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How do I know if I'm really having a panic attack or if I'm just freaking out?

245 Answers
Last Updated: 11/13/2017 at 12:56pm
How do I know if I'm really having a panic attack or if I'm just freaking out?
★ This question about Panic Attacks was starred by a moderator on 5/12/2016.
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Sarah Archer, LMFT

Marriage & Family Therapist

As a Licensed MFT I work with clients to more effectively address, process and learn skills to manage the problems that prevent them from living the life they want.

Top Rated Answers
March 27th, 2016 6:48pm
Panic attacks are different for many people. Most panic attacks I have noticed are when you are having trouble thinking, talking, or even breathing. Sometimes you cannot control your actions and words.
June 18th, 2015 5:33pm
Symptoms of having a real panic attack include Shortness of breath or hyperventilation, Heart palpitations or a racing heart, Chest pain or discomfort, Trembling or shaking, Choking feeling, and Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings.
July 24th, 2015 5:40am
A panic attack will feel like a heart attack to many people, including symptoms such as numbness of the left arm. Identifying which one you're dealing is less important than getting through it though, as breathing and mindfulness are both effective for each issue.
August 1st, 2015 7:26pm
Both can be very scary and it can be hard to tell the difference. But in either case, take deep breaths and try to distract yourself. For help, go to the 7 Cups forum to talk with others who suffer with panic attacks!
August 8th, 2015 1:18pm
Panic attacks show in a physical way too - it becomes hard to breathe, your heartbeat goes up, stuff like that
October 4th, 2016 1:15am
The freak out will calm down and you can probably find a reason behind it. Panic attacks will last longer, be much harder to calm down from, and too often come on for no reason.
December 28th, 2014 7:37pm
If you are having trouble breathing, irrational terror and a hard time making good judgement and thinking clearly, it is likely you are having a panic attack.
June 18th, 2015 6:15pm
Anxiety can be super normal, but panic attacks can cause a number of physiological changes like excessive sweating, heart beating faster than usual, shaking, dehydration, chest pain but also feelings like you don't recognise your environment and feel detached - you don't have to have all of these symptoms but having a number of these are most likely signs of having a panic attack
July 11th, 2015 6:45am
Freaking out can be a normal reaction to big news, avoiding a collision, being rejected, etc. A panic attack can randomly happen, or be caused by even semi-normal events. Panic attacks usually include racing heart, dizziness, shakiness, and shortness of breath.
July 12th, 2015 6:32am
If your having a panic attack your hands will shake and it will feel like you cant breathe and your whole world is coming down around you. just freaking out you will mostly feel fear
July 16th, 2015 3:35pm
You can tell if you having a panic attack if your having some of the physical sensations. They are just as bad and feed into how nerve-racking the experience is. Some of the big ones are rapid breathing, a pounding heartbeat, shaking, nausea/vomiting, tightness in the throat, chest pain, headache, dizziness, and hot flashes. The key thing about panic attacks is they're really frightening and uncomfortable when they're happening. They can be hard to come down from as well.
January 2nd, 2016 5:50am
The distinction between freaking out and a panic attack mostly depends on your definitions of both. A panic attack entails frightening and sudden physical and mental symptoms such as rapid breathing and heart rate, nausea, shivering, and extreme fear, whereas I'd define freaking out as simply greatly worrying about something. Panic attacks subside after just a few minutes, whereas you could probably be freaking out about something for hours.
March 11th, 2016 6:32pm
A panic attack is a physical reaction to a prolonged feeling of high stress. Sometimes panic attacks happen after a very stressful event or after a long period of low lying stress. A panic attack can be anything from just fast heart beat and sweating, to full on body shakes, freezing up, hyperventilating, fainting, etc. However, a panic attack won't kill you :) as unpleasant as it may be it will pass. I should know, I've had a few!
April 11th, 2016 3:54pm
If you are having a panic attack, The symptoms are usually, -Racing Heartbeats/Hyperventilation -The feeling of "Losing Control" or that your having a heart attack -Dizziness/Faint Feeling -Feeling Exhausted or Tired afterwords -Unable to catch your breathe [You are okay when this happens, It goes along with Racing Heart -Nausea [This is your body getting too excited] -Sometimes Vomiting -Sometimes Shaking These are just some of the symptoms of a panic attack, When you have a panic attack, Your body goes into a "Fight or Flight" mode which means that your body feels like there is a threat when there really isn't. But if your just simply freaking out, It's usually just a lot of stress, and your just overwhelmed, which may make you feel upset or mad without any of the symptoms above.
July 18th, 2016 5:12am
If you're having a panic attack you will literally feel like you're dying. Like your heart is going to explode in your chest. It's pretty indescribable, but you would know if it was an actual panic attack. That's how significant it is.
December 10th, 2014 3:09pm
Maybe it is both, and that is ok. Panic attacks can be brought on by even small things, and it does make you "freak out". "Freaks out" are a bit less intense than an attack. If you are having trouble breathing or having physical pain, you are probably having an attack. Finding ways to control your attacks when they happen helps a great deal. For me, it was literally wrapping my arms around myself and squeezing myself and focusing on slowing my breathing, making it steady.
December 14th, 2014 4:19am
Panic attacks often manifest in severe signs, such as high adrenaline, racing heart, hyperventilation, thoughts spinning wildly out of control, or feelings of being trapped or in mortal danger (when no danger is present). Freakouts can feel pretty dramatic, but they're usually rooted in reality, and can be quelled by a nice cup of tea or some good conversation. Panic pretty much does what it wants, whether there's a reason to react, or not.
June 18th, 2015 4:16pm
Panick attacks pretty much control you. You feel completely difference than before. Ex: feeling Lightheaded
June 18th, 2015 7:46pm
A panic attack has a range of different symptoms, among them are: shortness of breath, blacking out, shaking, nausea, crying, depersonalization (feeling like you're out of your body), derealization (feeling like nothing is real), rapid heart beat, and dizziness. I typically cry, shake, see spots in my vision, and depersonalize. Freaking out is just a moment where something or someone may scare you but the symptoms aren't as intense as a panic attack.
June 18th, 2015 10:11pm
From my experience I would describe a panic attack as having more of a physical reaction, making you loose physical control in the sense of noticing changes in how your body feels in the situation. whereas 'freaking out' is a mental reaction to a circumstance.
June 18th, 2015 10:37pm
If you're having a panic attack you might feel chest pain or discomfort,shortness of breath,the feeling of choking and you might feel like you're detached from your surroundings and your heart racing.
June 19th, 2015 12:44am
Panic attacks often have physical manifestations such as a tightness in your chest or throat. For some, it can feel very much like a heart attack.
June 19th, 2015 2:25am
Panic attacks make no sense/you cry/shake uncontrollably/feel insane/and like you have to run away.
June 19th, 2015 7:34am
Sometimes it is hard to differentiate, either way what you are feeling is very real and you need to assess your surroundings and try to breathe deeply and calmly. Try to focus on what you hear, smell or feel, this intense focus on your senses should help you into a tranquil state so that you may feel more at ease and be able to reflect on what happened.
June 19th, 2015 9:40pm
having a panic attack can be a really scary thing for anyone of any age, and if you are having a panic attack for the first time, you may believe you are having a heart attack. A panic attack can be triggered by many reasons such as stress, worrying about to much and being scared of something, you may find your self, checking your heart rate more than often, hyperventilating, struggling to breath and talk.
June 20th, 2015 7:58am
Usually when experiencing a panic attack you get shortness of breath and feel like you're in danger, but this can be prevented by trying to convince yourself that shortness of breath isn't harmful and you're going to be ok.
July 2nd, 2015 2:22am
A panic attack youre shaking and can't stop................................................ There both the same
July 10th, 2015 9:27pm
I guess some symptoms of a panic attack is difficulty breathing, sweaty palms, irrational thoughts, and the worst of all, excessive fear.
July 12th, 2015 9:23pm
When you're having a panic attack, you might experience some sort of strangle feeling. Either way, when you're having one of those moments just inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
July 15th, 2015 5:24pm
check your breathing for irregularities and check heartbeat for alternate beats, if happening, you might be having a panic attack, this probability gets bigger when you had a emotional confrontation