WHY Did I Have A Panic Attack? I NEED To Know!

“Why did I have a panic attack?” is a question asked many many times every day in the community surrounding this podcast.  People early on in the anxiety journey labor under the assumption that in order to get better they must uncover and decode their panic triggers and understand WHY panic attacks are happening to them repeatedly. This might make sense at face value, but it’s often quite unhelpful or even harmful. People down the road to recovery might go a long time between panic attacks, then experience once, then immediately get dragged down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out why it happened and what it means. Again, not terribly helpful and not necessary.  Let’s look at why.

And while we’re at it, let’s do the first in my mini-series visiting places that I used to be terrified to go, starting with the end of my own driveway.  True story.  I was afraid to go that far from my front door at one time. That’s why this episode was recorded there.


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Today’s episode was recorded at the foot of my driveway, a place I used to be terrified to be.  That’s someone humbling to say, but it’s true. It would take me quite a while to work up the nerve to run out of my house, go to the end of the driveway, get the mail or collect the trash cans, and quickly go back up the driveway and inside.  I would panic doing that sometimes and even without the full panic, I would experience full on DP/DR, shortness of breath, disorientation, pounding heart, and all the fun symptoms and scary thoughts.  It was a very difficult time for me for sure.

Now, it felt really silly standing 40 feet from my front door recording this episode, but if I am to do a series that takes you to places I used to be afraid to go, then I have to start here if I am being totally honest and transparent with you.


Many people labor under the false assumption that they must figure out why they panic in order to get better. They spent lots of time trying to uncover triggers and find root causes thinking that if they can just find those things, everything will be OK.

Once you get to the point where you are experiencing panic because you are afraid to experience panic and anticipating the next panic attack, you can stop trying to figure out your triggers.  Your panic is your panic trigger.  That sounds circular, but it is true.  All the digging and analysis trying to decipher your panic attacks is generally going to be worthless and will lead to frustration and becoming disheartened when you wind up stuck.

For those a bit more advanced in recovery, there is a trap waiting!  After some time without panic, people that do experience panic can get sucked down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out why it happened.  They get trapped into believing that he have to figure that out as part of continuing recovery.  If they can’t figure it out reliably, which is often the case, they may worry about when it will happen again, and are tempted to declare that they are failing in recovery and back to square one.

That’s simply not fair to yourself to do that. You do not need to know why you had a panic attack, even if you haven’t had one in quite some time.  You might know.  It might be clear to you.  That’s fine.  That can be helpful.  If if you can’t identify the trigger, leave it alone and use the same tools and approach you’ve been using in your recovery. Do not get tricked into playing along with panic again!

Finding stressors, examining pain points, digging into your emotional or mental state, clarifying triggers, and “checking in” with yourself are not bad things in an absolute sense.  A fully recovered person can use these techniques in a helpful, productive way. They can part of good mental health hygiene habits and can contribute to stress management and effective self-care.  But for a person still not fully recovered, these things can re-ignite that fear-of-fear loop.  Becoming deeply introspective, retracing steps, looking frantically for food, drink, or environmental factors that may have “triggered” that panic attack just drives the mistaken belief that you must run from panic and avoid it at all costs.

When you get stuck in a loop where you are trying to decipher your panic attacks or figure them out, you are essentially agreeing with your misguided and oversensitized fear center. You’re agreeing that you must find a way to prevent panic. You’re rewarding it for sounding the alarm at the first sign of possible panic. Instead, consider letting go of the “need to know” why you had a panic attack.  Try just letting it be. Don’t make it any more important than it needs to.  That tends to be a difficult strategy to implement because it’s a bit counterintuitive, but a more productive strategy in the long run.

Do not mistake this for ignoring your emotions or invalidating them.  That’s not what we’re after here.  When you can stand on firmer ground and form that more normalized, healthy relationship with fear and anxiety again, then its time to start “trusting your gut” and honoring your emotions in a healthy way.  That’s not only fine, but encouraged, but not when you’re afraid of your body, your mind, or maybe even those emotions.  Be patient.  You’ll get there.  Then all the typical advice about triggers, root causes and checking in will make much more sense and will be much more fruitful for you.


Links of Interest

Panic Attacks Explained – My Panic Attacks Workshop

Epsiode 168 – The Panic Attack Hangover

Episode 001 – Anxiety Disorders are Cognitive


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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth Podcast. Former anxiety disorder sufferer. Now fully recovered and dedicated to providing no-nonsense, straight-forward, actionable advice on how to overcome anxiety problems.