What Causes Panic Attacks? 15 Common Triggers

June 10, 2022
15 common triggers of panic attacks
Anxiety Treatment
What Causes Panic Attacks? 15 Common Triggers

Each year, approximately 11% of Americans suffer from panic attacks. Nearly 2% to 3% end up developing panic disorder.

Panic attacks are frequently triggered by a specific factor. The things that cause them vary from person to person. However, if you have an anxiety disorder or have had panic attacks previously, you might already know your harmful triggers to avoid them.

In this post, let’s explore the 15 most common triggers and find the difference between a panic attack and the signs of panic disorder.

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What Is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are characterized by unexpected fear, anxiety, and strong physical reaction in response to usual, non-threatening scenarios. They can happen even when you’re asleep or relaxed, and you may have it as a one-time event or as repetitive episodes. During a panic attack, you may sweat profusely, have difficulty breathing, and feel as if your heart is racing. It could also feel like you’re having a heart attack. Such symptoms could also be the signs of another disorder, such as depression, social phobia, panic disorder, and anxiety.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Panic attacks usually occur suddenly and during any activity, be it driving, sitting, or sleeping. The symptoms reach a peak within minutes and can make you feel tired or worn out. The most common ones are listed below:

  • Fear or sense of impending danger
  • Fear of dying or being detached
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Headaches and chest aches
  • Flashes of heat or chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

General Causes of Panic Attacks

There is no single cause for panic disorder. In fact, like most other psychological illnesses, it is multifactorial. However, there are some common reasons for panic attacks, and they are listed below.

Psychological Causes Medical Causes Other Factors
  • Long-term stress
  • Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
  • Phobias (panic attacks can occur as a direct result of being exposed to a phobic situation or object)
  • Lack of assertiveness 
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, or medications
  • Side effects of medications
  • High caffeine consumption
  • Chronic physical illnesses
  • Experiencing a significant personal loss, like death in the family, or a breakup
  • Major life changes like loss of a job or relocation

15 Common Panic Attack Triggers

Maintaining a journal in which you record where you were and what you were doing when you experienced panic attacks can help you to identify your potential triggers and avoid them in the future. The triggers discussed below are some of the most frequent options.

1. Health Problems

Chronic illnesses such as cancer or experiencing a heart attack may make you anxious and worried most of the time. Because of the strong feelings such situations elicit, health issues as a trigger for panic attacks are extremely widespread.

2. Consuming Caffeine

Caffeine has a wide range of effects, and its excess consumption can become a trigger and lead to anxiety or exacerbate pre-existing symptoms. Some people, for example, may find that cutting back from three to two cups of coffee or not using it reduces their anxiety.

What can cause panic attacks

3. Certain Medications

Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can cause anxiety symptoms. These medications may have active ingredients that make you feel uneasy or ill, which can set off a chain of events in your mind and body, leading to additional anxiety symptoms. Examples of these medications can involve steroids, stimulants, and thyroid medications.

4. Thinking Negatively

If you have a tendency to use a lot of negative words when thinking about yourself you may have negative thinking. When you’re frustrated or upset, such thoughts, beliefs, and ruminations can increase your anxiety.

5. Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation has been linked to a variety of mental and physical health problems, including not just insomnia but also anxiety. A prolonged lack of sleep can exacerbate the chances of panic attacks in some people.

6. Financial Issues

Financial problems can cause constant stress in your life, which can put you at high risk of panic attacks. Anxiety about financial issues originates from apprehension about the future. It is the fear of not having enough resources to meet your needs or face upcoming challenges, and it can be a strong trigger.

7. Conflicts

Minor or major conflicts can make your anxiety worse and serve as a ground for panic attacks. Examples of conflicts can include arguments with your spouse or boss or a bad relationship with your parents and other people.

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8. Poor Eating Habits

Eating less can cause your blood sugar levels to drop, which makes you physically ill and can elevate the risks of anxiety. Eating well-balanced meals is important for a variety of reasons. It gives you energy and essential nutrients. So, for a healthy mind, try to have a healthy diet.

9. Social Situations

Social anxiety is one of the most frequent psychological issues and it can cause panic attacks. In this case, the symptoms are commonly triggered by public speaking, competing in a public event, or even simply reading aloud.

10. Increased Stress

Long-term or chronic stress can result in long-term anxiety and other health issues. Stress can also make people adopt unhealthy patterns like skipping meals or sleeping insufficiently. These factors can also cause or exacerbate your chances to have panic attacks.

11. Smoking

Cigarettes and nicotine do not always cause anxiety, but they do increase the likelihood of panic disorder. For some, smoking appears to be relaxing. However, nicotine raises blood pressure and heart rate — two physical symptoms that can mimic anxiety and lead to it.

12. Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to confusion and physical symptoms that resemble anxiety. Alcohol can be a problem for people who have anxiety disorders, especially if they use it as an emotional crutch against their symptoms, making them more prone to panic attacks.

13. Hyperventilation

Hyperventilating is the act of breathing quickly and shallowly. It can cause a panic attack by alerting your body to the fact that something is wrong. This can quickly turn into a vicious cycle between your body and mind leading to panic attacks.

14. Catastrophizing

Catastrophic misperceptions of events can become panic attack triggers. Many people suffering from anxiety are unable to differentiate between what is possible and what is unlikely to happen. That’s how your mind automatically jumps to the worst-case scenario and may cause a panic attack.

15. Overthinking

Over-analyzing or overthinking a situation causes anxiety, which can lead to a panic attack. This is particularly true if it makes you anticipate a future event in a pessimistic way or believe others perceive you negatively.

How to stop a panic attack

Panic Attack Vs Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attack is primarily what we feel when we are concerned about a future event and expect a negative outcome. It is frequently associated with physical symptoms like muscle tension and a general sense of unease. And it usually happens gradually. A panic attack differs from an anxiety attack in some aspects. It is associated with a sudden onset of intense fear resulting from an impending threat or the fight-or-flight response that we are genetically programmed to have to deal with immediate danger.

Difference Between Panic Attacks and Having a Panic Disorder

Many people might only experience a single panic attack throughout their lifetime and others might have frequent panic attacks causing them to live in constant worry. In some cases, this stress and anxiety can make an individual change their behavior to avoid any situations that could trigger another panic attack. Experiencing recurrent and unexpected panic attacks is diagnosed as panic disorder. These attacks involve a combination of emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms and usually peak within 10 minutes before gradually dissipating. It is essential to understand that not everyone who experiences a panic attack necessarily has a panic disorder — such a diagnosis must be confirmed by a healthcare professional.

How to Stop a Panic Attack?

Before wrapping up the article, here are some tips for you to practice if you or your loved one is having panic attacks.

  • Practice deep breathing by inhaling through your nose, holding your breath while counting to 5, and finally exhaling through your mouth.
  • Use your senses to ground yourself back at the moment. Focus on what you are seeing, touching, or listening to.
  • Prepare a list of images you can visualize when having a panic attack.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle including exercise and a healthy diet.
  • Practice muscle relaxation once daily.

The Takeaway

Panic attacks are mentally and physically exhausting, and they are usually difficult to deal with. If you or your loved ones are experiencing panic attacks, the best way to get rid of them is to ask for professional help. Mango Clinic provides effective online treatment for panic attacks offering you a detailed evaluation and professionally developed personalized treatment plan.


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