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10 Misconceptions about Panic Attacks

The year of 2020 will be infamous for its chaos in the future, but throughout the intensity of the last eight months there has been an increased focus on mental health and anxiety. One of the few silver linings to stem from this chaotic year, is that a more open discourse on mental health has led people to be more forthcoming with their anxiety struggles. However, despite a more accepting public outlook on mental health, there are still many misconceptions surrounding the field.

There are still some people that maintain a very narrow view of anxiety, stress, and similar panic disorders, such as panic attacks. Luckily, we are here to clear up the misconceptions! Keep on reading in order to find out the top ten things people misunderstand about panic attacks.

1.     They make you go insane

Although it may feel like it in the midst of one, panic attacks cannot truly make you go insane. While panic attacks are usually brought on by an underlying mental health or anxiety condition, they are not a marker of people “losing it” or “going crazy.” As a general rule of thumb, panic attacks usually peak after ten minutes after the onset begins. Of course, this is a generalization and varies wildly from person to person, but no one who experiences panic attacks can truly go insane from them.

2.     You can’t avoid them

Panic attacks cannot be avoided by steering clear of the triggers, such as avoiding planes if you’re afraid of flying or rollercoasters if you’re afraid of heights. While these are certainly valid anxiety triggers, the onset of panic attacks is commonly more involuntary. These attacks come on unexpectedly, without any external factors or events. In the face of a panic attack, it is important to try to remain calm by centering your mind and taking deep breaths until you feel better.

3.     They’re only associated with panic disorders

Panic attacks are not solely associated with panic disorders. These attacks can be brought about by any number of health conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, phobias (such as agoraphobia), depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although less commonly, panic attacks can also be linked to more physiological medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and sleep disorders.

4.     They can kill you

Panic attacks can be very frightening, there is no doubt about that. However, they alone cannot kill you. Although many people confuse certain symptoms of panic attacks (chest pain, shortness of breath, and suffocating sensations) with those of medical emergencies, panic attacks will not kill you. If you feel as though your panic attack has subsided, and are still experiencing these symptoms, seek emergency medical attention.

A woman sits alone in a therapist's office
Although panic attacks are still misunderstood, there are steps people can take to widen their understanding of these types of attacks. Image courtesy of  

5.     They’re an overreaction to stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are a very normal part of life, but they are not considered a trigger for panic attacks. People commonly say they are having a panic attack when they become nervous or stressed out, but this is usually an over-exaggeration. Sufferers of panic attacks have no control over their symptoms, and their attacks are not brought about by external elements.

6.     You will lose control of yourself

Many people who suffer from panic attacks may feel like they are losing control of themselves. While symptoms of panic attacks can certainly feel overwhelming, they cannot truly make you “lose your mind.” It is common to experience sensations of depersonalization or derealization, but these are not symptoms of a loss of control, or psychosis.

7.     They’re a sign of weakness

Unfortunately, this is still a common way of thinking amongst some people. Mental health disorders are never a sign of weakness, and people who suffer from them should never be treated as if they had a choice in their illness. Panic attacks are a symptom of a broader mental health issue, and people who experience them should not be looked upon as weak.

8.     They are caused by a bad childhood

As stated above, panic attacks are caused (or can be caused by) a myriad of mental health disorders. While childhood experiences can contribute to issues such as generalized anxiety disorders, it would be inaccurate to blame someone’s poor childhood or overprotective parents as the root of their panic attacks.

9.     They’re a call for attention

Another unfortunate misconception about panic orders, many people think that the symptoms brought upon by panic attacks are a call for attention or sympathy. This could not be further from the truth. Panic attacks often come on suddenly and involuntary, with the sufferer trying their best to control their symptoms if they are in a public place. Sufferers have no control over their attacks, and it is wrong to treat them as if they are only doing it for attention-seeking purposes.

10.  There is no cure

Fortunately, while there is no precise cure for panic attacks, there are many techniques and treatments sufferers can utilize in order to control their symptoms! Common treatments include psychotherapy with trained mental health professionals, and antidepressant medications such as benzodiazepines. In addition to these treatments, people who suffer from panic attacks can also use self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation in order to cope with panic attacks.

A man speaks to his therapist.
While panic attacks are certainly frightening, there are techniques you can use in order to cope with your symptoms and help people understand what you go through. Image courtesy of

Suffering through a panic attack can be a scary experience. Luckily, the conversations around mental health are becoming more open and acceptable to discuss publicly. Hopefully, this more open discourse will help to get rid of the misconceptions around panic attacks and mental health disorders for good. If your panic attacks are increasing in frequency and becoming out of control, or if you have thoughts of hurting yourself, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.