What does it feel like to have a panic attack?
Imagine feeling a sudden unexpected jolt of anxiety, panic or fear. Maybe it’s caused by getting cut off in traffic, waking up from a night mare, or learning devastating medical news. Maybe it’s seemingly out of the blue in the middle of the night.
Now imagine the room starts to spin. Your heartrate increases and it suddenly feels like you can’t breathe.
“I must be having a heart attack.” “This is how it all ends.” You lay down on your cold bathroom floor, feeling hopeless and terrified. Then, just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse, you’re unexplainably able to catch a breath. Your lungs once again fill with air and all of the racing of your mind and your heart from moments before begins to slow down.
“What the f*ck was that?” “How am I suddenly okay?”
You eventually recover enough to breathe and think more clearly but are terrified there’s something seriously wrong and that it’s going to happen again.
How common are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are one of the primary complaints of people who seek out treatment for anxiety. They are incredibly common.People who experience physical reactions to anxiety or emotional distress may experience panic attacks. Adults and children are both at risk of experiencing panic attacks.
In my experience, providing anxiety counseling in Katy, TX, clients who have experienced panic attacks in the past, are more likely to have subsequent panic attacks. Typically the panic attack itself feels so distressing and terrifying, that the fear and anxiety about having another panic attack can actually trigger another one.
What are common triggers or causes of panic attacks?
- Fear of having another panic attack can trigger a panic attack.
- Specific fears or phobias can trigger panic attacks. Examples of specific phobias include fear of death, an animal related phobia, a phobia related to flying or a fear of a medical diagnosis like cancer.
- Physical and emotional fatigue may make emotional regulation more challenging, which could lead to a panic attack. Things that can contribute to fatigue may include extreme sleep deprivation, overworking and burn out and caring for others to the point that it interferes with your ability to care for yourself.
- A traumatic event like an assault or a sudden loss like a miscarriage or death of another loved one may contribute to a panic attack.
What does a panic attack feel like?
I have had clients describe a panic attack as feeling like they were dying. Some people feel like they’re having a heart attack, and may even go to an ER for evaluation to be told there’s nothing medically wrong. People describe panic attacks in varying ways but may include shortness of breath, inability to catch or slow your breathing, racing heart and racing thoughts.
What are some symptoms of a panic attack that you might not expect?
Once you’ve had a panic attack, the fear and anxiety about having another one can be worse than whatever triggered the first panic attack to begin with. Your skin may feel like it’s crawling or tingling. You may actually be sweating profusely. If you take your heart rate it will actually be elevated even though if it’s truly a panic attack there is no medical reason why it should be. You might feel like you have a ton of bricks laying on your chest, making it feel difficult or impossible to breathe.
How do you know if you are having a panic attack?
If you can’t easily regain control of your anxiety and fear using whatever coping skills typically help you, you may be having a panic attack. If you feel emotionally escalated, unable to regain control of your breath or heartrate but are certain you’re not experiencing a medical emergency, you may be having a panic attack.
What should you do if you are having a panic attack?
If you have no history of panic attacks, and aren’t sure what’s happening- you should seek medical attention to rule out any medical factors that may be contributing to your symptoms.
If you believe your symptoms are panic or anxiety related, then it’s time to employ some coping skills.
- Change your physical location (ex: move from one room of your house to another or walk outside).
- Run your hands under cold water and focus on how it feels, sounds and looks.
- Turn on a podcast, music or a TV show and try to force your brain to pay attention to what is being said.
- Count out loud to 15 as slowly as you can, then count backwards. Repeat until your breath slows enough that you can speak the numbers out loud clearly.
How can I stop a panic attack?
While there’s no one way to stop a panic attack that’s going to work for everyone who has them, these are some examples of strategies that might be helpful.
- Grab an ice cube from the freezer and hold it between your hands, pay attention to how it feels and describe it out loud if possible.
- Play the grocery store game with yourself- go through an imaginary grocery list in your head naming items that start with each letter from A to Z out loud if possible.
- Call a supportive friend and talk to them- making yourself talk, to anybody, for any period of time is going to force your body to regulate your breathing enough to speak.
- (ahead of time) get a prescription from a trained professional for medication that is used to treat panic symptoms and take it as soon as you notice warning signs of extreme anxiety or panic.
When should you seek professional help for panic attacks?
If you are experiencing panic attacks to the point that they’re interfering with your functioning or the quality of the life you’re living, please seek help. Treatment for panic attacks is available. Psychiatry and talk therapy can both offer helpful treatments and interventions to help you regain control over your panic. Recovery is possible.
Can you die from a panic attack?
They literally won’t kill you. They can feel like they will, but no one dies from feeling. Your symptoms will escalate, peak and then they will fall again. You will get to the other side of every panic attack if you can cope and manage long enough. It’s also possible to learn new ways of coping and managing if the ways you’re trying aren’t working. Seek help if you need it, you’re not alone.
Get help for panic attacks with anxiety counseling in Katy, TX
Anne Russey Counseling offers anxiety treatment in Katy, TX and throughout the state of Texas online through Telehealth counseling. Anne Russey Counseling also offers postpartum anxiety treatment, postpartum depression treatment, counseling for moms and LGBTQ+ affirming counseling for adults.