Many people with anxiety say that their panic attacks occur suddenly and for no reason at all. Some panic attacks are triggered by specific situations, such as driving or being in crowded places. For other people, panic attacks have no apparent trigger. They may occur when a person is at home watching television, lying in bed, completing a routine task.

These types of panic attacks are very frustrating because they are unpredictable and difficult to understand. Although they appear to occur “out of the blue,” new research shows that these panic attacks really do come with some warning signs. Psychologists from Southern Methodist University found that the body begins to signal that a panic attack is coming up to one hour before the panic attack occurs. In this study, patients wore portable recorders to track changes in bodily functions. Psychologists found that there were changes in heart rate, respiration, CO2 levels, and other bodily functions up to 60 minutes before the panic attack occurred. The patients in this study reported that their panic attacks were unexpected.

This suggests that patients do not recognize subtle changes in their physical functioning. By learning to recognize these subtle signs, patients may be able to calm their body and prevent panic attacks. Furthermore, counselors can help patients understand and cope with the anxiety that occurs one hour before the panic attack. Counselors can help patients recognize what kind of stressful situations and anxious thoughts cause this low level of anxiety. Understanding the triggers and learning ways to cope are key strategies to help prevent panic attacks.