What A Panic Attack Feels Like

Anxiety Attacks Are Overwhelming And Frightening Learn What An Anxiety Attack Feels Like And What To Do In The Event That One Occurs

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Although an anxiety attack is not a clinically diagnosed condition, the term is often used to describe an episode of overwhelming anxiety that can be triggered by fear or apparent threat. The term anxiety attack is often confused with the term panic attack, which is a sudden episode of extreme fear that can result in physical reactions. They are uncontrollable and disabling. The feeling can be so intense that the person experiencing it may feel like they cant breathe or are going to die. 

What some people may label as an anxiety attack may be the manifestation of an anxiety disorder or a reaction to a current or impending circumstance that causes anxiety. Knowing how to identify and manage anxiety can help treat the condition.

Watch For Subtle Signs Of A Heart Attack

A heart attack might seem like it came out of nowhere. But in many cases, chest pain due to heart disease, known as angina, appears in the days or weeks before a cardiac event.

You may feel a twinge or some pain in the shoulder or chest but think its something else, says Dr. Miller. The symptoms go away. Then later, the pain gets worse, or you feel a little off. Then the heart attack hits. These early signs can be hard to identify.

What Causes Panic Attacks

There is no single known cause for someone developing panic attacks or panic disorder.  Therefore, we will talk more about risk factors than specific causes.  Furthermore, there are likely a variety of factors at play when someone develops panic attacks or panic disorder.

The following risk factors may play a role in the development of panic attacks:

  • Genetics. If there is a family history of diagnosed anxiety, panic attacks, or panic disorder, theres a greater likelihood of developing panic attacks.
  • History of experiencing physical or sexual abuse as a child.
  • Experiencing a traumatic event such as sexual assault or a serious accident.
  • Experiencing major life stress or changes, such as a divorce, the serious illness or death of a loved one, starting a new job, or the addition of a baby to the family.
  • Lifestyle choices such as smoking or excessive caffeine intake can increase the risk of developing panic attacks.
  • A temperament or personality that is sensitive to stress or prone to feeling negative emotions.

Expose Yourself To Your Triggers

This isnt an easy technique to master, but once you get the hang of the basics, its a game changer. After an attack, its our instinct to avoid the situation that triggered it. For example, in the wild, if you got attacked by a crocodile near a lake, then youd be wary of that lake. And for good reason!

However, in the normal day-to-day world, avoiding the triggers of an attack is a big mistake. Why? Because avoiding them will confirm to your brain that the situation was dangerous, and each time youre in a similar situation, a panic attack will be triggered. Your world will get smaller and smaller until the panic rules your life.

The best way to combat this is to deliberately expose yourself to situations that make you feel anxious, thereby triggering an attack. Yes, I know this sounds horrendous, but hear me out. If you stay put and accept the attack, it will communicate to your brain that theres nothing to be afraid of. This information will be stored and youre less likely to have an attack the next time youre in that type of situation.

The key is to start off small and work your way up. If youre afraid of driving then dont plan a road trip for your first task! Make a list of things to do each day. For example:

  • Get in the car, but leave the door open.
  • Get in the car and shut the door.
  • Get in the car, put your seatbelt on, and turn on the ignition.
  • Get in the car and drive slowly to the end of your street.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Heart Attack

A heart attack is when part of your heart doesnt get enough blood. This usually happens because an artery that supplies blood to the heart is blocked. Common heart attack symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Feeling of impending doom.

A heart attack can be life-threatening, so dont wait to see if the symptoms go away. Seek immediate medical care if you have signs of a heart attack.

Will It Ever End

now im inside on the kitchen floor because Im freezing and shivering. logan tells me i need to back away from the door because mia is outside and she needs to come in. ok i say. nothing happens, i cant open my eyes, all i feel is fear, and pain. something isnt right i say. on all fours, i drag myself further into the kitchen, trying to make it to the couch.

the pain becomes so bad i collapse and start to cry. just laying there being afraid, of what i didnt know. i couldnt get up. it wasnt safe. my leg started shaking, and it felt as if i was having convulsions from my toes up to my thigh, at the same time the pain in my stomach becomes unbearable and i cry out in pain as i fight through the wave of pain trying not to pass out.

my breathing starts to slow, its going slower, slower, more shallow. logan, somethings not right. somethings wrong with me i tell him. i cant breathe. can you google my symptoms? i think im dying. can you find out whats wrong? please, i beg him. the convulsions start again, and im gone once more, lost in the pain. the pain of my legs from shaking uncontrollably, the pain of it going up and into my stomach, making it cramp so bad i thought it might be period cramps or kidney stones.

What A Panic Attack Feels Like

Logan and I had pizza friday, and were watching how to train your dragon we were almost to the end, and there was a scene where the dragons and humans were flying through the clouds, popping in and out of sight. i started to get nauseous, not understanding why, bad pizza? i laid my head back and closed my eyes as i just listened. a few minutes later the nausea got worse, and i began feeling like i was overheating. i had to cool my body temperature down, something wasnt right. i laid on the bathroom tile, thinking i was going to be sick with food poisoning, still trying to cool down my rapidly growing temperature. it wasnt working, my nausea and the stomach pain were getting worse.

i go outside onto the deck in the 40 degree cool winter night, and sat in a t-shirt, sweatpants, and no socks while I sit there for what felt like just minutes. Today Logan said it was more like 30-45 minutes. Logan came out to check and see if i was cold, or wanted to come inside. I wasnt. i was enjoying the cool breeze on my face, and the comfort that the darkness was bringing as I stared out into the nothingness.

Do Some Deep Breathing

The feeling of shortness of breath often stems from shallow breathing during a panic attack. You can combat this by purposely breathing slowly and deeplyinhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out, feeling the air slowly fill your stomach and then slowly empty air from your stomach. Deep breaths will send more oxygen to your brain and your organs and help you relax. Close your eyes to help you focus on your breathing.

What To Do When You Have An Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks often need to run their course. Once they’ve started, there is very little that you can do to stop them completely. They’re a reaction that your body has that is somewhat beyond your control. They can be prevented, and their severity can be lessened, but they are very hard to stop.

Reducing its severity has to do with reacting correctly to the symptoms. Remember – the physical symptoms you experience are very real, and very disruptive. But they’re not related to any health problem, and solely a result of your anxiety. If you believe you feel an anxiety attack coming or you’re certain you’re in the middle of the one, try the following:

Drinking water may also calm the mind, and if you feel strong enough, a good jog can get your body to breathe better and use oxygen at a healthier pace.

What Does A Panic Attack Feel Like

Even if youve never experienced a panic attack yourself, you probably know someone who has, or have seen one portrayed in the media. Panic Disorder affects 2-3% of individuals in the United States in a given year , which equates to almost 10 million people. Even tough guys are not immune to panic, as in the classic case of HBOs Tony Soprano .

If You Or Someone You Know Struggles With Panic Disorder Or Other Mental Health Illnesses

My younger sister is reaching the same age that I was when my mental health took a decline, and became unbearable. I recognize the pain in her eyes, the confusion, and the desperate need for help. I sought help, but it would be 7 years before I received the correct diagnosis, and treatment.

A month before my panic attack, my sister was in the hospital, when I spoke with her partner he explained what happened. Memory loss. Unable to speak. Unable to move. Pain. Paralysis. She was cleared from the hospital a few hours after her arrival. Diagnosis? Panic attack. She is now receiving the help she needs, and her mental health is improving as we fight this hereditary illness together.

Myth: Panic Attacks Are An Overreaction And Intentionally Dramatic

Reality: Contrary to stigmatizing beliefs, panic attacks arent something people can control. We dont know exactly what causes panic attacks, but we do know that they can often be triggered by stressful events, mental illness, or unspecified stimuli or changes in the environment.

Panic attacks are uncomfortable, involuntary, and often occur without warning.

Rather than looking for attention, most people who experience panic attacks have a great deal of internalized stigma and shame, and hate having panic attacks in public or around others.

In the past, when I felt close to a panic attack, Id quickly leave a situation or go home as soon as possible in order to avoid feeling embarrassed in public.

Often people would say things to me like Theres nothing to even be upset about! or Cant you just calm down? These things usually upset me more and made it even harder to calm myself.

The best thing you can do for someone having a panic attack is just ask them directly what they need and how you can best support them.

If you know a friend or loved one who often experiences panic attacks, ask them in a calm moment what theyd like from you or those around them if one was to occur.

Often, people have panic attack or crisis plans they can share that outline what helps them to calm down and return to baseline.

Causes Of Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder

Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, the tendency to have panic attacks runs in families. There also appears to be a connection with major life transitions such as graduating from college and entering the workplace, getting married, or having a baby. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can also trigger panic attacks.

Panic attacks can also be caused by medical conditions and other physical causes. If youre suffering from symptoms of panic, its important to see a doctor to rule out the following possibilities:

  • Mitral valve prolapse, a minor cardiac problem that occurs when one of the hearts valves doesnt close correctly
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Stimulant use
  • Medication withdrawal
  • How To Deal With An Anxiety Attack

    In the immediate moments when an attack is occurring, there are several steps a person can take to try to calm themselves down. These include:

    • Recognize an attack is occurring and trying to remember that the symptoms will pass
    • Breathe deeply to stop or calm hyperventilation and subsequently slow your heart rate
    • Relax muscles to release some of the feelings of tension from your body and help you regain control

    The person experiencing the attack may feel like they are going to die and request medical assistance. Severe anxiety attacks often result in trips to the emergency room, where the person experiencing the attack can get the help they need.

    In many cases, anxiety attacks occur in response to certain situations or perceived threats.  Avoiding these triggers can help reduce the chance of having an attack, but may not be feasible if the trigger is present in your everyday life. If perceived anxiety attacks are brought on by certain triggers, there may be an underlying anxiety disorder that needs to be addressed. Therapy or medications can be very helpful in dealing with an anxiety disorder.

    There are things that can be done to avoid another anxiety attack. Some of them include:

    If you are experiencing anxiety attacks or panic attacks that are frequent and debilitating, and you have turned to substances to cope, The Recovery Village can help. To learn more about treatment for anxiety and addiction, to speak with a representative.

    Sometimes The Hardest Part Is Trying To Feel Understood Through The Stigma And Misunderstanding Of Panic Attacks

    Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one persons story.

    The first time I had a panic attack, I was 19 and walking back from the dining hall to my college dorm.

    I couldnt pinpoint what started it, what prompted the rush of color to my face, the shortness of breath, the quick onset of intense fear. But I began sobbing, wrapped my arms around my body, and hurried back to the room Id just moved into a triple with two other college students.

    There was nowhere to go nowhere to hide my shame at this intense and unexplainable emotion so I curled up in bed and faced the wall.

    What was happening to me? Why was it happening? And how could I make it stop?

    It took years of therapy, education, and understanding the stigma surrounding mental illness to fully get a grasp on what was going on.

    I eventually understood that the intense rush of fear and distress Id experienced many times by that point was called a panic attack.

    There are many misconceptions about what panic attacks look and feel like. Part of reducing the stigma around these experiences is exploring what panic attacks look like and separating fact from fiction.

    Panic Disorder In Children

    Panic disorder is more common in teenagers than in younger children.

    Panic attacks can be particularly hard for children and young people to deal with. Severe panic disorder may affect their development and learning.

    If your child has the signs and symptoms of panic disorder, they should see a GP.

    After taking a detailed medical history the GP will carry out a thorough physical examination to rule out any physical causes for the symptoms.

    They may refer your child to a specialist for further assessment and treatment. The specialist may recommend a course of for your child.

    Screening for other anxiety disorders may also be needed to help find the cause of your child’s panic attacks.

    Are Panic Attacks A Mental Health Condition

    Having a panic attack, or even a few, doesnt mean you have a mental health condition.

    But once youve had one panic attack even if it was just the one time its not uncommon to worry itll happen again.

    As a result, you might start avoiding places, situations, and people that you think will trigger another panic attack. For example, you might start changing your daily routines or stop working out or going grocery shopping.

    While changes in routines and habits can sometimes be a good thing, if they start causing problems in relationships or work, it might indicate an anxiety disorder.

    Also, feeling constantly anxious about having a panic attack might actually lead you to experience one.

    If this avoidant behavior and high anxiety continues and you experience regular, unexpected panic attacks, you might be diagnosed with panic disorder.

    But you wouldnt be alone. Its estimated that at least 6 million people in the United States alone live with this mental health condition.

    If you start avoiding social events or getting out of the house altogether for fear of having another panic attack and not being able to escape, then you might receive an agoraphobia diagnosis.

    But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will be diagnosed with a condition such as panic disorder or agoraphobia.

    In other words, anyone can experience panic attacks without having a panic disorder or mental health condition.

    How To Tell If You’re Having A Panic Attack Versus An Anxiety Attack

    The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Both have several symptoms in common but there are key characteristics that help to distinguish them both. The different attacks have a different duration and have different intensities as well. 

    Contrary To What Is Often Suggested By Media Portrayals Panic Attacks Can Look And Feel Differently For Different People

    Some experience their episodes in primarily physiological ways through bodily symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and fainting. Others report more of a mental state of rumination and worried thinking that they cannot stop . Some people find that their panic symptoms can take on feelings of derealization or depersonalization .

    Many find that panic symptoms arise when feeling stuck or trapped in a physical way or an emotional way .

    Still others may experience a combination or all of the above symptoms of panic at different moments. 

    Photo Credit: Wei Ding

    Either way, anxiety in this form can be incredibly debilitating, lead to depression, and affect our functioning in many significant ways.

    In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders , a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

    • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
    • Sweating
    • Numbness or tingling sensations
    • Chills or hot flushes

    From this diverse list, it is apparent that there is a wide range of ways that panic can be experienced none of which are comfortable.

    A frequent hallmark of panic is a persistent worry about experiencing future panic. At worst, this tendency to mentally fixate and ruminate on ones thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations actually feeds into the cycle that creates anxiety, which in and of itself, can bring on another spike. Essentially, anxiety about feeling anxiety creates more anxiety.

    Do I Have Panic Disorder

    Having panic attacks does not necessarily mean that a person has panic disorder. People who have panic disorder experience recurring and unexpected panic attacks, but panic attacks are also common among other anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder , post-traumatic stress disorder , and specific phobias.

    Treatment For Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder

    The most effective form of professional treatment for tackling panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is therapy. Even a short course of treatment can help.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviors that are sustaining or triggering your panic attacks and helps you look at your fears in a more realistic light. For example, if you had a panic attack while driving, what is the worst thing that would really happen? While you might have to pull over to the side of the road, you are not likely to crash your car or have a heart attack. Once you learn that nothing truly disastrous is going to happen, the experience of panic becomes less terrifying.

    Hotlines and support

    NAMI Helpline  Trained volunteers can provide information, referrals, and support for those suffering from anxiety disorders in the U.S. Call 1-800-950-6264.

    Find a Therapist  Search for anxiety disorder treatment providers in the U.S.

    Support Groups  List of support groups in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa.

    Anxiety UK  Information, support, and a dedicated helpline for UK sufferers and their families. Call: 03444 775 774.

    Anxiety Canada  Provides links to services in different Canadian provinces.

    SANE Help Centre Provides information about symptoms, treatments, medications, and where to go for support in Australia. Call: 1800 18 7263. .

    When Might I Have Panic Attacks

    Panic attacks happen at different times for everyone. Some people have one panic attack then don’t ever experience another, or you might find that you have them regularly, or several in a short space of time. You might notice that particular places, situations or activities seem to trigger panic attacks. For example, they might happen before a stressful appointment.

    Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 minutes. They can come on very quickly. Your symptoms will usually be at their worst within 10 minutes. You might also experience symptoms of a panic attack over a longer period of time. This could be because you’re having a second panic attack, or you’re experiencing other symptoms of anxiety.

    “My panic attacks seem to come out of the blue now. But in fact, they seem to be triggered mainly at night when I want to go to sleep but cannot stop my mind racing, experiencing worry and panic about anything that may be on my mind.”

    How To Tell If You’re Having An Anxiety Attack

    If you feel like you had severe anxiety, then you had an anxiety attack. Any form of severe anxiety can count as an attack. But for those that are experiencing something more like panic attacks, the experience tends to be similar between different people.

    Recall that anxiety attacks can mimic other health problems. If you haven’t been to a doctor, it’s a good idea to go at least once to rule out any more serious issues. Make sure your doctor knows about anxiety, however. Not all doctors are aware of the severity of anxiety attack symptoms. Some may not believe that anxiety can cause so many physical symptoms and sensations, but it absolutely can. Thats why its so important to find the right doctor.

    The symptoms below are often experienced differently by different people. During an anxiety attack, your body experiences a wave of stress that is so profound, it’s difficult to know exactly how your individual body will react. Yet below are some of the most common symptoms of an anxiety attack:

    Anxiety attacks also tend to peak around 10 minutes . Then as they dissipate, they often leave you feeling fatigued and drained, possibly fearful of another attack.

    I Dont Get Any Warning

    One of the most difficult parts of panic attacks is that they typically occur without warning. They can swoop in from out of nowhere, with no oncoming symptoms.

    Panic attacks are sudden and include a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. This makes them feel overwhelming and difficult to manage. People can have panic attacks just about anywhere, even when they appear perfectly calm just moments before the attack.

    Panic Attacks I Turned My Mental Health Crisis Into A Mental Health Triumph

    “Although it’s taken me a long time I have learned I am a strong person who has the potential to help others.”

    You might find that you become scared of going out alone or to public places because you’re worried about having another panic attack. If this fear becomes very intense, it may be called agoraphobia. See our pages on types of phobia for more information.

    “I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I just wanted to get out, to go somewhere else, but I couldn’t because I was on a train.”

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