Panic Attacks Explained Simply

November 5, 2014 Gabe Howard

I have experienced more panic attacks than I can count. On average, I have one panic attack per week, and that is after panic attack treatment. Before I knew what was happening to me, I was experiencing panic attacks multiple times per week. Because I am a social person, I often experience these attacks around other people. This has made me very good at explaining, in layman’s terms, exactly what a panic attack is.

The Medical Definition of a Panic Attack


Before I explain what a panic attack feels like, what it is to me, and how the average person feels about it, let’s get the medical definition out of the way:

“A panic attack is a serious condition that comes on suddenly, without warning. It's different from the normal reactions of fear and anxiety we have in response to stressful life events. Symptoms are extremely intense, lasting around 10 minutes for most people. But some panic attacks can last longer, or occur one after another, making it difficult to discern when one ends and another begins.”

The Layman’s Explanation of a Panic Attack


To explain a panic attack in layman’s term isn’t as easy. There is a fair amount of personal bias involved. Even if the same physical and mental sensations are involved, my subjective, personal experience will be different from another person’s. That being said, there do seem to be some common themes (read about panic attack symptoms).

Does the medical definition of a panic attack really explain what is going on when a panic attack occurs? Read the simple explanation of a panic attack.Most people, including myself, describe a panic attack as a loss of mental control, rapid heartbeats, and profuse sweating. Think of how your body feels moments after a near accident or the physical sensations of a roller coaster ride. The major difference, of course, is that there isn’t a “normal” reason for this attack. A person is minding their own business and suddenly these sensations occur. The disorder, quite literally, attacks.

A panic attack is a surprise infusion of fear into a person. Imagine your worst fear gripping you for no reason. You can’t escape it because you aren’t quite sure why it is happening and, more than likely, the racing thoughts and clouded mental state make it impossible to make the best decision, especially quickly. Put simply, a panic attack can best be described as “freaking out.”

In the end, the word everyone should focus on is attack. It isn’t a panic disruption, a panic annoyance, or a panic inconvenience. It is a called a panic attack for a reason. It comes out of nowhere and attacks the body, both physically and mentally. It is a sudden onset of symptoms that leaves the victim terrified and unable to defend themselves. It literally attacks us using our primal urges.

Long story short: The name, quite literally, explains it all.

You can find Gabe on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and his website.

APA Reference
Howard, G. (2014, November 5). Panic Attacks Explained Simply, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Gabe Howard

Dr Musli Ferati
August, 14 2015 at 10:02 am

Panic disorder as subtype of anxiety disorders indicates urge.nt and ambiguous psychiayric entity. In this direction, it is crucial to exclude any serious somatic illnes, before to order approptiate psychatic help. Above all, panic atack imitates myocardial infarctus, asthmatic atack and so on, which ones seek internistic emergency treatmentan management, as well. Your observation on layman jargon is very imprtnt in daily work-out of clinical psychiatrist. The understand explanation of any psychiatric disorder is prerequisote of satisfying psychiatric treatment and management of respective psychiatric patient.This important therapeutig goal increases the probabolity of succsrsful treatment of panic atack, as difficult psychiatric entity. In a word, this psychiatric approach improves the compliance and adherence of patient toward psychiatric

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 14 2015 at 11:01 am

Hello Dr. Ferati,
Gabe Howard, the author of this post, is no longer writing for HealthyPlace and is unable to respond to comments. Thank you for sharing your insight. It is indeed very important that people understand panic attacks (and anything else, for that matter). When we understand them in causal terms as well medical terms (not necessarily jargon, but definitely a technical explanation), true treatment can happen. The doctor-client relationship and team approach is vital, too. Your thoughts on this are helpful.

August, 10 2015 at 12:17 pm

I don't think Gabe was saying every person having a panic attack is a drama queen. I think, and this is solely my opinion, that some people thrive on drama. They are not happy unless there is vast quantities of drama or ongoing drama. They like the state of unrest. Because they like, at some level at least the drama, they need to ramp up the drama by saying they have panic or anxiety attacks.
Just my opinion on this......

Ken Jones
November, 28 2014 at 3:12 pm

I greatly appreciate you being so very transparent and making yourself so vulnerable to others. Anytime
we share our personal viewpoints, people can easily misinterpret what we mean.
I used to have panic attacks regularly many years ago and took medication for them. I have had very many in the past years and don't really know why. I sure wish my bipolar disorder would disappear like this :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 30 2014 at 9:00 am

Ken -
Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words and for reading! I think many people wish bipolar, anxiety, depression, etc would just go away. I think we can all agree with that!
Many hugs -

G. M Franklin.
November, 11 2014 at 11:47 am

DRAMA QUEEN That is very unkind to say to a person who is suffering panic attacks. I am under medical care for this condition OH I have all the criticism thrown at me the biggest one is pull your socks up. I do hope you never have to experience this condition.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 12 2014 at 3:19 pm

I have anxiety and panic attacks and the blog article in question states that I do. I encourage you to read the article. Also, to clarify, I never said that someone with panic and anxiety was being a drama queen. I said it was possible that someone is being a drama queen OR it is possible they are having an anxiety issue. The two are very much separated.
I am sorry for the confusion but, that isn't what I meant or even said. Thank you for commenting - Gabe

G. M. Franklin
November, 8 2014 at 7:47 pm

I have been treated for the last twenty years for panic attacks sound and light seem to trigger the dam things. Sad to say my daughter is also experience them is it usual that such a condition can be inherited.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 11 2014 at 9:57 am

It is possible that the person is a drama queen and needs to take responsibility for their actions. It is also possible they need better treatment options to control the anxiety. If the person's anxiety is not under control they need to take responsibility and seek treatment. Living in that much pain is frustrating for them, too.
Editors Note:
This comment actually belongs here:…
I apologize for the mistake!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 11 2014 at 1:19 pm

'A drama queen', really? Rather dismissive; do you have personal experience of panic attacks Gabe?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 12 2014 at 3:22 pm

Mollye - Yes, as the blog article in question states in the paragraph, I have panic and anxiety attacks. I encourage you to read the blog article -- I am quite fond of it. :) I want to clarify -- I said it is possible that someone is being a drama queen -- I never, ever, said someone having a panic attack is being a drama queen. It was a specific answer to a specific question.
Panic attacks are a terrible and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. Thank you for reading and commenting. ~Gabe

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Ken Davis
November, 16 2014 at 8:42 pm

"MAY be a drama queen". A bit of a silly thing to say don't you think? They may also be the Queen of England, having indigestion or simply reacting to Australian PM Tony Abbott's speeches at G20. It adds absolutely nothing to our understanding of how to help someone who experiences panic attacks. The people around them also have the responsibility not to say stupid, invalidating things to people experiencing genuine suffering.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Priscilla A DAVIDSON
November, 16 2014 at 1:34 am

I have had panic attackks most of my adult life. I can't find a way to explain them and their effects. But, Gabe, you have done a tremendous job explaining it here. Thank you so much♥

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 18 2014 at 10:11 am

Thank you so much!!! :) ~Gabe

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 16 2014 at 2:36 am

mollye - please read the link Gabe provided and his answer with it!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Teresa Alexander
November, 11 2014 at 3:58 pm

As someone who deals with panic attacks and understands the inability to keep them from always happening, Gabe Howard, people that suffer from this disorder do not want to not seek treatment. Sometimes they have such severe episodes even with breathing exercises, relaxation meditation, journalism, and professional treatment. This does not make them a drama queen...nor does it make me irresponsible. It is not a condition I want nor one I live with easily. Can I control them? Can I prevent them? No to both. I can use my tools to help me get through one, but preventing one is impossible. I hate them, and sometimes they are so debilitating I am forced to take medicine I don't like to take and sleep to recuperate. Sometimes I have a complete meltdown with tears and hyperventilation. Sometimes I cannot move or function. Be more understanding of the people in your life that may have this disorder, no one wants it, sometimes medicine, therapy, and all the other things We use just don't work.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 12 2014 at 3:25 pm

Hello Teresa,
Yes, as the blog article in question says, I do have panic and anxiety. I assure you I understand. I also disagree with the thought that "people who suffer from this disorder" do not want to seek treatment. I suffer from this disorder and I seek treatment. I agree that I can't prevent them. I want to again state that I said "it is possible they are being a drama queen or it is possible they are having an anxiety attack."
I never, ever stated that people having a panic attack were being a drama queen. I am sorry you read it this way. My sincerest apologies.
Be Well and regards -

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 16 2014 at 2:37 am

please read the link Gabe provided and his answer with it!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 18 2014 at 10:19 am

Thank you, Liza. :)

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