Before I ever had a (known) panic attack, I had a notion of what I thought they were, and what they looked like.
I thought a panic attack looked like what is usually shown in movies and tv shows: “OH MY GOSH!!! OH MY GOSH!!! OH MY GOSH!!!” [pulling their hair, running around screaming]
(and then Cher smacks them and tells them to “Snap out of it!”)
That is not what mine have ever looked like.
I might feel like that on the inside. But on the outside, you would probably just look at me and think I wasn’t feeling so hot.
What you would notice is that the color was gone from my face. I may be sweaty… I might not hear you speak to me, or I might be irritable, or even snap at you, which could irritate you, and make you think ‘What’s her damn problem?’
But there is no hair pulling or running around screaming, as I’ve seen them so often portrayed. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen for others. Just that I’ve never experienced it.
And that is where the misconceptions become planted in our brains as truths, and people don’t recognize a panic attack when they see, or even experience, one.
It’s why it took me until my 30s to realize that I’d been having panic attacks off and on throughout my life.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
There are a lot of symptoms that someone suffering from a panic attack might mention and feel:
- Palpitations, and/or accelerated heart rate
- Dry heaving, and/or gagging
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or being smothered
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- De-realization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or going insane
- Sense of impending death
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Chills or hot flashes
And quite often, especially the first time they have one, they will think they are dying, or are having a heart attack.
For more info on how to help someone who is having a panic attack, please see this post.
Being aware of these signs and symptoms will allow you to recognize someone who needs your help – whether they are aware of it, or not.
This is the 22nd post in a 31 Day Series: 31 Days to Peace: Finding inner peace for anxiety and panic attacks. Start from the beginning here.