Anxiety · Mental health

Describing panic

Sometimes I hear the phrase “panic attack” thrown around casually in conversation. Sometimes I wonder whether people are curious about them. In case anybody is, I’m going to try to describe how one feels like for me. It’s different for everyone, but I’ve linked an article to Mind‘s website which gives a pretty concise medical description of it.

Sometimes I see it coming… other times not. Sometimes I’ve been able to identify what triggers a particular bout of panic. Sometimes I can feel it coming and been able to brace myself. Sometimes it feels like it came out of nowhere. Different people have different situations where they’re more likely to experience a panic attack.

Imagine you’re walking down the stairs and miss a step. That swooping, heart-wrenching, split-second sensation before your foot finds the next step. That’s what it feels like for me.

I have to breathe – hard and fast. My body tells me that the only way to lessen the heart-burning sensation is to breathe harder. Faster. Scientifically, I know that it’s the opposite of helpful. It makes me feel dizzy. It makes the panic worse, which makes the breathing worse, and so on. It takes a lot of willpower to fight against the instinct and slow down the rate of my breaths.

My extremities feel weird. If it goes on for long enough, my fingers and feet start to tingle. They feel cold. Again, scientifically I know that it happens because I’m breathing too fast. But once panic sets in, logic leaves my brain.

My thoughts become erratic. I’m not the calmest person at times and in a panic, my thoughts and worries and what-ifs go into overdrive.

Often, I find that it’s helpful to make a conscious effort to count my breaths (advice courtesy of GP). Breathing in for five counts, and out for seven. I find that the panic doesn’t last as long when I manage to get a hold on my breaths, but I don’t always manage it. Also, when an episode isn’t entirely disabling, I try to carry on with whatever I was doing.

Whilst I’m not in a panicked state, however, I find that there are some things that makes me less likely to get into a panic. Caffeine and I don’t mix too well, for instance. Once I got the antidepressants that my body seems to get on well with, I noticed the anxiety symptoms recede before the depressive symptoms did. Exercise, of course, does wonders for my physical and emotional health.

If anyone else does anything that they find helpful in a panic attack, I’d love to hear. You can never have too many coping strategies.


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