Can You Die From A Panic Attack Or Anxiety Symptoms?
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated December 18, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Whether it is your first experience or something that occurs on a more regular basis, anxiety attacks can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. Panic attacks, as they are also commonly known, are essentially physical responses to intense stress and worry, bringing along with them a host of symptoms that only build upon the anxiety that led up to the panic response itself. For those who are often dealing with these experiences, one major question that crosses their mind is, “can panic attacks or anxiety symptoms have fatal consequences?”
It's a very reasonable concern, but you have nothing to worry about. You're going to be just fine. But, if you still have your concerns, we are going to cover this topic quite comprehensively throughout this article to help you learn more about how your anxiety symptoms can impact your health.
The Symptoms Of A Panic Attack
The health emergency with which panic attacks are most often confused is a heart attack. When having an anxiety attack, your chest may tighten, you may feel dizzy, and it becomes difficult to breathe. You may even experience a slight tingling sensation in your fingers or arms. That said, there are some differences between these health issues. Here's an easy way to know the difference between a panic attack and a cardiovascular emergency.
The tingling in your arms from a panic attack is caused by hyperventilating as you take rapid breaths. You can experience numbness and pain on both sides of your body. When someone has a heart attack, on the other hand, the pain and tingling are usually isolated to the left arm and mostly the left side of the chest, though you may feel pressure throughout your whole chest. When you have a panic attack, you may also experience physical symptoms such as:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Tingling fingers and hands, or occasionally other body parts
- Chest pains
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling like you might faint
What Causes My Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are the most extreme form of anxiety. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or sense of being overwhelmed that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder experience worry about the possibility of having another attack. With that in mind, it is possible to experience a panic attack without having a panic disorder. Panic attacks and diagnosed panic disorder are highly treatable conditions, yet many individuals may not realize they have a diagnosable – and pretty common – condition. They may also be afraid to seek treatment due to embarrassment or the fear of being told that their symptoms are only in their imagination.
Individuals with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because the disorder makes it difficult to follow through with normal routines like going to school or work, going to the grocery store, or even driving. Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. It is more common among women than men.
There are steps you can take to mitigate panic symptoms. However, even individuals who have had many panic attacks can find it difficult to reason with their logical mind during an attack. The anxiety may come from your mind, making it easy for us to sometimes dismiss it as “nothing serious,” but the physical symptoms are hard to ignore. To help get over your anxiety or even prevent an attack, try acknowledging what the attack is: anxiety, not impending death. It is a temporary sensation, not literally or metaphorically the end of your life. This is easier if you have had an anxiety attack before and understand what the cause of your symptoms is and understand that it will pass. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and focus on fully inhaling and exhaling in a slow, natural pattern.
How Can I Treat Panic Attacks?
There are many types of interventions and various therapeutic approaches that are suitable for addressing anxiety in all its forms, including panic attacks and panic disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person understand their ways of thinking that might contribute to the development of an attack and subsequently change those patterns to help decrease both the frequency and intensity of future attacks.
Your therapist might also recommend exposure therapy. In this type of therapy, the person in treatment is exposed to the sensations that accompany panic one at a time in a controlled environment so that effective ways of coping with those sensations can be learned. Exposure strategies often include the use of relaxation techniques, which allow you to calm your body down to reduce the physical symptoms of the panic attack, and thus focus on quieting the anxiety in your mind. Perhaps the simplest, most readily available relaxation technique is diaphragmatic breathing. Relaxed diaphragmatic breathing (slow breathing from your diaphragm) is an excellent, natural way to end, control, and prevent anxiety attacks.
For those who like more dynamic therapy sessions, group therapy may be another option to consider that will allow you to receive more support during your treatment from people in similar situations.
In addition to therapy, there are many types of medications that can be very effective in helping to treat anxiety disorders as well, including panic attacks. If you are not experiencing the results you need through more self-administered or natural strategies, check with your medical doctor about the appropriateness of medication for your anxiety.
Anti-anxiety/anti-panic medications, or benzodiazepines, may be useful in treating the symptoms of a panic attack, especially on a temporary basis. Because the medication cannot treat the root of what is causing an individual to experience panic, most clinicians do not recommend medication as the only form of treatment. Sometimes, an anti-anxiety medication helps provide enough change in anxiety for you to begin to experience positive results from talk therapy strategies. It can give you enough of a foothold to get you going again, so that you can get to the root of the issue and sort it out.
Other strategies that may help people cope with panic attacks on their own include the use of various relaxation techniques (like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga) and being intentional about more realistic thinking (this can involve mindfulness techniques and writing out daily goal journals).
Mindfulness helps to ground you in the reality of the present. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can interrupt your panic attack as it is approaching or actually happening. Distracting your attention can prevent anxious thinking. Focus on the physical sensations with which you are familiar, like digging your feet into the ground or feeling the texture of your clothing on your hands. Strong sensory experiences tend to be more distracting, so you may want to drink some very cold water, suck on a sour piece of candy, or smell something quite intense like a candle or some cologne. These specific sensations ground you firmly in reality and give you something neutral on which to focus. The bottom line is that anything that distracts you from your anxious thoughts and physical sensations of a panic attack will assist in ending the attack.
Regular physical activity can play an important role in protecting you against anxiety and panic attacks, along with all of the other important physical and mental health benefits associated with exercise.
Remember that all panic attacks end. No matter how intense or how frightening one is, it will end. Even though most anxiety, especially panic attacks, often feels outside of your control, you actually have more control than you think. We have covered several ways in which you can take control of your panic, and we will highlight a few of the most helpful methods below, as well.
Can You Die From A Panic Attack? The Health Consequences Of Anxiety
The symptoms of a panic attack are quite serious. However, if you are truly having a panic attack and not a different medical emergency such as a heart attack, understand that you are not going to die from the anxiety. It may feel like you will, but the feeling will pass with time. For severe anxiety attacks, you may need to seek emergency medical treatment in order to get over your attack and get back to a calmer mental state, but you can trust that no panic attack will result in death.
Although a panic attack will not kill you, you should be aware that chronic anxiety and stress can have real effects on your health and may eventually lead to life-threatening illnesses. Stress causes inflammation that takes its toll on every system in your body. Individuals who do not cope well with stress are more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Effective stress management is vital in preventing panic attacks.
To keep yourself healthy and prevent anxiety and stress-related illnesses, you can get treatment for your panic attacks by seeing a licensed mental health professional. Even though a panic attack does not have serious short-term effects on your physical health, it takes a heavy toll on your mental health and can negatively impact physical health over time. Anyone can occasionally experience a stress-related panic attack, even if you do not live with panic disorder.
Ways You Can Prevent Anxiety At Home
Counseling plays a huge role in recovery, but there are also some ways you can work on your anxiety outside of the office so that you do not rely solely on therapy for relief. Here are three great methods to utilize when you are at home or out in public, and you feel as though your anxiety is going to strike.
- Use Deep-Breathing And Mindfulness Exercises
Anxiety often comes about when we are living within our heads and anticipating disaster in the future. The solution? We first need to ground ourselves in order to stop anxiety in its tracks and recognize that we need to live in the moment rather than imagining what could go wrong down the road. Mindfulness exercises such as meditation and deep breathing exercises are both great ways to calm yourself down no matter where you are and bring yourself back to the present.
- Acknowledge And Work Around Your Triggers
Overcoming anxiety means knowing exactly what causes your anxiety in the first place as well as working through those problems to ensure that you know when to avoid them. If you tend to become anxious easily, take note of your triggers and do your best to avoid them when your anxiety is on high alert. Triggers can be anything from conversations with a certain person to substances such as caffeine.
2. Shift Your Mindset
Anxiety is a real disorder, but the outcomes for scenarios that we imagine in our heads are most likely not going to happen in the real world. Another key component to successfully battling anxiety is maintaining a positive mindset and making sure that we are hoping for the best and analyzing each situation realistically. A helpful approach is to learn how to find the “silver lining” in each situation, no matter how tough it is/was.
For those with intense anxiety and anxiety disorders, counseling is a necessary tool that will provide you with the guidance necessary to work through your anxiety and learn how to cope with it. However, counseling may not always be accessible in your area, or you may simply be too anxious to meet face-to-face with multiple counselors until you find the right fit. If you can relate to this problem, you should try BetterHelp!
Particularly with anxiety disorders and general anxiety, online cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy, with “consistent, and long term reductions in anxiety” on-par with face-to-face CBT therapy, according to a study published in the Journal of Current Psychiatric Reports. Particularly during this pandemic, where many are unsure of how to get the help that they need, remote, online therapy can be a potent healing tool for both those living with anxiety and therapists alike.
BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that connects people with certified therapists quickly and efficiently. Using the platform, people can take control of their schedule and skip the hassle that comes with having to travel to a therapist's office. This means that you can save time and money, all while receiving legitimate counseling from the comfort of your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"Erica has been such a blessing to me! I've struggled with anxiety throughout my life and have sought out therapy previously. After being out of therapy for a few years, I was in a place in my life where I needed a "refresh!" Erica has helped and continues to help me use my anxiety coping tools, build my confidence, and navigate through my current life stage. She is so professional while being real and relatable. I enjoy BetterHelp and am beyond grateful that I was matched up with Erica!"
"It's amazing how beneficial therapy is. The EMDR sessions with Keith have enabled me to reclaim my power and control over my own life. As a result of my work with Keith, I went from too scared and anxious to leave the house with crippling panic, to be able to enjoy walks with my husband in the park, garden and we have even traveled by plane and train. I've been able to leave some toxic relationships that weren't serving me, and now feel equipped to not only face life but to enjoy the richness and fullness of it. I highly recommend Keith as a counselor and the EMDR sessions."
While panic disorder and anxiety can produce physical symptoms that may seem scary, you are in no physical danger that could result in passing away. With that being said, receiving the proper treatment now will help you reduce these incidents and make your life much easier now and in the long run. Anxiety is treatable, and with the right treatment, you can learn to thrive in the face of your disorder. Take the first step today.
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