Cognitive Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Mental and Emotional Symptoms of Panic Attacks

The cognitive symptoms of panic attacks.

Panic attack symptoms can come on suddenly, without any warning or trigger. These attacks are often recognized through their uncomfortable somatic sensations. Some of the common physical symptoms include:

  • Feelings of numbness or tingling sensations
  • Chills or hot flushes

Along with these physical symptoms of panic attacks, a person may also experience a variety of mental and emotional symptoms. Listed here are the most common cognitive symptoms of panic attacks.

Dread, Nervousness, and Anxiety

Panic attacks often begin with feelings of dread, nervousness, and anxiety. If the panic attack starts unexpectedly, the sufferer may just feel as though something is wrong or sudden heightened anxiety. If triggered by a certain object or situation, as is the case for panic attacks related to specific phobias, the person may feel overcome with nervousness and anxiety when presented with the fear. 


During a panic attack, a person may experience depersonalization or the sense that one is detached from the self. He may feel as though he is watching himself from a distance, as though he is somehow outside of his own physical body.

Feeling so removed from the self, it may seem as if one is watching a movie or dreaming. Some panic attack sufferers describe it as being unable to control the body. Others say it’s like being robotic, going through the motions without any real awareness or connection to the self.


Similar to depersonalization, derealization involves a sense of detachment from one’s physical environment.

When a panic attack takes hold, the person may feel as though he is removed from his surroundings and separated from those around him. Panic attack sufferers often report feeling as though they are spaced out or in a foggy haze. Objects and people may somehow seem distorted. The person can feel as though their surroundings are unreal or even cartoon-like. Other panic attack sufferers describe it as trapped by their surroundings, feeling as if everything around them is unnatural, odd, and unfamiliar.

Fear of Losing Control or Going Crazy

When panic attacks strike, a person may feel as though she has little to no control over what she is experiencing. As physical symptoms escalate, she may feel as though she will completely lose control of her body. These physical symptoms along with the other cognitive symptoms listed here can contribute to fears of going insane. These fears can have an eliminate of social embarrassment, as the panic sufferer may feel worry and shame over losing control or going crazy in front of others.

Such fearful thoughts often only perpetuate the panic sufferer’s sense of fear, anxiety, and helplessness.

Fear of Dying

Along with fearing a loss of control, a panic attack sufferer may be afraid of the ultimate loss of control: death. Due to some of the physical symptoms of panic attacks, especially hyperventilation, feeling faint, and chest pain, a person going through a panic attack may become fearful that they are having a medical emergency.

Getting Help for Panic Attacks

Panic attacks symptoms can vary for different people. Plus, not all panic attacks are experienced the same way every time, as you may encounter more intense symptoms from time-to-time and less severe at other times. Although these attacks are seen as the hallmark symptom of panic disorder, these symptoms can also be connected to another mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, and specific phobias. Additionally, some of the symptoms of panic attacks can actually be a sign of a medical condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In order to rule out other conditions, you will need to set up an appointment with your doctor. To make an accurate diagnosis, he will review your current symptoms and medical history. Once a diagnosis has been determined, your doctor will be able to assist you in starting a treatment plan that will assist you in managing your panic attack symptoms.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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