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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
July 4th, 2015 7:05pm
Freaking out and having a panic attack are the same thing. If your freaking out than its a sign of a panic attack.
July 4th, 2015 10:18pm
Look for clear physical symptoms. There are several systems those experiencing a panic attack often have such as shortness of breath, shaking hands, and uncontrollable racing heart beat. Many who have experienced panic attacks have also expressed feeling like they're about to die or uncontrollable racing thoughts.
July 5th, 2015 12:47am
A full-blown panic attack includes a combination of the following signs and symptoms: Shortness of breath or hyperventilation. Heart palpitations or a racing heart. Chest pain or discomfort. Trembling or shaking. Choking feeling. Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings.
July 5th, 2015 9:16am
Panic attacks can lead to heart palpitations and breathing problems, that aren't necessarily triggered by anything in particular. It can almost feel like a heart attack, being acute chest pains, that can lead to worrying about having more and avoiding situations you feel will bring on another. Just freaking out, you know logically you can handle that situation without aid and calm yourself at the time. Panic attacks can be debilitating and avoiding ever putting yourself into that situation. It's a good idea to talk to someone supportive in either case.
July 5th, 2015 6:02pm
There isn't a big difference between 'freaking out' and having a panic attack, but one of the main differences is being unable to breathe. When you have a panic attack you are breathing too fast for it to be productive and thus, are still out of breath. Its like playing a sick game of 'catch up' where you're simultaneously out of breath and ahead of breath at the same time
July 5th, 2015 8:46pm
panic attacks mean you cant breath and feel like your throat is closing up but freaking out is just maybe crying
July 5th, 2015 8:50pm
When I have panic attacks, I usually start getting "ticks", such as rubbing my hands on my legs or pulling at my hair. I also start stuttering or mumbling, and usually desperately want to be secluded from anyone. If I'm just freaking out about something, I just start worrying and desperately try to fix the problem. Most of the time during panic attacks, you tend to not think rationally, because you can only focus on the bad things that are happening. Usually if you're just "freaking out" you're concerned, you think to try to come up with a solution to your problem.
July 7th, 2015 11:34pm
Panic attacks typically come with very strong and unpleasant physical symptoms. Such as shortness of breath, dizziness, upset stomach, etc, ALONG WITH the feeling of freaking out.
July 8th, 2015 2:59am
Panic attacks you usually have trouble breathing, rapid heart beat, the sensation that you are dying or may feel like you are dying. Freaking out you may have rapid thoughts and feel you have no idea what to do
July 8th, 2015 11:09am
When you have a panic attack you often hyperventilate and feel everything around you just rush past. You feel trapped and your chest is tight and you have no idea what to do.
July 8th, 2015 5:37pm
I think freaking out involves you panicking and getting more chaos , but panic attacks involve a lot of breathing problems , you feel like your mind is fogged and you also can't stop the stream of tears
July 8th, 2015 9:17pm
A panic attack would involve severe shortness of breathe, muscle spasms, nausea and fast heart beat It could possibly involve tightening of the chest, as well as a possible faint feeling.
July 9th, 2015 7:43am
I'm not sure why there is a difference between the two; they often go hand in hand. It's how you react that is important. Breathing techniques and/or journaling can be very helpful
July 9th, 2015 9:11am
shortness of breath, feeling of out of control, cant think right,feels like a,feelings that something terrible is going to happen, or that you're going to die, faint, lose control.tendency to think over your problems in a frantic way and jump to the worst possible scenarios,pounding heartbeat, shaking, nausea, tightness in the throat, chest pain, headache, dizziness
July 9th, 2015 12:30pm
The main symptoms of panic attacks are breathlessness, extreme moods like crying, anger and so, also sometimes you get restless and sweaty.
July 9th, 2015 1:36pm
I feel like when Im having a panic attack I start to show more physical symptoms as well that get stronger the more I think about them. If I'm just freaking out its sometimes just intrusive thoughts that I can control or tone down before the panic.
July 9th, 2015 10:42pm
I personally find that I can calm down faster if I'm freaking out. Especially before it escalates to an attack. To me an attack is characterized by hyperactivity, nit-pickiness, hyperventilating, racing heart, nausea, overly emotional, and shaking. Though it can be different for everybody!
July 10th, 2015 1:12am
A panic attack is very overwhelming. When I am freaking out if just feels temporary. With panic attacks my heart races, my breathing becomes quicker, I feel dizzy, my palms sweat.
July 10th, 2015 11:47am
A panic attack is a full body and mind experience, during a panic attack you mind will race to find an reason for the fear, you body will respond by dumping adrenaline and cause your heart to race, you will sweat and become hyper aware of your body. Some people will hyperventilate which adds to the confusions. Freaking out is about a specific trigger, like a spider, something that is real as opposed to perceived in a panic attack.
July 10th, 2015 4:19pm
If it seems like you can't breathe, you're drawling short, raspy breaths, you feel like there is a knot in your stomach, your hands are sweaty or you are feeling afraid for no known reason, you could very possibly be experiencing some anxiety.
July 10th, 2015 4:26pm
"Panic attacks usually last between five and 20 minutes, and although it may feel as though you are in serious trouble, they aren't dangerous and shouldn't cause any physical harm. It is unlikely you will be admitted to hospital if you have a panic attack. You may feel an overwhelming sense of fear and a sense of unreality, as if you’re detached from the world around you. As well as psychological symptoms, you may also experience physical symptoms of panic, such as: a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations), sweating, trembling, shortness of breath (hyperventilation), a choking sensation, chest pain and/or feeling sick. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into "fight or flight" mode in response to something you think is a threat. As your body tries to take in more oxygen your breathing quickens. Your body also releases hormones, such as adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up." Information provided by the NHS. You can only know for sure by this information provided. If you think that you may be having panic attacks, consult your GP. They will be able to give you advice and help you with this issue. You may be advised to go to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy but that's up to your GP and/or counsellor if you have one.
July 11th, 2015 4:40am
You are freaking out when you are being loud about the issue and you are just going round and round about it, a panic attack wont allow you to perform tasks in a "normal" way and you may have physical symptoms such as blushing, heart racing or even puking.
July 11th, 2015 5:49am
If your having a panic attack you can feel hot and clammy, feel sick to the stomach like you want to vomit, you start to spiral out of control quite quickly and your thoughts become quite irrational. You can develop real physical symptoms such as pains in the chest like you feel your having a heart attack. Normally if your freaking out its in the mind without all the full on physical symptoms of a panic attack.
July 11th, 2015 6:48pm
I generally start to hyperventilate when I have panic attacks, my arms start shaking and I get real dizzy. If you are just freaking out you should be able to take one big deep breath.
July 11th, 2015 9:30pm
A panic attack feels like you are completely out of control and often has physical symptoms such as palpitations and claustrophobia, its very intense and terrifying. Freaking out could be contrasted in the sense that you are panicked about a situation but you feel like you have control over your body, and the fear is less consuming
July 12th, 2015 2:31am
Myself, I know I'm having a panic attack if my heart is completely racing. Usually, freaking out is in your head (for myself anyway) and a panic attack involves your entirety.
July 17th, 2015 5:09pm
Panic attacks tend to have multiple symptoms, physically and mentally. "Freaking out" tends to be a mental reaction/overreaction to a situation
July 18th, 2015 10:20pm
A panic attack is a surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear , your heart pounds and you feel like your going crazy
July 19th, 2015 7:14pm
Hey there. Well from reading up the general full blown panic attack symptoms are hyperventilating, your heart racing, chest pains or discomfort, shaking or trembling, feels like you are choking, and everything around you feels unreal. A freak out is less violent symptoms (such as the shaking is not as bad, next to no chest pain, ect) and the main difference is when you freak out, things seem a bit faster around you and have almost if i can use the term a "adrenalin" rush. To have more clearance i suggest looking up some of the symptoms and try keeping a logical mind about your analysis of your symptoms. We tend to misdiagnose when we feel like we have a certain symptom when we actually don't. Hope this can clarify a bit for you :).
July 22nd, 2015 4:10am
a panic attack and freaking out virtually can be the same thing. it is how your body reacts to emotions or stressful situations.