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Anxiety: What does a Panic Attack feel like?

Updated on September 23, 2015

Anxiety and Panic Attacks, what do they feel like?

If you are reading this page, you are almost certainly wondering if you have anxiety, and suffering from panic attacks.

Having been a long term sufferer myself, I'd like to guide you through how I feel when I have them, and tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you are suffering from very bad anxiety, even reading this page may be hard for you, whether that be to concentrate on it or just the feeling of wanting to get out of here.

But please, you have made it here so take another 30 seconds and read on...

I have written this page in a way that I would like to read one when having a panic attack. I've split it up into short easy sections, so that you can stop reading whenever you like, and return to the page when you choose and keep on reading.

I will say, that this page, if nothing else, hopefully will make you understand that you are not alone. That there are millions of people all over the world that feel the same as you, however hard that may be to believe. I thought nobody could feel like me, I was wrong.

No matter how down you are, you do have a future. There is a way out, and things CAN get better.

Photo published under Public Domain Licence.

What do my panic attacks feel like?

My Panic Attacks feel like a balloon popping!

Imagine if you can, sitting relaxed without any worries in the world. Then, some dark force creeps up behind you and pops a balloon next to your ear.

The first reaction is fright and shock. Your heart will race,and you will jump. This may last a few seconds until you realize it is just a balloon and the feeling goes away.

But what if it doesn't? What if that 4 or 5 seconds of fear stayed with you for half hour more, or an hour, or all day?

That is how I feel when I have panic attacks. That 4 or 5 seconds somehow becomes locked in your brain, and it doesn't go away. Even though you are intelligent and know it was only a balloon the feeling is there to stay.

The fear has crept in. This is a panic attack, and everything you do to try and make it go away makes it worse.

You then convince yourself that there is no escape from this feeling. But there is.

Image: Creative Commons Licence. by doug8888

Some highlights of advise from Dr Claire Weekes Book to follow

I've put some highlights that have helped me on this page from the first half of Dr Claire Weekes Book 'Self Help for your Nerves' into my own words with some of my own examples.

For the minute, on this page we won't go any further than this, to give you a steady pace to start your healing process.

Learning to fight them? NO!, don't ever try to fight a panic attack!

First learn to accept and live with panic attacks.

I have read many books about panic attacks, and I have also spoke to, and am friends with long term sufferers.

We all agree that the worst advise is to fight them, 'Pull yourself together', 'Sort yourself out!'. This isn't the answer, will not help, and in fact will make things so much worse. In fact this is probably the worst advise that you can ever have.

A nervous illness can be helped by your nerves calming down. This can be done by accepting them and not fighting them. Dr Claire Weekes book explains this in greater detail.

Dr Claire Weekes, Self Help for your Nerves

'Self Help for your Nerves' is the book that really helped me to get started with how to deal with anxiety.

The book takes a view that I had never considered before and was a refreshing new look on the way that the nervous system works.

It's a Best Seller and has been published in eight different languages and is recommended by doctors.

The book starts by promising that if you have a nervous illness it will cure you. It doesn't ask for patience as this is almost impossible for a nervous person.

It then explains how our nervous systems works and what is a nervous illness.

The book then takes you on a curing journey, explaining nerves like a muscle that need to relax, and the more you fight them the more they can't.

Self Help for your Nerves only has 171 pages. It is written in a way that is broken down into easy to read chunks so that it isn't daunting for a person with panic attacks to read.

I highly recommend this book.

The Voluntary Nervous System

This is our nervous system that we can usually control, depending on how nervous we feel. Our brains send signals to our limbs and spinal cord, which then respond in the way that we want them to.

However, when having a panic attack this may become difficult for you.

The Involuntary Nervous System

This relates to our internal organs, the heart, lungs, liver etc.

This is key when having anxiety. These may affect symptoms such as sweating, a racing heart, dilating pupils, shaking etc.

It is called involuntary as although we have no control over them, the part in our brain, and our moods will affect them.

When ourselves or animals become scared, we all show these signs.

Being scared, shocked or shaken may all cause these symptoms. Even such things as blushing are seen as involuntary.

So you may have 'Bad Nerves'

Am I having a nervous breakdown?

So, you have found yourself with 'Bad Nerves'. Many, many people suffer from these. You have gotten yourself into a scared state about any number of everyday things. The severity of this will vary from person to person.

For one person it may be a business meeting, for another a 5 minute walk to the shops.

Nobody likes the sound of 'A Nervous Breakdown' or would like to admit to having one, but at the end of the day, if you do have bad nerves, you can consider that you (in some form) are experiencing one.

Now, I am in no way saying that anybody that gets nervous about something is having a breakdown. This is natural to us all. But, if these symptoms are an ongoing cause, that is stopping you from living a normal life, maybe the snobbish part of us should stop and think that we do have an illness.

Am I really ill? I have physical symptoms

Physical symptoms of panic attacks

This for me was the really hard part to determine if it was just in my head or was I actually going to die. Do I have a brain tumor? heart disease?

I have found that many people feel the same, they do have physical symptoms. These are explained a little in the involuntary nervous system chapter.

Your physical symptoms may include:

Unable to sleep

Fatigue

Upset stomach

Racing heart and heart palpitations

Depression

Heart pain

Pins and needles

Sweating

A tight chest

Inability to breath deeply

Nausea

Vomiting

Diarrhoea

Giddiness

Dry mouth

and many more...

anxiety
anxiety

The vicious fear and adrenalin circle

Many healthy people get fear, fear can cause panic attacks. When somebody has fear, adrenalin is normally used by our bodies to help to fight this.

Adrenalin is a chemical that we release as a defense. So, a person that is already experiencing these fear factors, may have this extra adrenalin added. It will therefore add to more heart palpitations, and physical symptoms, leaving the person feeling like they are really dying.

The more the body and mind worries about this, the more adrenalin is added. Causing a vicious circle.

This will calm down, you will learn that it will not kill you. However, the thought of this recurring may cause a vicious circle, meaning more adrenalin and more anxiety.

Image: Creative Commons Licence. by ankor2

Curing the simpler form of nervous illness

Doing the opposite to what you are doing

Dr Claire Weekes explains in her book something that people think is far to simple to cure them.

She makes four points,

Facing

Accepting

Floating

Letting time pass

You may be doing the opposite making things worse.

Running away, not facing

Fighting, not accepting

Arresting and Listening in

Being impatient with time, not letting it pass

She then goes on to explain how taking these first steps instead of the second ones, will calm your nerves, will break you out of the vicious circle and will cure the physical symptoms.

You can find peace, whatever that is for you

imageTaken by peterb6001.

If you are relating to what is being said here then you I encourage you read her book

I know it's hard to image, when you are in the stage that you are that these simple steps can not help you, somebody telling you to relax when you are nervous just doesn't work because you cannot.

You try to relax, therefore trying means fighting. Fighting, means making your nerves work harder and off you go again.

For me, in this book, acceptance is the key.

Accepting that your heart is going much faster than it should, that you do have a dry mouth or are shaking and learning to live with that. Learning in a way to think, OK, this is happening to me, it will not kill me and it will pass really is the best help.

Thinking, it's happening and floating with it, sitting relaxed and comfortable and riding that roller coaster will make it go away a lot quicker.

Thinking to yourself in brain, calm down, relax, fight it will only make it worse.

I hope that these first few notes I have written here will help you on your way to becoming yourself again.

Feel free to share your comments here

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    • peterb6001 profile image
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      Peter Badham 3 years ago from England

      Thanks verymary, and you are absolutely right, they can be extremely scary.

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 3 years ago from Chicago area

      Peter - I can validate your comment to Lorelei based on my own experience years ago and that of two friends who suffered panic attacks. In all our cases, these came on significantly later than a high-stress time in our lives, at a time when we must on some level have felt (in retrospect) finally "safe" to fall apart ....if that makes sense. The scary thing is that if you don't know anything about panic, you feel exactly like you're having a cardiac crisis or extreme asthma attack. Thanks for addressing this topic.

    • peterb6001 profile image
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      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @Lorelei Cohen: I wouldn't disagree with that. Many suffers are said to suffer after there period of stress, this certainly was my case. You concentrate so long on being strong, that when it ends you relax and they may start. I've heard them being referred to as 'The Illness of the Strong' :/ Although sadly I have known people that have suffered for more than 5 years :(

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I was told that panic attacks often can come on after a traumatic event and can last for years after (generally 2 - 5) and will slowly diminish through that time. These type of panic attack are caused because the brain goes into such a sudden crazy firing of excitement during your traumatic event that it somehow becomes confused and will mimic that pattern of firing without reason in the future. I had been subject to a violent attack when I was in my twenties and suffered panic attacks after the event. The pattern of them slowly occurring less and less is how mine did diminish. Even knowing what is causing the attack though can make it difficult to rationalize it when you are in one.

    • peterb6001 profile image
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      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @mel-kav: Although I don't like to say congratulations, I sort of feel I should, because you have identified with what was happening, does that make sense? I'm pleased for you that the professionals recognized the symptoms and hope you find recovery x

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 4 years ago

      I remember my very first panic attack. I thought I was having a heart attack and we called 911. I learned that, for me, the panic attack started with nausea, sweating, the strange numbness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath - then the chest pain. In a heart attack - usually the chest pain is one of the first symptoms. Thanks for sharing.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 4 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      The first step that helped me is knowing you are not the only one having a panic attack. What a relief to know other people have panic attacks too and you are not crazy.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 4 years ago

      I USED to have panic attacks. I learned that these were caused by a gamma linolenic acid deficiency. You can get GLA in evening primrose oil and borage oil (and a few others). The adrenal glands normally make GLA in sufficient quantity, but if you eat a lot of foods with monosodium glutamate in them, this may damage your adrenal glands so they don't make enough. Another possible culprit is artificial sweeteners. For me it was MSG. I stopped eating it entirely. I could detoxify using Detox by Solaray (10 capsules in a single treatment). So if I got some MSG without realizing it, I would have gastric symptoms, and the only thing that would stop them was Detox. I learned that if I took 400mg of Evening Primrose Oil when I felt a panic attack, it would be gone in 10 minutes. Since I stopped eating MSG, I no longer get panic attacks. Incidentally, I suspect some people may suggest meditation or visualization as a treatment. This can have serious spiritual consequences, so I do not recommend it. Whatever you do, don't let anyone prescribe psychotropics for you. It will make matters much worse, and may lead to murder or suicide.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @happynutritionist: Thanks for your input happynutritionist :)

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 4 years ago

      I can recommend this book as well...it helped me when I was going through a season of these. I still get them due to excess stress in life circumstances, and they do keep me from doing some things I'd love to do at times, but the season will pass again. Adjusting to them is hard when you want to do certain things that you have to let go for a time, but like you say, fighting them just makes them worse. I am trying to learn scripture verses to comfort my heart and mind during seasons of stress. They make me lean harder on God...maybe they are for a reason:-)

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @grannysage: I'm sorry to hear that grannysage. That is almost always a problem with sufferers, I like Dr Weekes says, the more you fight them, the harder it is.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @Wendy Leanne: Thank you for sharing that thrivingmom, It certainly seems to help many people.

    • Wendy Leanne profile image

      Wendy Leanne 4 years ago from Texas

      I've had panic attacks since I was 5 years old. Not fighting them and learning to accept them is fantastic advice and is how I've coped this long.

    • profile image

      grannysage 4 years ago

      It is hard to convince people that anxiety attacks are real. People told me, "you just need to force yourself to get over it." What they didn't realize is that I had been forcing myself through it for many years as a social worker. Sometimes I just had to pretend I was someone else to get the job done. Now I am able to accept that yes, I do have an Anxiety Disorder and that it is okay. I don't put myself in high stress situations, like crowds, and take medication if I need it. Thanks for sharing your experience and letting people who have anxiety know they are not alone.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @debnet: Thank you debnet, the two examples can give the same feelings to one feeling panic. Good luck with the kids!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Wow! Thank you for publishing this candid lens. Wish you the best.

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 4 years ago from Scotland

      Yep, Check and spot on! Add me to the list, I even ended up in A and E resuscitation after a non experienced paramedic gave me a shot of ADRENALINE! Thinking I was having an allergic reaction to something....It is a weird strange old thing when your head is telling you to calm down and stop being silly and your whole body takes over. Its powerful, I have learned to use music to help me zone out in thimes of great stress when I know its inevitable the anxiety will take over. Thanks for sharing Peter, as its a mental illness or as you say the nervous breakdown these are words people don't want to hear or say. But they are real life disabling illnesses, I believe the more we can talk openly about them with others who are sufferer the more people do not need to suffer in silence or have people say really stupid remarks to you which only fuel the anxiety.

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 4 years ago from England

      Very interesting to read from an adults point of view. I teach relaxation techniques to children experiencing anxiety and always tell them about how I feel when I go into the Mall or am stood near a cliff edge. Very informative :)

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 4 years ago

      I remember a work colleague who used to get them and they were very scary for her.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @Valerie Bloom: Thank you vegival :)

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise. This was really interesting and informative.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @LouiseKirkpatrick: I'm sorry for you CDT, but rest assured you are far from alone, even a nurse a was seeing the other day suffers from them. I waited far too long before looking for help, and speaking out about it, just hoping they would go away. I hope that you won't make the same mistake as me.

      Thank you, and the other posters for your honesty. It's very brave of you, Best wishes.

    • LouiseKirkpatrick profile image

      LouiseKirkpatrick 4 years ago from Berkshire, United Kingdom

      I get them too Peter...my husband had several small strokes in succession while on holiday in the Italian Alps nearly a year ago - one when he was driving. Luckily for both of us, he's a driving instructor and the car had dual controls so once I realised what was happening, I was able to stop the car otherwise we'd both probably be dead now. While he's now almost 100% back to normal (thank goodness!) with just one or two fairly minor physical side effects left over, It's no exaggeration to say that I've never been the same since :( Psychologically I'm a right old mess these days...the stupid thing is, that if you try to tell anyone else how you feel, they look at you as though you're round the twist - I can honestly say that no-one understands what it feels like no matter how much explaining you do, so I just muddle through one day at a time! People say helpful things like, "nothing happened to you" - but it did. Life's a bummer sometimes...good lens, while I don't want anyone to feel like I do, it's strangely comforting to know you're not the only one :) Best wishes to you, Carol, AJ's daughter and all of us who suffer

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      KTPT13 4 years ago

      Very informative lens. Thank you.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @savateuse: Coming from a martial arts expert I will definitely give that a read savateuse. As many are my idols. Believe it or not, I was quite agile in my day, and still don't get nervous in confrontations.

    • savateuse profile image

      savateuse 4 years ago

      Another great book you could read and maybe highlight is : Feel the fear and do it anyway, by Susan Jeffers

      If nothing else, the title is an inspiring mantra !

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @anonymous: Thank you AJ2008, it is a very sensitive subject to write about, but the more people speak about them the more you start to realize just how many people do suffer from them. I do hope that it becomes a subject that isn't so 'taboo' and that your daughter doesn't have any more.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have never suffered from panic attacks, but I have witnessed my eldest daughter having one. It seemed like she was having an asthma attack but a very experienced Paramedic quickly established it was a panic attack. It was awful. Thankfully she gets them very rarely these days but for anyone suffering them on a regular basis it must be dreadful to have to deal with.

      Thank you for being brave enough to share this Peter. I am sure it will be a very helpful resource for anyone researching this.

    • peterb6001 profile image
      Author

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      @Stazjia: Hugs, and you are not alone :)

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 4 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I have panic attacks from time to time and I just have to live through them. I never try to fight them because it's impossible. It's like my throwback lizard brain is in control. I would hate anybody who told me to calm down or there was no need for the panic attack. The more evolved parts of my brain know that, but I'm on autopilot when this happens and can't control my breathing or shaking or tears pouring down my face - not the urgent need for the bathroom.