At 13 years old, I had my first panic attack and I was so confused. I was sitting in a maths lesson and my heart started pounding. My hands became clammy, my breathing started to pick up, and my vision went blurry. I can’t remember what happened after that. The next thing I remember was sitting outside the classroom with my teacher kneeling in front of me looking shocked. She told me I had a panic attack, and as soon as I got home I made it my mission to know everything about them.
Panic attacks aren’t uncommon. 1.5 percent of the U.S. population (about 3.3 million American adults) age 18 and older will experience a panic attack in a year. This is an incredible number. Most of the time, people don’t realise that they are having a panic attack as it often feels like a heart attack. But it’s important to know what is happening so you can stop it and prevent it in the future.
My panic attacks generally happen when I’ve been subconsciously worrying about something. My anxiety will build up until it gets too much and I’ll go into extreme panic. Every time I go through one, I get incredibly scared, I feel worthless and like I’ve let myself down. I also feel an incredible sense of dread, like something disastrous is going to happen. This feeling often stays with me throughout a panic attack and then dissipates after the panic has started to subside. When I started to gain control of the panic, I would feel tired, and upset. If it’s been particularly nasty, I’ll fall asleep from exhaustion.
Even though I have been suffering with them for over 5 years, they still don’t get any easier. Sometimes I can get over them quicker. But most of the time, they’re still as scary and debilitating as when I first started dealing with them. What has helped me to feel less stress when I have one is to know the symptoms. And recognise what my body is doing. Being able to identify the symptoms quickly and not get swept up by the panic can help to gain control and reduce the anxiety I will feel.
One of the biggest symptoms that affects me is hyperventilating. Often, the first indicator that I’m having a panic attack is my heartbeat increasing. I’ll hear my heartbeat in my ears and then my pulse points will start pounding. Once this has started, I’ll feel more panicked and then start gasping for air. Because I’m not getting enough air in my lungs, my arms and legs will go numb, resulting in me collapsing and becoming more agitated.
Another symptom that impacts me is dizziness. This can be extremely scary, as it’s difficult to bring myself out of a panic when my head is spinning. I can’t employ my usual methods of calming myself down (naming 5 things I can see) when I can’t focus. Dizziness sometimes leads to nausea, which, again, makes it difficult to calm myself down, and can amplify the panic and sense of dread I feel.
I’ll also hear a ringing in my ears. This, coupled with the dizziness, is very alarming. Losing the ability to see or hear fully increases my panic as I feel I’m losing control of my senses.
After I have a panic attack I sometimes find it difficult to recall exactly what happened during it. Almost like my brain doesn’t want to revisit what happened. I will also feel extreme tiredness after it’s passed and generally nauseous up to an hour after.
With all of this happening to my body, it’s very difficult to gain control and stop the panic. It took me a long time to even begin to talk myself out of it. I am still sometimes unable to successfully pull myself out and end up just waiting until I naturally finish panicking.
The important thing to remember is that the panic will always pass. Even though it feels like you’ll never have control again, you will. Panic attacks can feel like all your worse experiences combined, but they’re not dangerous. An attack won’t cause you any physical harm, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be admitted to the hospital if you have one.
These are the symptoms that affect me the most during a panic attack, but you might not feel this way. It important to learn what happens to your own body and identify how to help yourself. Anxiety is a very debilitating thing. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, then it’s best to get it checked by a doctor and get the help you need.
We here at Psych2go would love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Have you ever had a panic attack? What was it like for you? Leave a comment below!
Edited by Viveca Shearin