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“Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms spaghetti”, this Eminem song lyric describes, a little, what it feels like to have a panic attack. The idea that anxiety is all mental is incorrect – there are physical manifestations of anxiety.
And for some people, those come in a giant wave, which we call a panic attack. But do you know what a panic attack feels like? How can you tell when you’re having one?
What should you do if you are? Read our quick guide (and breathe!) below.
Descriptions of What a Panic Attack Feels like
That depends heavily on the person. We can’t tell you exactly what one will feel like for you, but we can tell you what others say on the topic.
Here are a few examples of panic attack descriptions.
Walls Closing In
“It feels like the walls are closing in on me. My field of vision feels like it gets smaller and my heart rate increases rapidly. Sometimes, when I’m having a panic attack, my heart rate gets so high that I start to panic about having a heart attack.
I get sweaty and my muscles clench, especially my jaw. Things start spiraling in my mind, like “what if’s” turn into fully played out terrifying scenarios.
I’m very irritable if someone disturbs me because I’m going through a lot in my head”.
Not Being Able to Breathe
Oliva, 39, talks about a panic attack she had when she was driving. She felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest, it was racing so hard. Then she felt like she couldn’t breathe or move.
The only thing she could do was cry, and pull her car over.
Tom, 29 said that the best way he can describe a panic attack is the feeling of “impending doom”. His body shakes, he hyperventilates, and he overheats.
Time-wise, they take about twenty minutes, but they feel like they’re never going to end.
The Physical Effects of Anxiety
We can’t tell you what your panic attack will feel like, were you to have one, but some symptoms are common.
As the above experiences tell you, there’s almost always an increase in heart rate. As the heart rate increases, the body starts going into “fight or flight” mode.
It tightens and activates muscles, so that adds to the general feeling of tension. Shallow breathing accompanies the heart rate increase, which actually takes oxygen away from the non-essential bodily functions, like digestion.
As all this happens, the body temperature starts to rise, from the extra work the heart is doing. Many people get sweaty during a panic attack, this is why.
Finally, it’s common to shake during a panic attack, from all the activity going on in the body. You can read more about anxiety’s effects on the body in the anxiety cure.
Other physical effects of anxiety include:
- Chest pain
- Numbness in extremities
- Feelings of choking
Recovering from a Panic Attack
It’s normal to feel like your panic attack is never going to end when you’re in the middle of it. If you have anxiety medication for this purpose, take that.
While you’re waiting for it to work, or if you don’t have any, do something trivial. Something like washing dishes or folding laundry. That forces your brain to function like normal and can take your symptoms down.
Knowing what a panic attack feels like is different for everyone. Find what works for you.
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