How To Tell If You’re Having A Panic Attack

Illustrated by: Tristan Offit.
As much as it sucks, anxiety doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Without a little bit of it, you wouldn’t make sure to show up on time to that job interview or to put in effort to impress your bosses. Ideally, the right amount of anxiety commands your attention and pushes you to get shit done.
An abundance of anxiety, however, is where the trouble starts. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting almost 20% of the population. Panic disorder is considered an anxiety disorder and is characterized by episodes of panic attacks.
A panic attack happens when a sudden and sharp increase in anxiety causes intense symptoms like a pounding heart rate, shaking, and shortness of breath.
Anyone who has experienced one can tell you a panic attack can be terrifying. They’re also exceedingly common — and seemingly random. For example, you can still experience one without having panic disorder. Every year in the U.S., about one in four people experience a spontaneous panic attack, according to Simon Rego, PhD, director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
If you’ve never had one before, you might not know what a panic attack is. The symptoms are diverse. Often, panic attacks send people to their nearest emergency room, thinking they’re having trouble breathing or having a heart attack, Dr. Rego says. Symptoms that really freak you out should always be investigated by a doctor, but it's still good to know what to expect. Ahead, we cover everything you should know about panic attacks.

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