So That’s What a Panic Attack Feels Like: How to Respond When Anxiety Arrives

Anxiety and stress are unfortunate parts of life that everyone has to deal with. However, sometimes you might feel out of control or too overwhelmed. In these moments, you might experience a panic attack. The Mayo Clinic describes a panic attack as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions.”

The experience differs from person to person, varying from cardiovascular to digestive reactions. It’s a good idea to know the symptoms of panic attacks and how to deal with them. Keep reading for the most common side effects of a panic attack and how to respond to them.

You’ve Been Feeling Extremely Anxious Lately

Panic attacks are triggered by stressful situations when you might feel helpless or scared. If you’ve witnessed a traumatic event and have post-traumatic stress disorder, these attacks could happen regularly. Even if you aren’t diagnosed with PTSD, you can still experience panic attacks in times of great stress or fear.

If your anxiety levels have been high lately, it could trigger a panic attack. Be careful to notice the signs of increased anxiety. These could include an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, insomnia, or feeling on edge. You’re more likely to feel anxious when you have an overwhelming amount of work or an upcoming event that you’re worried about.

How to Respond:

So you’ve identified that you’re feeling more anxious than normal. Now what do you do? It’s important to do your best to prevent panic attacks before they arrive.

Try to do activities that calm your mind and let you relax. Even if you have a lot to do, make sure to schedule some down-time. This is vital for your mental health in times of stress. Without taking any breaks, your mind could go into panic mode trying to process it all.

So sit down for thirty minutes and read a book or take a nap. Color or draw if art helps you de-stress. Maybe have a glass of wine and enjoy a bubble bath. Whatever it is that you know will relax your brain, do it.

Your Heart is Pounding

When you’re feeling anxious, it’s normal for your body to react by increasing your heart rate. You’ve probably noticed it when you watch scary movies or ride a rollercoaster. This is a normal way for your body to respond to anxiety. However, there’s a point when the speed of your anxious heart rate becomes a problem.

Your heart may feel like it’s pounding in your chest, or your pulse might be well over 100 beats per minute. This is a sign of heightened anxiety, and usually the first clue a panic attack is coming. The Mayo Clinic says that during a panic episode, you might even feel like you’re having a heart attack. Not everyone has such extreme experiences, but it can happen.

How to Respond:

Getting your heart rate under control can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. You’ll want it to get to a rate of less than 100 beats per minute in order to calm down. The easiest way to do this is through controlling your breathing.

The heart will only continue to beat quickly if you’re also quickly taking in air. If you’re gasping for air, you’ll need to slow down to get your heart to follow along. Try taking deep breaths and holding them for seven seconds. Make sure you exhale slowly, too. This will force your heart to slow down.

Your Breathing Gets Heavy

Gasping for air will come along with an elevated heart rate. This is because every time your heart beats, it needs more oxygen to replenish what it just released into your body. The faster it beats, the more oxygen it needs.

But during a panic attack, you need to slow down your breathing and heart rate. Breathing too quickly and heavily can cause you to hyperventilate. This can make you feel out of breath or dizzy, and you might even pass out.

How to Respond:

Similar to slowing down your heart, using some techniques will slow your breathing. You could try using the three-seven-five exercise:

  • Three seconds in
  • Seven seconds holding your breath
  • Five seconds out

Repeat this method until your breathing is under control. Closing your eyes to distract yourself from your surroundings can also help. And if you’re feeling dizzy or light-headed, make sure you sit down to avoid injury.

You Feel Numb or Out-of-Body

Sometimes during a panic attack, you might feel detached from reality. This is usually known as an out-of-body experience. You’ll feel as though your body is numb, and you might not be able to move. Your body might even experience a tingling sensation, like when your foot falls asleep.

How to Respond:

Numbness or tingling is usually caused by lack of blood flow. When your body is under stress, the blood doesn’t always pump as strongly as normal. To address this problem, try moving around or massaging your limbs until you have feeling in them again.

If you’re having an out-of-body experience and can’t move, the first thing to do is watch your breathing. Use some techniques to get yourself calm enough to move. As soon as you’re able, make sure you sit down. Then you can move on to addressing the other elements of a panic attack.

It’s Always Different

The symptoms mentioned are the most commonly reported side effects that people experience. However, your panic attacks might feel different. You could feel nauseated, hot flashes, or pain in your chest or stomach. You might even experience different symptoms with each panic attack.

Knowing how to relax your body in times of panic is the most important way to respond. It usually comes down to controlling your breathing and tuning out what’s around you. And after an attack, make sure you rest. You and your body will deserve some rest and relaxation afterward.

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