What It Feels Like to Experience a Panic Attack

3 steps take to lessen the intensity of a panic attack
Illustration of a man in a forest looking afraid
Panic attacks can make you feel afraid and alone. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

There was no air in my lungs. Struggle as I may, my chest refused to expand.

Beads of sweat broke out over my entire body. My throat felt like it was swelling shut, and the sounds around me muted behind the swoosh of blood rushing through my body. The world outside faded to dark gray, and I knew I was dying.

Was it an allergic reaction? No, it was my first experience with a full-blown panic attack. This is what it felt like and the steps I take to reduce the severity of future attacks.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden, intense experience of fear or anxiety that reaches a peak within minutes. It often includes physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, and trembling. For some people, the experience can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to think straight or function normally.

What causes panic attacks?

There is no one single cause of panic attacks, but they often occur in response to a trigger, such as a stressful event or an unpredictable situation. People with anxiety disorders are more susceptible to panic attacks, but anyone can experience one during a particularly difficult time.

How does it feel to experience a panic attack?

As I mentioned before, a panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of overwhelming fear.

Imagine being suddenly dropped in front of your worst fear, whether it be spiders, clowns, or little girls selling Girl Scout Cookies.

For example, think of a fear of heights. You’re standing near the edge of a high cliff, your senses on high alert due to your proximity to the danger.

Then, someone pushes you forward. The terror flooding through your mind and full-body reaction to the fear – that’s a glimpse into a panic attack.

Panic attacks are worse than facing a fear because they can overtake you without warning and with no easily identifiable trigger. Often, there is a trigger, but nailing it down can be like trying to catch a greased pig.

My first panic attacks showed up during otherwise good days.

Imagine you’re enjoying Sunday dinner with you family. The smells of fresh yeast rolls and fried chicken fill the air, and the laughter is making the house rattle. All is right in the world until a switch is flipped. In a flash, your body believes it’s standing on the edge of that cliff and is being pushed closer to the edge.

Panic attacks can sneak up on you like a caveman with a club. In a second, everything goes wrong.

While the attack may only last a few minutes, when it subsides, you’ll feel like you just ran a marathon. The first time, I couldn’t even stand in the moments that followed.

There is good news, though. You can learn to cope with anxiety and take steps to decrease the intensity of a panic attack.

Pinterest Pin:
Imagine being in the eye of an emotional storm, with no way out. 

This is what a panic attack feels like. 

It's a rollercoaster of emotions, a blur of thoughts racing, a heart thumping in your chest. 

If you're experiencing bipolar disorder, these attacks can often be a frightening reality. 

Join us as we explore this intense journey and provide support to those living with panic attacks.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. | Graphic created with Canva AI.

Ways to lessen a panic attack

There are several ways to lessen the severity of a panic attack. One important step is to recognize the symptoms and remember you’re not alone. When I opened up to others about my panic attacks, many of my friends shared similar stories.

Here are a few more tips for coping with panic attacks:

1. Take some deep breaths and stay grounded

When you feel the first signs of a panic attack, take some deep breaths. This will help to calm your body and ease some symptoms, such as a racing heart.

Try to be mindful of all your senses. Verbally identify the things you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Often called grounding, this connection to the now will help keep you from spiraling away in the panic attack tornado.

2. Identify your triggers

If you can identify what triggers your panic attacks, you can be better prepared to deal with them. Once you know what to look for, you can take steps to avoid or reduce the intensity of your attacks.

The tool most beneficial in helping me identify my triggers is my journal. Writing about the event, how I felt right before the attack, and the emotions flooding through me after pointed to trends that kept reoccurring. It helped me learn which events I needed to avoid and also a few unhealthy relationships.

3. Seek professional help

If you find that your panic attacks are affecting your quality of life, it may be time to seek professional help. A therapist can work with you to identify the root cause of your anxiety and develop a treatment plan to help you cope.

I have generalized anxiety disorder in addition to bipolar disorder. Medication is a necessity for my stability, but more is needed than a chemical intervention.

By exploring my panic attacks with a therapist, I was able to identify the similarities. Even though I didn’t think there was a trigger, I found common threads that tied many of the attacks together.

Many of those threads led back to trauma from my past I needed to work through. That work, though excruciating, was invaluable in coping with my anxiety since.

Illustration of a happy man walking out of a forest with his arms raised
You can beat panic attacks. | Image made with Canva AI.

Keep fighting

While there is no one single cause of panic attacks, they often occur in response to a trigger, such as a stressful event or an unpredictable situation. People with anxiety disorders are more susceptible to panic attacks, but anyone can experience one during a time of crisis.

Panic attacks can be very overwhelming and terrifying, but there are ways to cope with them. Identifying and avoiding triggers are your best tool in stopping future panic attacks.

No matter what, remind yourself that panic attacks are not weakness. You can’t always control your thoughts or body, so don’t beat yourself up if you have to limit activities because of panic attacks. Keeping yourself safe is always the right choice, even if others don’t understand.

Panic attacks make life more challenging, but you can beat them. Take the right steps and you’ll stay away from the cliff.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Pinterest Pin:
Imagine being in the eye of an emotional storm, with no way out. 

This is what a panic attack feels like. 

It's a rollercoaster of emotions, a blur of thoughts racing, a heart thumping in your chest. 

If you're experiencing bipolar disorder, these attacks can often be a frightening reality. 

Join us as we explore this intense journey and provide support to those living with panic attacks.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. | Graphic created with Canva AI.

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