Panic Is the Problem

Last updated: February 2021

We know that we are all different even though we have the same disease. Symptoms vary from one person to the other. Some of us love summer and others breathe easier in winter. It’s crazy. Some of us like low humidity and others are better breathers with a higher humidity count. No matter what your normal symptoms are, there is something that many of us living with COPD will experience from time to time: a panic attack.


It brings on episodes of extreme fear. Its symptoms include heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, and shortness of breath with a choking sensation. There are many reasons why we suffer from panic attacks, including daily stress, brain chemistry, pollution, or traumatic events in the past. Even with anxiety meds, most of us will experience anxiety from time to time.1

Your body in panic

Your renal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. At the onset of a panic attack, adrenaline floods your bloodstream and your heartbeat quickens. Blood is sent to the muscles and your breathing becomes fast and shallow while your blood sugar spikes. This leaves you with little energy once the attack is over.1

Your brain in panic

Your brain releases stress hormones telling you there is danger. This causes a flight or fight response. While you are making this decision, your heart rate is quickening and you are gasping for air. Do you run away from it, or do you stay and fight the dragon? The brain will begin telling you horrible scenarios of what might happen.1

When you are feeling anxiety, you are living in the past or future. Anxiety and panic attacks come from a memory of something you experienced or from a story you have conjured up in your mind about how bad your situation could be. A panic attack can last up to 30 minutes or longer and may feel like a full-blown heart attack. Anxiety has a double negative effect on our lungs, causing even more breathlessness.1

Overcoming a panic attack

First, you have to learn to trust. Trust in yourself and your ability to overcome the things your brain is telling you. Give yourself permission to trust yourself. Remember to practice scenarios in your mind, always with the intention of having a positive outcome.

Concentrate on your breath while focusing on a single object - it could be a lamp or a set of keys. Just concentrate on your object and your breath. Breathe with the intention of calming yourself using pursed-lip breathing and deep abdominal breathing. Stop the chatter in your brain. If you practice often, these breathing methods will become your 'go-to' when you are short of breath.

Reflect on your panic attack

Look at the past and answer the 5 W's of what, when, why, where, and who. Let's also not forget about how this began.

  • How did it happen?
  • Why did it happened?
  • What triggered it to happen?
  • When did I first feel it coming on?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Who has control over my panic attack?

Answering the above questions, and writing in your journal, will give you more information and make you more powerful should you have another attack.

What are some of the causes of your panic attacks?

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Where do you stand with your COPD?