What Can Cause a Panic Attack and What You Can Do

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A pounding heart. Difficulty breathing. An impending sense of doom. For men and women who experience panic attacks, a type of anxiety disorder, these symptoms can be both terrifying and debilitating.

Although panic attacks are not life-threatening, they can significantly impact quality of life. That’s why understanding the possible triggers for a panic attack, and how to cope if one occurs, can help support your mental health.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

The causes behind panic attacks aren’t entirely clear, though researchers believe that genetics play a role. People with a family history of panic attacks are more likely to suffer from them. Certain temperaments are also more prone to panic attacks, and some medical conditions may also be factors.

What Triggers a Panic Attack?

There is a clear connection between severe stress and panic attacks. Death of a loved one, divorce or losing a job can all act as triggers, as can a traumatic event. However, positive life events have also been linked to panic attacks. Moments of major transition, such as graduating from college, beginning a new career or having a baby can cause panic attacks. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine may also act as triggers.

Part of what makes panic attacks challenging is the fear that can grip you in the midst of one.

How to Get Through a Panic Attack

A panic attack can happen anywhere, at any time. Although they are short-lived, with most panic attacks lasting just 20 minutes or so, there are things you can do to make yourself as comfortable as possible during an attack.

The simple act of acknowledging you’re having a panic attack, and reminding yourself that you’re safe, can help. Focus on your breathing, by taking deep, slow breaths to help calm your nervous system during an attack.