Your question: Why do I cry during an anxiety attack?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Here, I’ll explain to you why crying is a common reaction during panic attacks, digging into how panic attacks affect your mind and body and proposing some strategies to cope with your situation.

Panic disorder, popularly known as panic attacks, is one of the most common anxiety disorders in the world. An estimated 2.1 to 4.7%(1) of the world has experienced it. It is an extremely exhausting experience both physically and emotionally, because panic attacks generate a complex symptomatology.

Crying is a natural human response to a particular emotion. Contrary to socially accepted wisdom, crying is extremely positive and in keeping with human nature. During a panic attack, your body goes into a state of physical dysregulation. You experience an intense and sudden fear that triggers spontaneous reactions from your body.

Among these reactions, crying is one of the most common, as it is linked to the feeling of fear that something bad might happen to you during the panic attack. During panic attacks you may think catastrophic thoughts such as that you will have an accident or that someone you love is going to die, so it is natural that crying is an automatic reaction that you experience during panic attacks.

When experiencing a panic attack for the first time, you probably feel confusion and deep fear because you believe that something terrible is happening to your body. Although the experience can be unpleasant and even frightening, a panic attack cannot cause you real harm. However, there are strategies you can learn to control them.

What happens to your body during a panic attack?

A panic attack is an exaggerated response of your body to the sensation of fear, stress or emotion. Because it is sudden and sudden, it does not allow you to think logically or stop the associated symptoms. In addition to crying, panic attacks have specific physical and emotional symptoms, all related to the feeling of deep distress.

  • Acceleration of heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Fainting sensation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest, stomach and/or headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of having a heart attack
  • Fear of dying or of someone close to you dying.

Why do you have panic attacks?

Although panic attacks usually last between 5 to 20 minutes(2) they can be so unpleasant that they ruin your whole day. Therefore, you may wonder the cause or origin of why you experience them.

Panic attacks, like all anxiety problems, have different causes. On the one hand there are hereditary factors, you are more likely to suffer from panic attacks if a close relative has also dealt with them. Panic attacks can also begin to be experienced after a traumatic or violent event.

What can you do?

It is important to note that panic attacks require professional help, because they are often linked to medication and require a medical diagnosis to obtain specialized treatment. However, there are useful strategies that you can apply to reduce the intensity of the symptoms and better understand the functioning of your emotions.

Emotional Recording

In a journal, write down the events related to the panic attacks you experience. After having the panic attack, you should write down in this diary what was happening when it happened, in what context you were in, who was with you at the time and any other relevant details. This will allow you, in addition to expressing yourself emotionally, to find a common pattern in the occurrence of your panic attacks.

This way you will be able to know if your panic attacks are mainly related to the work or academic environment, for example, and you will seek to apply changes in that area of your life specifically, organizing your schedule better and freeing yourself from unnecessary responsibilities, in that case.

Progressive breathing

Contrary to what is said, breathing during panic attacks should not be deep, but slow and progressive. Slowly inhale through your nose for three seconds and exhale through your mouth for three seconds. As you do this, feel the tension in your muscles decrease, and visualize a pleasant scenario. This exercise can be done sitting or lying down, and as you continue to practice it, it will become more effective.

Support Groups

Both online and in person there are support groups for people with anxiety problems. This will be useful because you will connect in a new social circle and share your own experience, and listening to the experiences of other people with panic attacks will make you feel less alone and more understood.

In my experience…

Crying is a normal reaction, whether you have panic attacks or not, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Crying during your panic attacks means that you are expressing your emotions in a very stressful and anxious situation that overwhelms your coping skills, therefore, it is not your fault.

There are psychotherapeutic strategies that can help you control panic attacks, which can deteriorate the quality of life of people when they are too recurrent and intense.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!