Category: Anxiety

What Happens in Your Mind When You’re Having a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are exceedingly common. It’s defined as a sudden feeling of intense fear with no apparent cause that can happen at any time. Some people experience the attacks once or twice in the lifetime, but some might experience them more often whenever in situations where they feel exposed or under pressure occurs.

Panic attacks happen in unexpected situations and are highly unpredictable. The whole system of your body and brain becomes active and you experience a lot of emotional surges when you’re panicked. You may experience a sickening feeling in your stomach and throat, dizziness, pupil dilation and blur vision; all these symptoms sums up what a panic attack feels like. The sufferer may feel faint or think that they’re about to die.

Panic attacks are different from anxiety attacks. A panic attack might go on for 10 minutes or a little longer, instead, the anxiety attack can stay for days and weeks. Read on to find out what is really happening to your mind when a panic attack hits:

Parts of Brain Become Hyperactive

The amygdala resides in the middle of the brain, and is the part of the brain which pertains to the aggressive emotions and prepares the body to deal with the fear and danger. This particular part of the brain becomes unnecessarily and highly stimulated as the body enters into defense mode. The overly active defense mechanism perceives the threat as more perilous than it actually is. This sets on the anxiety and panic.

Brain Freeze Up

When you’re in an alarming situation, you’ll probably need to think before you proceed. But if you don’t think fast enough, the hormonal surge will hit you like a hammer, leaving you in a panic. This proves that panic attacks are quicker than the pace of thought. Panic attacks are controlled by the unconscious mind. So, this explains that panic attacks are originated from the unconscious part of the mind.

Nervous System Failure

Parasympathetic nervous system is responsible to relax the body. When a panic attack arrives, this system becomes confused and incapable to calm down the body. A breakdown of the parasympathetic nervous system lets the sympathetic nervous system take over. The sympathetic nervous system releases energy preparing the body for action and results in a panic attack.

The Unconscious Mind Never Forgets

The mind quickly learns the situation in which the panic attack has happened. The hurtful memory imprinted on the mind can trigger the panic response in the particular situation or environment. The same mechanism causes us to remember the old memories when we smell a particular odor or hear a song.

The Mind Imagines Horrible Things

When one does experience a panic attack; the mind worries about a lot of frightening situations that hasn’t happened yet. The sufferer feels suffocated, dizzy as if they’re going to get faint, or even die. It feels like you’re losing control. The body becomes weak and your mind believes that you will fall down any minute. You believe that you can’t cope. The fact is less painful though, that a panic attack won’t hurt you, and you won’t die.

The State of Indecisiveness

A panic attack lets your emotions drive you and shuts your thinking process. The general belief about a panic attack is it is absolutely irrational. The primitive part of the brain that initiates the panic response isn’t meant to deal with the rational emotions. This is quite the reason why people under a panic attack may feel unable to make a decision.


The emotions seize our rational powers in a vulnerable moment of panic. Don’t let that moment define you for your whole life. The trick is; desensitize your upsetting memories and try to stay non-emotional in most of the situations you seem to don’t like. And despite the whole awkwardness, the good news is that the panic attack doesn’t last long. This is merely a defensive response which will end soon. Do you or someone you know suffer from panic attacks? If you find you’re struggling, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

Janice Killey
Janice has a wealth of experience and training. She holds a Diploma of Education, Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Master of Arts (Counselling), Diploma of Clinical Hypnotherapy (ASH) and is a Registered Psychologist at Psychologists Southern Sydney. She’s also a member of the Australian Psychological Society.

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