The Science Behind Panic Attacks & What To After A Random Panic Attack

Last Update on October 11, 2021 : Published on October 11, 2021
What Happens During A Panic Attack

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with your body on high alert? Or did your heart begin to race and your mind activated the flight-or-fight mode during your midday stroll?

Well, you’re not alone in this either. Random panic attacks are common (more than you expect) and all of us – at some point in our lives – experience panic attacks. The symptoms may vary depending on the intensity but some common symptoms remain the same.

Racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, nausea or numbness can be too much and these symptoms – while not exactly dangerous – can be terrifying.

For many, these sensations bought on by a panic attack can even mimic a heart attack. For some, it can bring about a sense of unreality where perception and time may appear altered such as colors may look different, sounds may sound like coming from a tunnel, etc. Some people can also have an out-of-body experience.

So, what exactly happens during a panic attack?

In this blog, you’ll be reading what happens when you have a panic attack, how your body and mind react to a panic attack, and how you can control your random panic attacks.

What Happens During A Panic Attack?

Factors that may lead to a panic attack

Panic attacks start in your body and then go on starting a process in your brain, however, sometimes your brain could be the organ to initiate the panic attack that then manifests in your body.

Note that in some cases, genetics, stress, or chemical imbalance in the brain can cause a panic attack.

Panic attacks begin with a racing heart and that can be caused by a simple thing as your cup of coffee or any caffeinated beverage or something you associate with a past traumatic event.

However, once a panic attack is triggered, it can create a series of psychological responses. This trigger can send alarm bells ringing in your brain and your body will respond by going into overdrive.

The amygdala, the nerve bundle in our brains that help process emotions, sends a distress signal to the central nervous system – the hypothalamus that regulates our body functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure.

The hypothalamus sends messages via the autonomic nervous system to the adrenal glands that release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These chemical messengers activate our body’s survival instincts and get it ready to fight or flee.

This fight or flight response is the response our body prepares for dangerous or life-threatening situations. Our pupils dilate and our senses are heightened. Our breathing increases that allow an extra intake of oxygen than we need. Our blood pressure rises and blood rush towards our muscles in arms and legs – getting them ready to fight or flee.

What Happens In The Brain?

Some ongoing research is studying how panic attacks affect the brain. However, it is highly likely that some structures in the brain also contribute to panic disorders or panic attacks.

In another study, it was found that individuals with a panic disorder showed more activities in the part of the brain that is associated with the fight or flight response than others. In other studies, researchers have found that panic disorders can be associated with a lack of or an imbalance in serotonin. Imbalance or the lack of serotonin can also affect your mood.

What To Do After?

The symptoms of a panic attack develop rapidly and within a few minutes. These attacks may last up to 10-15 minutes. And to make things easier, many quick techniques can help you calm after a panic attack.

First, understanding panic attacks and their symptoms can help a lot! Once you know what to look for, it can be easy for you to ride out the attack and focus on calming your mind and body. Remember, it will take a lot of practice to reach this point but the more you focus on calming, the more you’ll be able to control your actions.

Second, you can try telling yourself that the reason behind your dizziness is because your blood is rushing to your arms and legs, preparing them for a way to defend, if the need comes. Or you can say to yourself that you’re breathing hard because your body is trying to protect and defend.

When you do this, you involve the frontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for processing thoughts, problem-solving, and analysis. Using logic and rationality to understand these sensations can help you move forward and hold off the panic attack.

Third, practicing breathing exercises can come in handy here! When you’re hyperventilating, you can try to consciously try to slow your breathing while aiming for longer exhales and shorter inhales. This can help to calm your fight-or-flight response.

Deep breathing to counter the stress response can help you regulate normal functions such as heart rate, digestion, and of course, breathing. Remember, a panic attack is a fear response. By using controlled breathing, you help tell your brain that there is nothing to fear.

When you practice mindfulness meditation or other long-term practices, they can help you build a quick technique to prevent a panic attack before it can take over. These practices can even help you manage your anxiety in daily life.

Fourth, therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you gradually regulate your responses to everyday events. Remember, you are not alone in dealing with panic attacks.

Just as your body responds to the flu with a fever, it can also respond to fear with a panic attack. With some professional help and some effective breathing techniques, you can control your panic response.

Writer’s Thoughts

Random panic attacks can be terrifying and challenging to deal with but with the right understanding of their symptoms, the right technique to calm your nerves, and with the right professional you can learn how to manage your panic attacks.

I hope with this article you understood what happens during a panic attack on your body and brain. If you found this article useful, let us know in the comments below or you can also share your thoughts at

Remember, you’re not alone in your struggles. We are here to help you!

Take Care! Stay Safe!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.


  1. Jeannie Strassner
    Jeannie Strassner

    Thank God I found this website just by accident. Had my first session with a therapist for panic attacks associated with PTSD memories. This information comes at exactly the right time and is so well organized. I will be able to get a grip on my life with this and my Zoom visits too.

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