What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?
A surprisingly large number of people have experienced panic attacks.
Those who have experienced panic attacks often describe them as “the worst feeling they have ever had.”
A panic attack is essentially your body’s fight, flight, or freeze response kicking in. It tries to get your body ready to defend itself, such as pumping blood to your muscles so that you can fight or run away from danger.
The problem is when your body reacts even when there is no real danger.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an intense wave of fear or extreme nervousness that is brought on abruptly. These feelings of fear or nervousness can occur without warning, and even if there is no actual threat or danger. Panic attacks may happen even when you are relaxed or asleep.
They are usually very frightening, making you feel that you are having a heart attack, losing control, or even dying. Panic attacks usually last for a brief duration, but the effects could linger on for several hours.
You could experience a combination of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms during a panic attack. You may also experience a wide range of somatic symptoms, such as shaking, sweating, or chest pain.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
When you experience a panic attack, you can develop the signs and symptoms abruptly. You can experience a panic attack anytime and anywhere.
While most anxiety attacks average a couple of minutes, occasionally they can go on for up to 10 minutes. To meet formal criteria for an attack, a person must have at least 4 of these 13 symptoms occur:
- Heart palpitations or a racing heart
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
- Nausea or upset stomach.
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking feeling
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Hot or cold flashes
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Not everyone experiences the same or all of the symptoms mentioned above. Your symptoms may differ depending on your biological makeup. Since the symptoms are extremely intense, people often misinterpret them as dying or having a heart attack, suffocating, or even going crazy.
Panic attacks are treatable. If you have experienced panic attacks once or twice in your life, it is quite normal. However, you must seek medical help if it is a frequent occurrence with you. Without some form of treatment, panic attacks may increase in severity and duration.
What causes panic attacks?
The cause of panic attacks is still unknown. However, genetics and stress are major contributing factors. Your temperament – how prone you are to negative emotions or how sensitive you are to stress – could also be a factor behind panic attacks.
Panic attacks occur suddenly and without warning, but you will observe that they are usually triggered by certain situations. Your body’s fight or flight response may be involved in panic attacks. However, why a panic attack occurs when there is no apparent cause is still unknown.
Sometimes some medical conditions may also cause panic attacks. If you are frequently experiencing panic attacks, you should visit a doctor to rule out the following:
- Hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid gland
- Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
- Mitral valve prolapse, when one of your cardiac valves does not close properly
- Medication withdrawal
- Stimulant use, such as caffeine, amphetamines, or other drugs
What happens if panic attacks are left untreated?
If you are someone who has frequent panic attacks, avoiding treatment could affect several areas of your life. It can significantly impact your quality of life as you live in a constant state of fear.
Leaving panic attacks untreated could also cause the development of certain phobias, such as the fear of leaving your house or the fear of driving. Developing such phobias due to untreated panic attacks could negatively impact your personal and professional life.
People with frequent panic attacks are also known to avoid social situations and have problems at work or school. They may also be more prone to anxiety disorders, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. Untreated panic attacks could also potentially cause financial problems, substance abuse problems, or feelings of self-harm or suicide.
You may not be able to prevent panic attacks. However, with the right medical help, you can significantly reduce their frequency and severity. Getting treated for panic attacks can prevent them from getting worse or frequent and considerably improve the quality of your life.