Unfortunately there’s not a specific set of symptoms which you can tick off and know that what you are experiencing is a panic attack. Panic attacks come in all shapes and forms. It can be quite difficult to understand what is happening to your body the first time you experience a panic attack. The NHS website does give a list of potential signs of a panic attack, however this list is not exhaustive:
- a racing heartbeat
- feeling faint
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- hot flushes
- shaky limbs
- a choking sensation
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- a churning stomach
- a tingling sensation in your fingers
- feeling like you’re not connected to your body
As you can see panic attacks manifest themselves in a variety of different ways. I’ve witnessed people experiencing panic attacks and not knowing what was happening to their body. It can be an incredibly frightening experience, even if you know what to expect.
When I was younger I experienced panic attacks but didn’t know what they were at the time or how to express what I was feeling. All I could tell people was that it was the worst feeling in the world. As I began to understand my anxiety I began to recognise the signs of a panic attack and I was able to learn what symptoms I experienced.
For me the first signs of a panic attack is the initial feeling of dread that comes over me. I begin to feel my heart rate increasing, my palms go clammy and I start feeling like I’m in a little bubble moving at a slower pace to the rest of the world. This is often accompanied by feeling like I’m about to pass out. When I find myself in this situation I tend to try and find an open space, preferably outside. I take lots of slow deep breathes, in through my nose and out through my mouth, in an attempt to slow my heart rate down. I’ve had so many panic attacks throughout my life that they don’t faze me quite so much these days. I try to embrace the feeling and know that it will be over soon. The harder you fight against a panic attack the worse it will get.
Once the initial panic is over I try to distract myself. How you choose to distract yourself is completely up to you, it depends on the situation you are in and what works for you. Sometimes, my partner and I will play cards as it requires just enough concentration to take my mind off the panic attack. Other times I’ll watch something – my go to is Gavin and Stacey (I could probably recite it word for word).
The problem with panic attacks is the worst thing to do is panic whilst experiencing one. I know you’re probably reading this and scoffing thinking if it were that easy nobody would suffer. It’s true, if it were easy then they wouldn’t be such debilitating events in people’s lives. However, over the years I have learnt how to cope with mine and therefore I want to share my knowledge with you.
Next time you experience a panic attack embrace it. Say hello to everything that you’re feeling and resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to feel like that for the next little while. But know that it will pass.
Let me know in the comments your experiences with panic attacks.