Why Am I Getting Panic Attacks All of a Sudden?

Panic attacks may follow in the wake of a very stressful event or life change. Also, panic attacks can tag along with other mental health issues. In fact, when the diagnostic manual for psychological health problems, called the DSM-5 was revised a few years ago, it’s now recognized that panic attacks can be a part of nearly every other mental health diagnosis.1

Is there a new source of stress in your life, or are many changes piling up to make you feel like there’s more than you can cope with right now? The total amount of stress in our lives is called our allostatic load. Bad things that happen cause distress, and add to our allostatic load. Death, divorce, moving, job loss and legal problems are a few examples of very stressful events that are likely to impact our health. Sometimes we don’t realize how much stress we experience from good changes also. A brand new job, a new baby, a new relationship, more frequent family get-togethers, a wedding. These all seem like great, happy life events, and they are. However, even major positive life events add to our allostatic load. One way to measure your current stress load and perhaps even predict health outcomes is to systematically examine stressors in your life in the past year.2 You can take the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale online to see your score and health predictions.

Sometimes new symptoms of anxiety may follow a change in health or habits. If you’re noticing physical symptoms like elevated heart rate, shortness of breath and dizziness, it’s time for a checkup at your primary care provider. It’s possible to misinterpret physical symptoms as anxiety, although if it is anxiety the physical symptoms are not going to be harmful. If you’ve started taking the stairs at work more often to improve physical fitness, ask yourself if you’re really feeling anxious or if you’re just getting a little cardio workout? Examine your other habits to see if the amount of stimulants you’re using has changed also. Increased caffeine consumption or smoking may lead to feelings of anxiety.

If you’ve always struggled with worrying and anxiety, but panic attacks are a new symptom, it may be time to ask for some help. It’s not that panic attacks are dangerous and physically serious, they’re not. However, if your anxiety is getting worse rather than better, you deserve some relief. Most people could benefit from psychotherapy at some times in their lives, but not all of us are lucky enough to have access to therapy and not all of us are brave enough to ask for help when we’re hurting. There’s no shame in seeking treatment for mental health issues, and you deserve to be happy and free from anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide relief, and you’ll often start feeling better within a few sessions and feel in control of your worrying again within a few months. Sometimes medication is part of the solution as well, but if you start cognitive behavioral therapy, your therapist will be able to guide you a bit to when it’s the right time to have a medication evaluation. Check the Academy of Cognitive Therapy directory for a qualified therapist near you. This is an international directory, but if there’s not a therapist close by, consider calling one in a major metropolitan area to see if they know of a good referral closer to your home.


  • Kupfer, D. J. (2015). Anxiety and DSM-5. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience17(3), 245–246.
  • Scully, J. A., Tosi, H.. & Banning, K. (2000). Life Event Checklists: Revisiting the Social Readjustment Rating Scale after 30 Years . Educational and Psychological Measurement, 60(6), 864-876.

The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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