This one is perhaps among the most frequent questions I get from my clients. Can panic attacks kill me?
And I get why some of us (especially those who struggle with anxiety) are seriously concerned about this issue.
Panic attacks are like tornadoes. They seem to come out of nowhere and create massive chaos. They also seem entirely unpredictable and unstoppable.
When your anxiety has reached alarming levels, it almost feels like you’re losing control over your mind. That’s why some people who deal with panic attacks are afraid they’ll go insane.
The pounding heart, the desperate gasps for air, the uncontrollable torrent of negative thoughts, these unpleasant symptoms can turn a normal day into a complete nightmare.
Depending on the nature of your anxiety, panic attacks can make it difficult for you to talk to other people, visit new places, or get involved in certain activities.
But the worst part is that mind-numbing feeling of impending doom. It feels so real and intense that it can make us wonder if a panic attack will eventually kill us.
But leaving aside our subjective experiences related to panic attacks, let’s take a step back and look at what goes on in our head during a panic attack.
What is a Panic Attack?
Any person who’s suffered a panic attack at least once knows how easy it is to mistake it for a life-threatening stroke.
Panic attacks tend to occur out of the blue, without the presence of any real danger. And when they hit, they generate a state of overwhelming anxiety, coupled with shortness of breath, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, and uncontrollable trembling.
Panic attacks are relatively common, and they usually begin around the age of 15. However, if left unchecked, they can trigger the onset of severe conditions such as agoraphobia and panic disorder.
Here are the main symptoms of panic attacks:
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Breathing difficulties, shortness of breath
- Hot flushes or cold chills
- The sensation that things are unreal
- Intense fear of death
- Feeling disconnected or detached from your body
- The thought of losing control
- The idea of going crazy
During a panic attack – which can last about 20-30 minutes – you will experience a scary episode of discomfort and nervousness. Fear can reach such an intense level that it almost feels like you’ve lost all control over your body and mind.
Considering this insane roller-coaster of unpleasant bodily sensations, intense emotions, and negative thoughts, it’s perfectly understandable why many of us are afraid a panic attack might kill us.
The Source of Your Panic Attacks
The underlying cause of panic attacks is anxiety.
This condition – which affects around 260 million people worldwide – can distort your interpretation of reality, leading you to believe that certain situations are too dangerous or uncomfortable for you to handle them.
As a result, you begin to avoid these situations. For example, if you’re afraid of large crowds, you will move heaven and earth to avoid setting foot in a mall, supermarket, train station, or any other crowded place.
But the worst part is that the more you avoid a certain situation, the more you reinforce the belief that the situation you’re desperately trying to run from is indeed scary and overwhelming. And if you somehow end up in that situation, the anxiety might reach such an alarming level that it triggers a full-blown panic attack.
There are also people who experience panic attacks because of a traumatic event. In this case, anxiety is a defense mechanism, protecting them from reliving a painful experience. But if they somehow find themselves in the same situation that traumatized them, the anxiety might be so severe that they end up having panic attacks.
No matter how unpleasant and fear-inducing panic attacks might be, your mind will always find its way back to calm and serenity. Your body will stop shaking and sweating, your heart rate will drop back down to an optimal level, and you will breathe normally again.
You just need to understand how anxiety works, ask for help, and get actively involved in regaining control of your life.
Panic Attacks CAN NOT Kill You
My first answer to the question Can panic attacks kill you? – and the answer you’ll get from any other mental health professional – is a resounding NO. Although they might make you feel like you’re about to drop dead, panic attacks can’t kill you.
But since I’m the kind of anxious fella who likes to leave no stone unturned, I’ve decided to do some more digging.
While I was doing my research, I stumbled into an intriguing article published by Psychology Today.
It was the story of a 26-year-old girl who got stuck in an elevator for half an hour. When rescue workers found her, she was unconscious and, sadly, she died at the hospital.
Did fear kill her!? At first, it might seem so.
But what doctors discovered later was that she was suffering from a congenital heart condition.
As the article mentions, she was unusually vulnerable, and any extreme exertion of her cardiovascular system might well have had the same effect. We can’t truly say that she died of fear, any more than we can say of a jogger with a heart defect who drops dead while jogging “died of exercise” or that an elderly millionaire who dies in the saddle with a young admirer “died of sex.”
So, in the end, it wasn’t the panic attack that killed her, but the heart problem.
However, this story made me realize again how important it is to keep an eye on your overall health status. When dealing with anxiety, consulting a physician is just as crucial as consulting a mental health professional.
To sum up, the chances of a panic attack contributing to your death are too insignificant to be worth taking into consideration.
And since panic attacks can’t kill you, perhaps you should give yourself a chance to overcome them.Since panic attacks can NOT kill you, perhaps you should give yourself a chance to overcome them once and for all. Click To Tweet
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.
I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.