Panic attacks can be incredibly scary. For many, the increased heart rate can feel as if you are having a heart attack, or even dying. While the typical heart rate ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute, during a panic attack your heart rate can reach above 110 beats per minute.
Why Your Heart Races
Panic attacks occur when you feel triggered by something in your environment. Many experience this trigger on an unconscious level, and it is difficult to identify. Think about the last time you felt startled. Panic attacks are similar in that the mind and body experience a fear response. Your heart also races because:
- Your body releases adrenaline, also known as epinephrine. It gives surge of energy to act quickly and make fast decisions.
- Your heart pumps blood at a faster rate towards your muscles, which would help you flee if necessary.
How Your Heart Feels During a Panic Attack
Panic attacks typically last from five to 15 minutes with a clear build up, peak, and let down. The feeling of a racing heart is similar to what it feels like after something has really scared you, if you've had an excessive amount of caffeine, or during an intense work out. Your heart may be pounding in your ears, and it may feel like it's going to beat out of your chest. Many people find this feeling incredibly uncomfortable and unsettled. The increased heart rate may occur in conjunction with other symptoms, including:
- Bodily discomfort
- Dissociation, or feeling like you aren't in your body, or aren't connected to the world
- Feeling like you are dying
Returning Heart Rate to Normal
Many people can eventually learn how to ground themselves during an attack, or right before they experience another. If you've had more than one panic attack, think about what happens right before your symptoms show up. If you are able to identify when you are about to have a panic attack, it will be easier for you to get yourself back to a calmer state instead of trying to do so during the attack. Here are a few exercises to try before, during or after a panic attack has occurred:
- Progressive muscle relaxation: This provides an easy to learn exercise that helps you get connected to your body
- Guided imagery relaxation exercise: This an audio exercise where an instructor helps lead you to a more peaceful state of mind.
- Deep breathing exercises: These offer a quick way to relax and slow down your heart rate.
If you see a doctor, he or she may also prescribe:
- SSRIs: These are otherwise known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and they are used to treat anxiety based disorders, as well as depressive disorders.
- SNRIs: Also known as selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, these meds are used to treat anxiety and depressive disorders.
- Benzodiazepines: These are sedatives and can typically induce a calming effect within 15 to 30 minutes.
Heart Attack Versus Panic Attack
Many people mistake panic attacks for heart attacks because several symptoms may overlap. Some major differences:
- With a heart attack, you may feel more pressure in your chest instead of pain.
- With panic attacks, your symptoms should peak around 15 minutes or less, and then begin to decrease. You may also have a history of anxiety symptoms, or have experienced a panic attack before.
- With heart attacks, you may feel pressure in your upper body, stomach, as well as your chest instead of just your chest with panic attacks.
It is important to remember that most of the time, panic attacks subside within 10 to 15 minutes. If you are experiencing multiple panic attacks each day, or are not able to ground yourself, it is best if you find a therapist who can assist you with decreasing your symptoms and identifying your triggers as chronic anxiety can negatively impact your health. If you feel you need urgent assistance, you can head to the hospital, although your symptoms may subside by the time you arrive. Take care of yourself and find appropriate help if you are struggling with these symptoms as they tend to worsen over time.
Your Heart Rate and Panic Attacks
While everyone's heart rate will vary during a panic attack, know that a racing, palpitating heart beat is typical and should subside within five to 15 minutes. Try to remain as calm as you possibly can and create a plan of action that you can use in case you experience another panic attack.