What Causes a Panic Attack?

You’re going about your day, maybe even feeling pretty good about things, when all of a sudden, this sense of impending doom comes over you. Your heart is beating fast, your body is shaking, and you feel like you can’t breathe. This sudden onset of impending doom is called a panic attack.

This article will cover the symptoms of a panic attack, what causes them, and what you can to to mitigate their effect on you.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

No one likes getting blindsided by a panic attack. They are incredibly unpleasant to experience, and because of their severity, even after one ends, you can feel off for the rest of the day. Their sudden onset makes them difficult to prevent and difficult to recover from.

An estimated 1 in 75 people experience panic disorder. Despite the prevalence of panic attacks, they aren’t all alike. However, if you’re experiencing a panic attack, you’ll likely experience any combination of the following symptoms.

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of having a panic attack at any moment
  • Feeling like the world around you isn’t real
  • Feeling of impending doom
  • Headache
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Racing heart beat
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach ache
  • Sweating

The severity of panic attack symptoms often does not match the circumstances in which a panic attack happens. You don’t have to be experiencing a traumatic event in order to experience a panic attack. In fact, the reason that most panic attacks are so debilitating is because they happen in relatively safe circumstances.

What Causes a Panic Attack?

What Causes a Panic Attack 2

What causes the symptoms of a panic attack? The rapid, shallow breathing paired with the racing heart happen because your brain has identified a stimulus as a source of potential danger.

This reaction happens because your body is going into fight or flight mode. For whatever reason, your brain has come to the conclusion that you are in danger and need to be ready to fight the source of danger or run from it.

Doctors still aren’t entirely sure what causes panic attacks. Because they come on so suddenly, in many different situations, it’s difficult to identify panic-causing factors. However, there are some educated guesses as to what causes panic attacks and panic disorder.

Most of the time, panic attacks do seem to come out of nowhere. Those who experience them are left wondering why they reacted so intensely. Because it is so difficult to figure out what causes a panic attack, many people live in fear of having another one at any given time.

Anyone can have a panic attack. However, most of the time, panic attacks happen to people who have panic disorder or agoraphobia.

These include:

  • Change in brain function
  • Genetics
  • Major life events like a death or divorce

Once you’ve had a panic attack, you’re much more likely to experience one. Unconsciously, your brain has made a connection between the environment and circumstances you were in when you had a panic attack. This can lead to being afraid of going out in public, lest you have another panic attack.

If your brain can spot a pattern in what is happening, you can have a panic attack in similar situations. This can be something as simple as wearing the same shirt, or as complicated as being with a specific person in a specific environment.

Panic disorder is characterized by having multiple panic attacks. If you just have one or two panic attacks over a long period of time, you likely don’t have panic disorder. However, if you are prone to having frequent panic attacks, then you might have panic disorder. If you are worried about your diagnosis, it is best to see a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Most people who suffer from Panic Disorder tend to lead stressful lives. These people don’t have healthy ways of reacting to or coping with stress, and don’t know how to manage the everyday stressors that everyone has to cope with.

What to do if You Are Having a Panic Attack

If you suffer from panic attacks, don’t lose hope. There are a number of things you can do both in the moment and as preemptively to decrease their severity.

What Causes a Panic Attack 3

While it is difficult to identify exactly what is causing them, having less stress in your life in a general sense and learning stress management techniques will help you to manage the debilitating symptoms that come with panic attacks.

Here are a few things you can do to lead a calmer life.

  • Practice Deep Breathing Regularly and During Panic Attacks

Deep breathing exercises have been proven in dozens of studies to be an effective way of decreasing stress. It works by stimulating the parts of your brain that control rest and relaxation. By breathing deeply, you are sending the signal to your brain that it’s safe to take it easy, and that you aren’t in any danger.

Getting into a habit of deep breathing will make it easier to breathe deeply when you are in a state of panic. If you aren’t used to certain breathing techniques, trying to learn them in a state of panic is likely to only cause more stress and anxiety. Instead, practice deep breathing for a few minutes a day. This will decrease your overall stressors, and will also likely reduce the amount of panic attacks you experience.

  • Set Up a Panic Attack Routine

Trying to figure out how to calm down from a panic attack while you are having one is not the best way to reduce stress. You aren’t thinking clearly when you are panicking, so you aren’t in a good position to identify what helps.

Instead, come up with steps you can take when you are having a panic attack. Write them down in a place that’s easy to see, like on your fridge or as your phone background.

Here are some useful steps you can include in your routine.

  • Find a safe space
  • Pick a breathing exercise
  • Count to ten
  • Use a comfort object
  • Pull up a guided meditation
  • Do some yoga
  • Go on a walk

You don’t have to do anything specific. Whatever works best to help you calm down in a state of panic is what you should do in order to calm down.

Focus on The Present Moment

Many times we get anxious and start to panic when we are thinking about the future, or worrying about what happened in the past. This can lead to a panic attack if you feel like you aren’t in control.

Focusing on the present has been proven to reduce stress and quickly bring a state of calm to your mind.

This is one of the easiest things you can do to come down from a state of panic. One useful technique in being focused on the present is doing what’s called the 54321 technique.

Here’s how it works:

5 – List out loud five things you see. This could be a picture on your wall, the pattern on the ceiling, or a freckle on your skin.

4 – List out loud four things you can touch and touch them as you are doing so. This could be the carpet, your chair, or the ground outside.

3 – List out loud three things you can hear in your environment. This could be the air conditioning, the hum of your computer, or cars outside.

2 – List out loud two things you can smell. This one can be hard for people if you are inside, but if you focus and close your eyes as you smell, it’s easier to pick up on something. This could be a coworker’s perfume, the plastic of your phone, or someone cooking something in the microwave.

1 – List out loud one thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like? Did you recently have gum or a drink?

This technique works best if you use detail to describe what you are observing. After going through this exercise, you’re likely to feel calmer and more focused on the present moment.

A Spire stone and Spire tags were created to help you navigate panic attacks. The way you breathe says a lot about what is going on in your body. Wearing our products is a great way to monitor your state of panic. The stone observes when your breath is faster than normal, and notifies you when your breathing is too tense. The app comes with short meditations to help you calm down.

Check out the science behind Spire today!

The Top Meditations for Relaxation

You have a lot of stress in your life. When you come home from work, you might change into something comfortable and spend the rest of the night watching Netflix. However, this doesn’t actually do much to help you deal with the levels of stress and frustration in your life.

Instead of spending hours zoning out and putting your stress on ice, there are actions you can take to deal with it in the long term. Meditation is one of the simplest and most beneficial ways to deal with stress. It is a great way to activate the relaxation response, and deal with many of the physical side effects of being stressed out.

If you really need to watch through an entire season of your favorite show in one night, don’t fret. You can reap the benefits of meditation from just a few minutes of practice each day and get back to your favorite shows in no time.

This article will briefly explain how meditation promotes relaxation, and then offer some guided meditations you can try now to get the relief you deserve.

How Meditation Promotes Relaxation

When you have a seemingly never ending list of things to do, or people to worry about, your mind is constantly activating your stress response. This means your body is signaling your brain to prepare for danger. Whether you’re dealing with an angry bear, or stressed about a looming deadline at work, your brain can’t tell the difference between these two dangers.

The stress response evolved as a way to survive situations where you need to be ready to act in an instant. However, with modern technology and demands on our time and energy, the stress response hasn’t been given enough time to catch up. This means our brains have a hard time discerning between immediate threats and everyday stressors.

However, the stress response isn’t the only way your body can respond to what is going on around you. The opposite of the stress response is the relaxation response. This is when your mind and body realize that you are safe, and that you can take the time to rest and relax.

In fact, the term “relaxation response” has been used specifically to describe meditation. This particular doctor defines the term as your ability to change the signals your brain puts out. Meditation is the best way for you to counteract the urgency of the stress response, and show your brain that it’s safe to relax and take it easy.

The Top Meditations for Relaxation 2

Chronic stress often comes on as a result of constant and uncontrollable worry. Meditation is a great way for you to get in touch with your emotions, and see what is going on in the present moment. As you take a step back to focus on your breathing, you are forced to become aware of the sensations going on within you, and look at them from a different perspective. Often times, this perspective can give you the emotional clarity necessary to deal with the cause of your stress.

Meditations You Can Use to Relax Right Now

The good news is that there are hundreds of different meditations that can help you activate that relaxation response and get relief right now.

Meditation doesn’t even have to be difficult. In fact, there are thousands of resources available to those who are just starting.

The great thing about most of the following meditations is that you can do them wherever you are. Whether you’re on a break at work, taking the train home, or are about to go to sleep, you can do these meditations as long as you have a couple of minutes to unplug from everything.

Meditating on Your Own

If you do better following a script, there are a number of different types of meditations you can use to relax and let go of your stress.

Most meditation practitioners believe that there are three major categories when it comes to meditation. Those categories include:

  • Focused Attention – these types of meditation are focused on one specific thing for the entire time. This can be focusing on a specific object, or honing in on the breath.
  • Open Monitoring or Mindfulness – monitoring meditation is all about noticing what is happening without judgment or trying to change. Many people also call this mindfulness, as it is simply being aware of what is happening.
  • Effortless Transcending – This is what most people think of when they hear meditation. Also called transcendental meditation, this type of meditation focuses on emptying your mind of thoughts and creating a blank slate.

Here are some different techniques that fall under these categories.

Breath Meditation

The breath is a fundamental part of meditation. Being aware of just the breath during meditation is a great example of a focused attention technique. This technique is great for people who find that their mind tends to wander during meditation, or who have too many worries to allow them to relax. Focusing on the breath forces you to come into the present by honing in on one thing happening in your body right now.

Body Scan

The body scan meditation involves taking an inventory of what is currently happening in the body. It is a great example of open monitoring meditation because the technique’s goal is to become aware of what is happening in your body right now. There is no specific intention to change what is going on, you are just focusing on the body as a whole instead of on a specific aspect.

Picturing Your Thoughts as Clouds

Emptying your mind can feel the exact opposite of effortless, no matter what the title of this kind of meditation is. However, when accompanied with a visualization, some people find the process is easier than they imagined. One great way to do this is to imagine your thoughts as clouds in your mind. Once they have all become clouds, picture them drifting away and leaving your mind like a clear blue sky. You don’t have to try to do anything. Simply stay in the moment with that clear blue sky for as long as you need.

Following a Guided Meditation

The Top Meditations for Relaxation 3

Even those who have been practicing meditation for a while can have a hard time meditating on their own. If you can’t seem to meditate without help, don’t worry! There are many options for those who need to follow a guided meditation. If you don’t like a particular one, you have many more to choose from.

Here are a few guided meditations you can try out right now.

10 Minute Ultra Calming Guided Meditation to heal the body & mind

This 10 minute video is offered by Positive Magazine in order to heal body and mind of the more physical effects of stress. Like many other meditations, this one starts with focus on the breath to help you get in the right mindset for calm. Once your breath has slowed down, the audio paints a picture of a beautiful pink sky to help you feel the peace of that environment.

Spire In-App Meditations

Spire has a number of guided meditations that you can take advantage of. You can access them easily in the app, or listen to them on our Soundcloud page. Check out this playlist of quick meditations you can do at any time.

Deep Relaxation Meditation

Fragrant Heart offers this nearly 20 minute meditation as a way to relax and become aware of the tension in your body. The recording focuses on slowing the breath and relaxing muscle groups to feel an immediate release of tension.

Guided Meditation ‘Connecting to the Calm Within’

Diane Yeo offers another 20 minute meditation to help you find peace and mindfulness in your life. She starts the meditation by encouraging listeners to be open to whatever happens, cautioning against labeling the meditation as good or bad. She uses this meditation to help people remember that they have calm within them, they just need to remember how to connect with it.

The next time you are feeling too stressed to carry on, consider checking in and doing some meditation. It’s a great way to reverse the negative effects stress can have on your mind and body. Even if you only have a couple of minutes, there’s a meditation out there to help you relax and calm your nerves.

Transcendental Meditation or Mindfulness: Which is Better?

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. As an umbrella term, ‘meditation’ can evoke an incredibly diverse set of practices and techniques, from simple relaxation and breathing techniques, to more intense versions of cognitive manipulation like suggestibility and hypnosis. And while there are certainly commonalities across disciplines, not all meditations are the same.

In the United States and the rest of the Western world in particular, there are two main practices that have swept the nation: Mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation (TM). From meditation retreats, to books and courses and apps, there are hundreds of ways to choose and learn one of these practices and begin reaping the mental and physical rewards. But which should you choose? If you’ve learned one, is it worth moving on to the other?  We’ll delve into exactly what these practices are and what sets them apart, look at which is best for beginner meditators, as well as what health benefits you can expect to see with both to ultimately help you answer what type of meditation might be the best for you and get you started on your meditation journey.


If you have ever practiced yoga, then you have probably tried some form of mindfulness practice. There is still some confusion as to whether mindfulness is a practice, or a way of being. In other words, do you practice mindfulness techniques and exercises, or is it a word to describe living one’s life mindfully or more intentionally? Simply put, the answer is both. While mindfulness does describe becoming more intentional and present in your everyday life, there is also a specific mindfulness practice, complete with mindfulness exercises and meditations.

Transcendental Meditation or Mindfulness Which is Better 2

As a way of being, mindfulness simply describes living in the moment. Much of our day is spent worrying about the future or the past, feeling anxious about upcoming deadlines or worrying about and regretting something that we did weeks, months, or even years ago. Indeed, on average people go through about 60,000 thoughts per day. The nature of the mind is to wonder and wander, but the result is that we don’t spend very much time in any present moment.

Mindfulness teaches us to catch our brains racing through thoughts and slow down. By training the brain to simply observe what is happening in the present moment we switch to observing what is happening around us without over analysing, attaching meaning, or considering the implications of that observation. We are able to perceive curiously and more easily accept what is happening without judgment or recourse.

Traditionally a Buddhist form of meditation, the practice of mindfulness equips you with exercises to help put a lifestyle of mindfulness into action. Studies have shown that only ten minutes of mindfulness practice a day, in which you typically focus on your breath and return your thoughts when your mind wanders, can have real impacts on stress management. The idea behind this practice is that if you train your brain to begin observing and accepting your feelings and thoughts in the moment without attaching layers of meaning to it, you will find it easier to accept, respond to, and move on from bad thoughts, distractions, emotions, and hurtful actions. Also, because your mind can’t be in two places at once, keeping your thoughts on the present prevents your brain from regretting or feeling anxious over the past or the future – which creates the anti-stress and anti-anxiety benefits for your body and mind.

Transcendental Meditation (TM)

While mindfulness meditation involves training one’s mind to be in the present moment, transcendental meditation, or TM, doesn’t involve any manipulation of your thoughts or mind. TM is said to be a natural and simple process, wherein you take advantage of your mind’s existing relaxation and silencing process to get rid of stress and rejuvenate the mind.

Transcendental Meditation comes from the Vedic tradition, and takes around 20 minutes twice a day, during which you give your active mind a chance to settle down to experience increasingly quieter levels of thought, until it reaches the deepest, most settled level of the mind, transcendental consciousness. As the mind settles down to reach this state, the body also experiences a profound state of rest, eliminating deeply rooted stresses and anxiety. After the 20 minute period, the practitioner is more energetic, creative, and generally more lively.

Transcendental Meditation or Mindfulness Which is Better 3

So how does this work? From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, the mind is active and there is a conscious stream of thought rushing through the mind. During the practice of TM, you learn how to effortlessly experience a special, highly orderly impulse of thought. At increasingly settled and silent levels of awareness, you begin to ‘transcend’ even the quietest impulse of thought.

What are the respective benefits of Mindfulness and TM?

The mainstreaming of mindfulness practice has also had the effect of increased rigorous scientific study on the topic. There are now thousands of studies showing the benefits of mindfulness and TM. Brain imaging techniques have shown how both mindfulness and transcendental meditation change brain patterns, with the effect of reducing stress, anxiety, and pain, and increasing creativity. One 2015 study pooled data from more than 20 brain imaging studies which showed that after 8 weeks of daily practice, mindfulness increased neuronal activity in the anterior cingulate cortex – leading to increased capacity to resist distractions, inhibit impulsivity, and make correct answers as compared to non-mindfulness meditators. A another clinical trial showed decreased blood pressure reactivity to stress than those in a control group. Many other peer reviewed studies have shown a host of other mental and physical benefits, including improved focus and cognitive performance and reducing biomarkers for inflammation.

Transcendental meditation has also been studied rigorously, and has been shown to have potentially life-saving results. In one 5-year study on patients with established coronary heart disease, there was a 48% reduction in death, heart attack, and stroke in subjects in the TM group as compared to controls. Another trial found a significantly greater effect of TM in reducing trait anxiety than other medical and alternative treatments, including mindfulness and other meditation practices. More research has found that TM can reduce blood pressure, increase insulin resistance (especially useful for those living with diabetes), as well as reduce anxiety, negative emotions, and neuroticisms while aiding learning. The American Heart Association has even gone so far as to release a statement calling for physicians to consider TM as a treatment for high blood pressure.

So, Which to Choose?

On the surface, the practices of mindfulness and transcendental meditation might seem quite similar – but there are important differences to consider. The main difference between the two practices is that while the goal of mindfulness is to focus one’s mind on the present moment; whether that be on your breathing, or some other sensation or thought, while the goal of Transcendental Meditation is to transcend thought completely in order to experience a silent form of consciousness, where you are aware but without an object of thought.

The evidence that TM can protect against heart attack and stroke is unique to this meditative practice in particular. However, both TM and mindfulness have been shown to provide real benefits for reducing stress and anxiety.

What might be most interesting to those deciding which meditation technique to pursue is the different ways in which each is taught and learnt. Mindfulness meditation may have a more intuitive process for beginners, as meditators are encouraged to practice focusing their thoughts on one thing only. It is however well recognised that this process can be quite difficult, and that reaching a point to which a person can live mindfulness in their everyday lives takes time and practice. Mindfulness trainers frequently evoke the idea of brain re-circuiting when talking about the practice, as the mindfulness practices try to ‘rewire’ the brain.

On the other hand, transcendental meditation requires some more control over the mind. TM requires going beyond surface level thoughts, a level at which we still operate when practicing mindfulness, and transcending passed into a more silent depth of consciousness. In addition, regular transcendental meditation will produce mindfulness in your everyday life spontaneously – as you learn to dive into the restful alertness in TM, you automatically and naturally become more mindful and present in your life. In one 3-month randomized controlled trial, study subjects practicing TM reported significantly greater increases in mindfulness than waitlist participants.

Regardless of whether you incorporate one or both of these into your life, you should consider getting Spire. Spire tracks your breathing and sends you signals when you are slipping into a state of stress. This keeps your mind centered and provides a sense of control throughout the day. Remember to keep things simple and consistent – and get ready to reap some amazing mental and physical rewards.

How to Practice Mindfulness Through a Body Scan Meditation

Mindfulness means more than controlling your breath or your thoughts. If you’ve practiced a breathing meditation a few times and you’d like something a bit more physical than just focusing on the breath, a body scan meditation is a great way help yourself be grounded in the here and now. It is an easy to learn meditation and can help you reduce stress and become more aware of what’s going on in your body.

What is a body scan meditation?

A body scan meditation is exactly what it sounds like. The meditation helps you bring awareness to every single part of your body. The more specific you can get, the more you can learn about different body parts. Read more

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Over the last few years, a big push for mental health awareness has allowed for anxiety and anxiety disorders to come into the limelight. As the stigma around anxiety and mental health is slowly being chipped away, more and more people are realising that the anxiety that they are living can perhaps be prevented or treated, and that the toll that anxiety takes does not have to be a permanent fixture in their lives.

Indeed, one New York times article from 2016 noted in that in the past eight years, Google search rates for anxiety have more than doubled, and that 2016 saw the most searches out of any year in the past decade.

And yet, the mainstreaming of anxiety has also fostered an environment of misinformation, or at least, has failed to facilitate a fostering of in-depth understanding of what anxiety is and what it feels like to different individuals, the many forms that it may assume, and what can be done about it. This blog seeks to elucidate some of the most pertinent of these questions, namely, what does anxiety really feel like, how do different anxiety disorders differ from one another, and what can be done about it? Read more

The 5 Best Relaxation Techniques for Sleeping

Bedtime – the brain’s seemingly perfect time of day to contemplate every life detail, think through worst-case scenarios, and work through any and every other reflection that you pushed to the back of your mind during the day.

All of us experience sleeplessness at some point in our lives, most often because stress or difficult life events leave our minds, and subsequently our bodies, tense and unable to relax into sleep. And while a bit of restless sleep might be a minor inconvenience to those afflicted once in a blue moon, others experience sleeplessness on a more regular basis and truly feel the results.

The link between anxiety and sleeplessness is well studied, and the findings are both intuitive and terrifying. Anxiety and insomnia can disrupt circadian rhythms, cause more stress and anxiety, and wreak havoc via a host of other physical and mental health problems including elevated heart rates, blood pressure, and stress hormones. Read more

How is Anxiety Affecting My Sleep?

It’s the end of a tiring day. You’re looking forward to getting some sleep. But as soon as you lay down and close your eyes, your mind starts to fill with racing thoughts. You might worry about waking up in time to get to work in the morning, or you might fret about an upcoming event this month. Sometimes, it seems like there are a million things to worry about, and that makes it almost impossible to sleep.

If you suffer from anxiety, it’s likely you’ve experienced this at least once in your life. In fact, 54% of people say anxiety makes it harder to fall asleep at night. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders have a hard time getting to sleep at night. Lack of sleep can have some serious impacts on your health, and can even worsen your anxiety.

Continue reading to learn why anxiety makes it hard to sleep, how lack of sleep and increased anxiety perpetuate a never ending cycle, and what you can do to improve your sleep habits. Read more

The Best Guided Meditations to Improve Sleep

Sleep affects your entire life. When you’re able to get a good night’s sleep, you feel refreshed during the day and can meet your responsibilities with ease. However, if you spend your nights tossing and turning, you’ll likely go through your day in a haze.

Thousands of people across the world use guided meditation to help them get to sleep at night. Read on to see why guided meditations help, and check out a small selection of the types of meditations you can expect to find.

How They Help

Mindfulness meditations are one of the best ways to fight insomnia and other sleep related issues. This type of meditation has been proven to combat depression, fatigue, and insomnia by promoting a relaxation response. Read more

How Sleep Affects Weight Loss

Do you struggle with getting enough sleep? Do you also happen to struggle with losing weight? Well, these two things share a stronger association than you might think, and research continues to suggest that improving one will have a mutually beneficial effect on the other. That’s right, a growing body of evidence is destabilizing our notions of eating less and exercising more as the ultimate key to attaining our desired weight loss, and enlightening us as to what might be the most relaxing weight loss regime we’ve ever embarked on – simply, getting ample sleep.

Astonishingly, 40% of adults report either short term or chronic insomnia, a fact that may also help explain the rise in obesity across the country. We’ll go through the evidence of some of the subtle and more obvious ways that sleep and weight are interconnected, and hopefully convince you that healthy sleeping habits are key to maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. Read more

How to Fall Asleep Faster

Trouble falling asleep? These tactics might help.

Struggling to fall asleep at night can feel exasperating, and can have serious impacts on your mood, work, and social life in the days following. If you’re here because you’re desperate for a solution, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. In just the United States, approximately 40% of adults report either short term or chronic insomnia, or inability to sleep, according to the American Sleep Association. This article is meant to help you pinpoint the source of your sleeplessness and provides some science-backed solutions to help you finally get some satisfying, restful shut-eye. Read more