What Does It Feel Like To Have A Panic Attack
Take a moment and hold your breath. Keep holding it. Soon your heart is hammering in your chest and your struggling to breathe. Your face is beet red and you feel as if you are losing control and you are going to die. Then you have an idea of what a panic attack feels like. This could help you identify a panic attack.
A panic attack, or anxiety attack, is an episode where a person feels severe anxiety with physical symptoms, for a limited amount of time. While they may seem like they will last forever, they do end, leaving the person unharmed for the most part. They can happen at any time and at any place. More importantly, while they happen more often to people with a mental illness, like depression or an anxiety disorder, they can also happen to anyone.
Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
Getting a panic attack occasionally is typically nothing to worry about. It could happen to anyone depending on the situation they find themselves in. However, if youve been getting frequent panic attacks and cant seem to identify the triggers, you might have a condition called panic disorder.
A person with a panic disorder might experience such frequent panic attacks that it affects their daily functioning. They might become socially withdrawn because they are ashamed of their condition.
Panic disorders are more likely to occur in women than in men. It also starts to develop in your late teens or early adulthood.
If youve been having frequent panic attacks and cant identify any triggers, its advisable to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about it. About 11% of Americans experience panic attacks, and up to 3% of that number have developed a panic disorder.
You’re Frozen You Can’t Move You Think The End Is Coming
Corky Klein, 63, Laguna Beach, Calif.
Courtesy Corky Klein
Corky Klein knows she’s about to have an anxiety attack when her whole body breaks out in a sweat.
“I even get sweaty on the balls of my feet, she says.
She gets light-headed, and a little dizzy. Then the headache and the panic hit.
“You forget about everything around you, Klein says. Your heart is beating horribly, and that brings on more panic. You get this scared feeling and you want to run. But you’re frozen. You can’t move. You think the end is coming.”
Klein began having panic attacks after her mom died when she was 16. Over the years, she says her anxiety led her into dark bouts of alcoholism and addiction, into long periods of isolation, and on many trips to the emergency room.
Ten years ago, at age 53, she was still having frequent panic attacks, even though she had kicked her addictions. Concerned, her doctor persuaded her to try therapy, and she began seeing a cognitive behavior therapist who specialized in anxiety.
The therapist helped her process the trauma in her past and taught her how to cope with her anxiety before it escalated.
“I learned that I had never dealt with the stuff that had happened to me, Klein says.
Her panic attacks became less frequent, and she focused on exercising, enjoying her retirement and spending time with her son and other family members.
How she copes: She exercises every day , and she uses an app called Calm for meditation and deep-breathing exercises.
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What Causes Panic Attacks
Experts dont know why some people experience panic attacks or develop panic disorder. The brain and nervous system play key roles in how you perceive and handle fear and anxiety. Your risk of having panic attacks increases if you have:
- Family history:Anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, often run in families. Experts arent sure why.
- Mental health issues: People who have anxiety disorders, depression or other mental illness are more prone to panic attacks.
- Substance abuse problems:Alcoholism and drug addiction can increase the risk of panic attacks.
Some People May Develop Panic Disorders
For many people, the feelings of panic occur only occasionally during periods of stress or illness. A person who experiences recurring panic attacks is said to have panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. They generally have recurring and unexpected panic attacks and persistent fears of repeated attacks.
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What Is A Panic Attack
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Your heart pounds, you cant breathe, and you may feel like youre dying or going crazy. Panic attacks often strike out of the blue, without any warning, and sometimes with no clear trigger. They may even occur when youre relaxed or asleep.
A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, although many people experience repeat episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing a bridge or speaking in publicespecially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the panic-inducing situation is one in which you feel endangered and unable to escape, triggering the bodys fight-or-flight response.
You may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. Or your panic attacks may occur as part of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social phobia, or depression. Regardless of the cause, panic attacks are treatable. There are strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of panic, regain your confidence, and take back control of your life.
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How Is Panic Disorder Treated
First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam and ask you about your health history to make sure that an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms. Your doctor may refer to you a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
Psychotherapy. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is especially useful as a first-line treatment for panic disorder. CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that come on with a panic attack. The attacks can begin to disappear once you learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear that occur during panic attacks.
For more information on psychotherapy, see .
Medication. Doctors also may prescribe different types of medications to help treat panic disorder:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Another type of medication called beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder, such as rapid heart rate. Although doctors do not commonly prescribe beta-blockers for panic disorder, they may be helpful in certain situations that precede a panic attack.
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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.
Practice Deep Belly Breathing
Did you know that many of the symptoms of a panic attack, such as feeling dizzy and a pounding heart, are actually intensified because youre not breathing properly? When we panic, we breathe in our chests, which is known as shallow breathing.
Instead, try using your stomach muscles when you breathe. This will increase the amount of oxygen in the body and help to slow things down. Check out my video on breathing techniques for more details.
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Here Are The 7 Habits Of People Who Overcome Severe Anxiety Naturally:
1) They Get Very Clear On What They Truly Want
The power of goal setting is no joke, ESPECIALLY when it comes to ending severe anxiety naturally. Successful people understand the importance of SPECIFIC goals they choose for themselves. That doesnt mean things like:
- I just want to be free from health anxiety and my panic attacks
- I want to be able to drive to work again without fear
- I want to be able to get on a plane again, and see the world
These goals arent specific enough, and your brain will surely let you know that because youll see it in your results. If your mind doesnt have a very clear and specific goal, youll never create the road-map in order to reach those goals.
So What Should You Do?
Create 3 very specific goals you want for yourself, before taking on any type of therapy, and program to end your health anxiety naturally. These can be things like:
- I want to be able to ride my stationary bike I bought for 20 minutes per day by the first week of next month. Even in the face of my great fears such as heart palpitations
Do you see how these goals are specific, and have some sort of time based goal to go along with it? By creating specific goals such as these, youll be able to systematically expose yourself to your fears that will ultimately lead you to reaching your biggest goal in the time you allow.
2) They Look At It As A Lifestyle, Not Just A Solution To Anxiety
That price is that they know they have to make this a lifestyle change in all aspects
What Is It Like To Have Panic Disorder
One day, without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldnt get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldnt think straight.
After what seemed like an eternity, my breathing slowed and I eventually let go of the fear and my racing thoughts, but I was totally drained and exhausted. These attacks started to occur every couple of weeks, and I thought I was losing my mind. My friend saw how I was struggling and told me to call my doctor for help.
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The Importance Of Proper Diagnosis
A panic disorder diagnosis might not seem like a positive outcome, but the benefit of having the condition diagnosed is the likelihood of a helpful treatment being found. When people are left undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed, the condition can worsen and the impact on their quality of life becomes even greater. A habit that people with untreated panic disorder has is to avoid distressing events and circumstances, which results in greater isolation from others. Being properly diagnosed by a medical professional allows a person to better become self-aware of how the disorder affects them and make reasonable adjustments as needed.
What To Do During The Panic Attack
Severe panic attacks can be disorienting. It is difficult to know what exactly is happening to you and what you can do to relieve the discomfort and prevent the panic attack from getting too intense or progressing too quickly. It is important to know what compensatory skills you can perform to cope with a severe panic attack. If you begin to have a panic attack, or the panic attack begins to rapidly progress to the point in which you feel you are losing control, engage the following coping strategies:
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Complications Of Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is treatable and you can make a full recovery. But it’s best to get medical help as soon as you can.
If you do not get medical help, panic disorder can escalate and become very difficult to cope with.
Having panic disorder may affect your ability to drive. The law requires you to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency about a medical condition that could impact your driving ability.
Visit GOV.UK for further information about driving with a disability or health condition.
What Causes Panic Disorder
Panic disorder sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some family members have it while others dont. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain, as well as biological processes, play a key role in fear and anxiety. Some researchers think that people with panic disorder misinterpret harmless bodily sensations as threats. By learning more about how the brain and body functions in people with panic disorder, scientists may be able to create better treatments. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors may play a role.
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Focus On Your Breathing
During a severe panic attack your breathing will be labored, which means you will not be receiving sufficient oxygen to the brain and body. This lack of oxygen will cause your body to fall deeper into panic mode as your brain struggles and your muscles tense up. It is an important skill to know how to focus on your breathing. Focusing on your breathing and taking deep breaths will ensure your body maintains a healthy oxygen level. The large amount of oxygen being brought to the brain will also create a calming effect, which will lessen the intensity of the symptoms.
The best breathing exercise to engage when having a severe panic attack is the 4-7-8 Breath. The 4-7-8 Breath brings a lot of oxygen into the body quickly and helps you regain control over your bodys reaction to the attack. To perform a 4-7-8 breath, breathe in through the nose on a 4-second count, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this exercise until you feel the symptoms subsiding. Considering the heightened state you will be in during a severe panic attack, it may take a few attempts to begin successfully completing the breaths. Do not get frustrated, remember that the goal is to regain control, and it may take a few tries for the exercise to be successful.
Do Women Get Panic Attacks Suffer From Panic Disorder As Well
To answer the question better, I would give you a clear understanding of what panic disorder means.
Panic disorder is, in simple terms, a condition that arises when people experience reoccurring panic attacks. It is usually characterised by:
- reoccurring panic attacks that come unexpectedly most times.
- the constant worry and fear of having another episode of a panic attack.
- the fear that something terrible would happen because of your panic attacks or worrying about the implication of such attacks.
- sometimes there are significant changes in lifestyle as a result of the panic attacks. For example, avoiding physical exercises.
Some women might experience a panic attack only once or twice in their lifetime and if thats the case with you, it is not panic disorder.
Panic attacks are frequent amongst women and do not mean they have panic disorder. However, women that suffer from regular panic attacks could be at risk of having panic disorder.
With panic disorder, one might experience panic attacks as frequently as every week or irregularly within a short time.
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What Is An Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks are a combination of physical and mental symptoms that are intense and overwhelming. The anxiety is more than just regular nervousness. The anxiety is often a feeling of immense, impending doom that makes many people feel they’re about to die, or that everything around them is breaking down.
It creates physical symptoms that are so severe they actually mimic legitimate, serious health problems.
Those that haven’t had an anxiety attack before often have no idea that what they’re experiencing is anxiety. That’s because the symptoms of anxiety attacks and panic attacks mimic extremely serious issues, such as:
- Heart attacks and heart failure.
- Brain tumors.
Yet despite how intense these things can feel, anxiety attacks are not even remotely dangerous.
What Helps To Manage Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be frightening, but there are things you can do to help yourself cope. It could help to print off these tips, or write them down, and keep them somewhere easy to find.
During a panic attack:
- Focus on your breathing. It can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.
- Stamp on the spot. Some people find this helps control their breathing.
- Focus on your senses. For example, taste mint-flavoured sweets or gum, or touch or cuddle something soft.
- Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you feel more in control. They’re especially useful if you experience dissociation during panic attacks. See our page on self-care for dissociation for more information on grounding techniques.
After a panic attack:
- Think about self-care. It’s important to pay attention to what your body needs after you’ve had a panic attack. For example, you might need to rest somewhere quietly, or eat or drink something.
- Tell someone you trust. If you feel able to, it could help to let someone know you’ve had a panic attack. It could be particularly helpful to mention how they might notice if you’re having another one, and how you’d like them to help you.
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