symptoms, there are many other symptoms and it is possible that everyone experiences some of the above-mentioned symptoms, or does not feel any of them.

While for some a panic attack may begin with a flushed face and a rush of heat, others may experience intense fear, crying for no reason, or an increased heart rate.

Myth 2: Panic Attack May Cause You To Pass Out

The reality is that fainting only happens when there is a fall in your blood pressure, and this does not occur when you experience a panic attack.

You may feel a sharp increase in your heart rate when a panic attack is triggered. This also causes an increase in your blood pressure. However, this definitely indicates that you will not faint during a panic attack.

Myth 3: People Often Over Dramatize and Over-React to a Panic Attack

The reality is that people have no control over panic attacks. Nobody knows what exactly causes panic attacks. They are typically caused by mental health conditions, stressful events, or some unwanted change to one’s life.

Panic attacks are not only involuntary, but they also occur without any prior warning. And they are extremely uncomfortable for those who are going through them.

People experiencing panic attacks are not looking to gain attention. In fact, it is more than likely that they are undergoing shame and feelings of stigma internally. Most people hate having a full-on panic attacks in public or in front of others.

This is why instead of telling a person to calm down when they are having a panic attack, it is best to ask them what you can do to support them and what they need to feel better.

Myth 4: Avoiding Stress Can Stop Panic Attacks

The reality is that avoiding a stressful situation is next to impossible. The very description of life today is stressful. While avoiding stress is a good way of decreasing your anxiety, however, this is not an easy task to achieve.

Unexpected situations can arise at any point in time, and they come without a prior intimation. While not all stressful situations trigger off a panic attack, there will be some situations that will cause anxiety and lead to a panic attack in some people.

This is why it is important to identify what triggers a flare up your panic attacks and avoid them as much as possible.

Myth 5: Breathing into a Paper Bag Will Help

Reality is that not everyone who has a panic attack starts to hyperventilate and carry a paper bag to breathe into. Furthermore, if a person is forced to carry a paper bag at all times, it is only likely to heighten their anxiety.

For those who hyperventilate when experiencing a panic attack, carrying a paper bag may make them feel reassured that they have a contingency plan in place in case they feel panicky. It serves as a type of safety behavior and may prove helpful.

However, not everyone who has panic attacks goes around carrying a paper bag and not everyone hyperventilates.

Myth 6: People Having a Panic Attack Need Medical Help

Reality is that people experiencing a panic attack do not need medical help. Understand that they are not in any immediate danger. For people who are around them, it is important to remain calm and try to reassure the person experiencing the panic attack.

People who are used to having panic attacks often know the difference between when they need medical help, for example, if they are having a heart attack, or when it is a normal panic attack.

Over a period of time, people become better at dealing with panic attacks and often discover some manner in which to stop them. They also have a planned course of action when they begin to feel a panic attack coming on.

Myth 7: People Who Have Mental Disorders Only Have Panic Attacks

Reality is that anyone can experience a panic attack. This does not mean that all of them have a mental disorder. While an underlying mental condition increases the risk of experiencing panic attacks, there is no guarantee that a person not having any mental condition cannot suffer a panic attack.

People who are at a higher risk of experiencing multiple panic attacks have a diagnosis of:

  • GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
  • PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Panic disorder

This is not to say that people who do not meet these criteria are not at risk. Suffering through any traumatic event or not getting proper sleep, proper nutrition, lack of water, can all increase the risk of getting panic attacks.


If you know someone who has panic attacks, it is best that you get a general idea about what it is like to experience a panic attack and what it feels like. Learning how to support this person and understanding their situation will help you deal with a stressful situation when someone experiences a panic attack. This is why it is so important to know what is real and what is a myth.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 23, 2018

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