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08/05/2011 11:22 AM

I'm Dying: What a Panic Attack Feels Like

Posts: 11944
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I'm an Advocate

I believe I have posted this in the past, and thought it worthy to repost. We are not being babies, or just can't handle stress! Don't ever let anyone or anything minimize the fear and suffering one endures during a panic attack! It's scarey, disstressful, and very upsetting for the panicker. So if your trying to explain to friends or love ones, what you go through during an attack? Print this out and they may gain a new respect for the illness. We don't invite them, we don't want them, we are not less than because we have them. And Yes, we work very hard to stop, avoid and lessen them. We are powerful, and determine to live full and happy lives. So I say to all of youn who struggles with Panic Attacks, no matter how big or how small, you are strong, you endure, and push forward, when you want to give up. Your survivors, be proud of your progress and accomplishments, and if your still in the baby step mode, remember each step takes you closer to success of being able to cope with panic attacks. Smile

The term “panic attack” is part of our common language. We hear it all the time.

“When I saw the electricity bill I just had a panic attack!” Or, “I had a panic attack when I woke up and saw I was two hours late for work!” Or, “When I realized I'd just eaten a raw oyster I about had a panic attack!” All these statements are inaccurate uses of the term “panic attack,” and are what are called clinomorphisms, or exaggerated use of a medical term.

Panic attacks are no laughing matter, and people who have the real ones cringe when they hear the term bandied about in everyday speech like it was nothing. They know the feeling that you are about to die, the intense fear, and the sudden onset are far more than what most people think of as a “panic attack.”

So how does it really feel to have a panic attack? Few people, aside from panic attack sufferers themselves, really know. It's the purpose of this post to give you an insider's view of what it actually feels like to have a panic attack.

What exactly is a panic or anxiety attack?

Sudden surge of overwhelming fear

A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being “stressed out” that most people experience. A panic attack is marked by:

Occurring suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.

The level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation, and is often completely unrelated.

It passes in a few minutes, however, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

For detailed information on panic attacks, please see the “Panic Attacks” reference article, For help making it through a panic attack, see the post, “Are You Having a Panic Attack? What Can You Do?“

What do psychiatrists say are the symptoms of a panic attack?

The “official” criteria for panic attacks

First, let's get the “official” criteria for determining whether what you are feeling is a panic attack or not. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association is the standard for diagnosis of mental disorders all over the world.

It requires that at least four of the following symptoms develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes for a diagnosis of panic attack:

1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate

2. Sweating

3. Trembling or shaking

4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering

5. Feeling of choking

6. Chest pain or discomfort

7. Nausea or abdominal distress

8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint

9. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)

10. Fear of losing control or going crazy

11. Fear of dying

12. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)

13. Chills or hot flushes

My panic attacks

Muscle constrictions, pounding heart, weakness and tingling, and fear of losing control

I hesitate to insert a personal side to this post, but since I have first-hand knowledge of how it feels to have a panic attack, I believe it is appropriate to describe mine. Each of my panic attacks is a little different, but all follow the same general outline: muscle constrictions, pounding heart, weakness and tingling, and fear of losing control and fainting.

My panic attacks start with muscle constrictions and tingling around the eyes, then the feeling spreads to my mouth and lower face. I develop a headache and feel a choking muscle constriction in my neck and tightening of my chest. There is a funny feeling in my chest, like shooting electricity. My heart starts pounding, my breathing is constricted and I feel very weak, especially in my arms and hands. A tingly feeling spreads over my whole body. I have a sense of unreality, of watching myself from a distance, and a growing fear of being unable to control myself. As things escalate, I desperately look for someplace — any place — to escape to. At its peak, I feel like I am going to faint and if things continue, I will surely die.

What do others say are their symptoms during a panic attack?

An informal compiled list of symptoms

Panic attacks are by their nature subjective experiences, and like all subjective experiences, are open to the interpretation and description of the sufferer. Following is an informal compiled list of symptoms from Wikipedia. They are grouped under “physical,” “mental,” “emotional,” and “perceptual” headings:


A sensation of adrenaline going through your entire body


Shortness of breath (dyspnea)

Stomach Problems (spastic colon)

Racing or pounding heartbeat or palpitations

Chest pain

Dizziness or vertigo



Nausea or stomach pains


Choking or smothering sensations

Hot flashes

Cold flashes

Tingling or numbness in the hands, face, feet or mouth (paresthesia)

Feelings of “crawly,” “itchy,” or “cringy” skin sensations.

Burning sensations

Trembling or shaking

Feeling of claustrophobia

Feeling like the body is shutting down and/or dying

Tremors in the legs and thighs

Tingling spine

Feeling like one is experiencing a heart attack


Muscle spasms

Feeling of physical weakness or limpness of the body

Grinding teeth or tensing other muscles repeatedly or for prolonged periods of time

Temporary blindness

Sizzling or ringing in ears


Intense and/or frightening realizations of reality

Loss of the ability to react logically to stimuli

Loss of cognitive ability in general

Racing thoughts (often based on fear)

Irrational thoughts

Loud internal dialogue

Feeling like nothing is real

Feeling of impending doom

Feeling of “going crazy”

Feeling out of control

Feeling like no one understands what is happening

Vision is somewhat impaired (eyes may feel like they are shaking.)

Feeling like you are going to die any second

Avoidance behavior



Terror, or a sense that something unimaginably horrible is about to occur and one is powerless to prevent it

Fear that the panic is a symptom of a serious illness

Fear that the panic will not subside

Fear of losing control

Fear of death

Fear of living

Fear of going crazy

Flashbacks to earlier panic trigger

Intense “scared” feeling

Fear of failure


Tunnel vision

Heightened senses

The apparent slowing down or speeding up of time

Dream-like sensation or perceptual distortion (derealization)

Dissociation, or the perception that one is not connected to the body or is disconnected from space and time (depersonalization)

Feeling of loss of free will, as if acting entirely automatically without control

If you think that you are having panic attacks…

Panic attacks are not dangerous in themselves

If you are experiencing four or more of the symptoms listed by the DSM-IV for panic attacks within 10 minutes, you need to contact your doctor as soon as possible. Panic attacks are not dangerous in and of themselves, though you often feel like you're dying. But the avoidance of the situations that trigger panic attacks can very rapidly lead to a severe constriction of your life, to Panic Disorder, and to Agoraphobia. The danger is not in the panic attacks, but in what they can lead to.

Panic attacks are one of the most treatable of the Anxiety Disorders, and many times a mental health professional can help you manage them without the use of drugs. The course of treatments is often not very long, and you will have the ability to control your condition for the rest of your life. panic-attack-feels-like/

Post edited by: PhilPhil46, at: 08/05/2011 11:25 AM


08/06/2011 03:24 PM

Thank you for brining this up I have been around SO long lol I forget we have so many newbies and the very basic information is still needed!!! Great POST!

08/07/2011 07:01 AM
Posts: 11944
Group Leader
I'm an Advocate

How true Smile I remember when I first found this site, I needed to information that was clear, and simple. I still read stuff like this over, just to reinforce my progress.

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