panic attack

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?

If you’ve ever experienced a sudden onset of intense, overwhelming fear, it might have been a panic attack. Because symptoms such as sweating, shaking, nausea and a racing heartbeat can come on so unexpectedly, it’s challenging to predict what circumstances might precipitate a panic attack. 

Panic attacks can be unpleasant and disruptive, with severe symptoms. Worries about having another attack – especially in a public place – may affect your overall behavior, leading you to avoid locations or activities that make you nervous. In extreme situations, you may drastically restrict your behavior or curtail your life because you fear a repeat experience.

Panic Attacks vs. Anxiety Attacks

You may hear people use the terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” interchangeably, but these two experiences are not the same. For one thing, an anxiety attack may result in heightened anxiety symptoms for several days leading up to a stressful experience or event, whereas a panic attack tends to come on abruptly and subside after a few minutes of terror. 

Another way anxiety attacks tend to differ from panic attacks is that they usually have identifiable triggers, such as worries about an upcoming job interview or business trip. In contrast, unexpected panic attacks have no obvious external causes. However, anxiety and panic attacks have a few common symptoms, and people living with anxiety disorders can experience both issues simultaneously.

Panic Attack or Heart Attack? How to Tell the Difference

Suddenly breaking out in a sweat while your chest gets tight and your heart rate skyrockets can be alarming. You may wonder what is happening to you, especially if you’ve never experienced anything like this before. 

Panic attacks and heart attacks share similar symptoms, such as:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Feelings of imminent doom
  • Chest pain
  • A racing heart rate
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach pain or nausea

One way to tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack is that panic attacks usually involve irrational, overpowering fear. Duration is another differentiating factor – panic attacks typically subside on their own after a few minutes, whereas heart attack symptoms don’t let up. And, while both conditions can cause chest pain, heart attacks feel like a heavy weight sitting on your chest, while panic attacks might cause sharp, stabbing pain.

How to Control a Panic Attack

Panic attacks might make you feel detachment or a loss of control, so here are some grounding techniques you can use to take the power back. 

1. Use Deep Breathing

When you’re panicky, you might hyperventilate, which can intensify the fear. If you can get your breath under control, you might be able to shorten your panic attack’s duration. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, then breathe out for a count of four. If you’re in an environment with a lot of sensory stimuli, it might also help you to close your eyes while you focus on your breath.

2. Find a Focus Object

Some people find that focusing all their attention on one single point helps distract them from their panic attack. Choose one nearby object and catalog everything you notice about it. Describe its color, shape, size and weight in minute detail. In doing so, you may feel your symptoms receding. 

3. Remind Yourself This Is Temporary

While you might feel like something terrible is about to happen during a panic attack, it’s essential to recognize that you are not dying and that your experience will be relatively short-lived. You might want to repeat a phrase like “I am OK” or “All things must pass.” 

Personalized Care for Anxiety and Other Mental Health Disorders

If frequent panic attacks are limiting your life, you may have an anxiety disorder. To learn more about how Serene Behavioral Health’s professional team can help you manage your anxiety and reclaim your life, reach out today.  

Share this post