When it overtakes you, it may feel like you won’t survive. It’s sudden and intense. The exaggerated sound of your heart and blood pounds in your ears.You are choked by inexplicable fear and are overwhelmed, nauseous, or disoriented. All you can take in are short shallow breaths.The tightness in your chest alarms you and makes you wonder whether you are having a heart attack. Fear and numbness, chills and sweats come like a wave, convincing you that you are dying or going crazy.Then, slowly, it all begins to subside. Fading away, it leaves you shaken, tired, and feeling out of control.
This is a panic attack. The experience is emotionally distressing and marked by fear and anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Heath (NIMH) characterizes such attacks as “the fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger.” While the danger may not be real, the very real assault on your senses is abrupt and extreme. It can be triggered at anytime, anywhere. Some sufferers find themselves avoiding public situations for fear of suffering from panic attacks. If you are dealing with overriding concerns about ensuing attacks, you may be experiencing a panic disorder.
How can you be sure that you are, in fact, suffering from panic attacks?
The signs of a full-blown panic episode include one or more of the following ten common symptoms:
1. Heart palpitations:
The sensation that your heart is racing. You may feel your heartbeat is unusually hard, rapid, or irregular.
2. Hot flashes or chills:
The feelings of warmth or cold that spread over your entire body, lasting from 30 seconds to a few minutes. You might alternately sweat or shiver due to a “fight or flight” induced rise in body temperature or redirected blood flow.
3. Hyperventilation/Shortness of breath:
You feel out of breath. Hyperventilation is usually characterized by attempts to excessively inhale rapid mouthfuls of oxygen. You have the sense that you are choking or smothering, unable to breathe enough air into your lungs.
You feel disoriented, unstable, and feel like you may faint or lose consciousness. Dizziness is usually attributed to the tendency to hyperventilate. You feel that the room is tilted or spinning, a feeling that may last well after the panic episode has peaked.
The uncontrollable trembling that occurs before, during, and after a panic attack, signaling intense nervousness and anxiety. Your body ready for escape from perceived danger, tense and flooded with adrenaline.
6. Chest tightness or discomfort:
The squeezing or aching in your chest that may increase as the attack builds. You think you’re having a heart attack.
7. Nausea or abdominal discomfort:
The churning or cramping sensations in your gut. Stomach upset may arouse a desire to vomit and abdominal pain may erratically radiate throughout the rest of the body.
The sense that things are unreal or foggy. You feel detached from your surroundings as if you are experiencing a dream.
9. Fear: of dying, losing control, or “going crazy”:
The overwhelming perception that something terrible, humiliating, or unbearable is about to happen. You also feel nervous, powerless, or even terrorized.
The troubling loss of physical feeling or a tingling sensation throughout parts of your body. You may also experience a sudden, pervasive emotional numbness, feeling that the world holds little interest or joy.
Panic attacks usually peak after 10 minutes and rarely persist for longer than an hour. If you recognize these symptoms and are concerned that they are interrupting your quality of life, consider reaching out to a qualified therapist. You don’t have to continue suffering from panic attacks. They are treatable.