This Is What Happens To Your Body When You Have A Panic Attack

what a panic attack feels like

Unsplash/Eric Ward

Anxiety runs rampant in our society today. More than 40 million American adults over the age of 18 struggle with anxiety disorders of varying types and degrees, and many of those people also struggle with panic attacks as a result.

The simple definition for a panic attack is a “sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause,” according to the Mayo Clinic. But it often feels much more complex than that.

There are a wide variety of physical symptoms for panic attacks, which are considered to be related to panic disorder, and they manifest in unique ways for different people. But if you’re one of the millions who face anxiety issues every single day and are worried about the possibility of having a panic attack, here’s what you need to know about how an high-anxiety episode could impact your body.

Typically, a panic attack sets in and reaches its peak in a matter of minutes. The sudden rush is often what makes it so terrifying. When it comes to your mental health, a panic attack can make you feel detached from reality and even detached from yourself. You fear losing control, which only exacerbates your anxiety. Feeling dizzy, light-headed and faint are also common.

Moving down the body, a panic attack can temporarily make your airway feel constricted as if you’re choking. This symptom can also present as a shortness of breath or feeling like you’re being smothered. It’s also not uncommon to experience chest pains, heart palpitations or a rapid heart rate. Some people say it feels like they’re having a heart attack.

what a panic attack feels like

Unsplash/Marcelo Matarazzo

Some people experience hot flashes and excessive sweating while others experience body chills and noticeable trembling, but either way, your stress response system is trying to tell you something as it enters its default fight-or-flight response. Your stomach can also clue you into a potential panic attack episode. Nausea and abdominal distress are common symptoms.

If you exhibit at least four of these physical symptoms, a medical professional would say that you’re having a full-blown panic attack. But no matter how severe your case may be, experiencing these kinds of things can be seriously scary.

The good news is that anxiety attacks inducing a sense of panic are temporary. The symptoms are typically only experienced in the short term. The real work, however, comes after the feeling that you’re going to die has passed. In your recovered state, you can work to identify the root causes of your severe and overwhelming anxiety. Do you have social anxiety? Did you just have an unusual episode brought on by acute stress? Have you already been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder?

It’s always a good idea to make an appointment with a clinical psychologist to explore your anxiety issues and arrive at the best solution for you alongside professional medical help. Once you can determine why you’re struggling with anxiety, you can adopt a treatment regimen. Some people find cognitive behavioral therapy to be extremely helpful, while others lean into deep-breathing exercises and find them to be an effective treatment option.

Anxiety attacks can be scary as hell, but they don’t have to consume you or your life. Remember that you’re not alone in this struggle, and you have a community available to you that will help you reclaim your mental health if you remain open to the possibilities.


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