Not to be confused with worry or concern. Panic, is concentrated fear.
The symptoms can include some, or all, of the following:
Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
Feelings of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
Chills or heat sensations
Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
Fear of dying
Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and can be very frightening. As a result, people who experience repeated panic attacks often become very worried about having another attack and may make changes to their lifestyle so as to avoid having panic attacks.
All of this sounds bad, but the symptoms and description of “extremely unpleasant’ and “very frightening” does not quite encapsulate what a panic attack truly feels like.
If you have never experienced a panic attack, I wish that you never do. But, you can imagine what one feels like.
Pretend that you are relaxing in front of the television, watching your favorite show; when all of a sudden, a 700 pound Siberian Tiger bursts into your living room. It roars, and your brain quickly realizes that you just got knocked down to the bottom of the food chain. The tiger sits back on it’s haunches, coiling it’s powerful rear legs, and then leaps across the room directly at you.
It’s mouth is wide open, large teeth clearly visible, and right before you realize you are about to die, the tiger vanishes into a wisp of smoke.
Then, a 700 pound Siberian Tiger bursts into your living room. Roars, leaps, is about to tear you about apart, and then it disappears.
Roar. Leap. Death. Fade.
Roar. Death. Fade.
Death. Death. Death. Death. Death.
Panic attacks are the psychological equivalent of this imagined scenario. You constantly ride the edge between life and death, almost 100% certain that you will die. That your death will be both agonizing and slow.
What would you do if a massive tiger leap at you right now? Fighting it is useless. You have no chance of running away. All you can do, is be frozen in place while you get yourself right with your maker.
See how horrifying that is? It is no wonder that a panic attack can be debilitating in the moment, but the effects can linger.
Say the tiger vanishes and does not reappear. Your mind is ready for it to pop back into existence to end yours. But it does not. Tentatively, you stand up, arms in front of your torso to give your vulnerable belly some measure of protection.
Your senses are heightened, blood is pounding, and fear compels you to either sprint or freeze.
At that point, you don’t think that you have to pick up your kids from school later that day. You aren’t worried about that staff meeting at 2pm.
Your brain is on overdrive, trying to find the TIGER THAT WILL KILL YOU!
It takes some time to come down from that state.
In my experience, there is no immediate “snapping out” of a panic attack. You need to let it run its course. It will be awful, but, I promise you, it will end. You will be okay.