A panic attack involves a quick increase in anxiety and physical feelings, such as a racing heart, fast breathing, sweating and dizziness. These are a normal way of reacting to threat and are not harmful but they can be very frightening and lead a person to fear a bad outcome (for example a stroke or going crazy). Because of this, when panicking, people often try to seek safety by holding onto something, taking deep breaths or sitting down.
It can be hard to spot triggers for a panic attack but usually they are linked to thoughts about danger and about not being able to cope. The type of danger ranges from the fear of being embarrassed in a supermarket to the fear that a heart flutter might suggest another panic attack is on the way.
Panic Disorder is a way of describing the experience of a person who has many panic attacks. These might lead them to avoid feared places or to change how they behave in an attempt to cope. As a result they might start to develop Agoraphobia, which means they find it hard to leave a “safe place” and so have a much more limited life.
You can find out more about Panic and Agoraphobia by looking at our resources page.