What A Panic Attack Feels Like: 3 Science-backed Ways To Cope


What Panic Attack Feels Like

Imagine waking up in the morning, driving to work, and going about your day when all of a sudden you feel a sudden rush of overwhelming, intense anxiety.  You feel short of breath, maybe even dizzy, your heart is pounding harder than it’s ever pounded and you feel like you might just being going crazy – or worse, like you’re about to die.  This is what it feels like to have a panic attack. 

They are an insidious betrayal of your mental and physical capabilities that often occur at random times.

I experienced my first panic attack as a teenager. It was a crazy sensation that jolted me out of bed in the middle of the night, and I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest.  My dad, an EMT in our small town, calmed me down enough to convince me that I wasn’t having a heart attack or about to die. I went to the doctor the next day and after undergoing several tests to make sure my heart was functioning correctly, I was discharged with anti-anxiety medication (which I never took) and orders to “take it easy.”

Since that time, I have experienced dozens of panic attacks, which I now know arise in clusters for me during times of high stress. I got them in high school, during my first year of law school, and during the last year of my law practice when I burned out. 

I’ve gotten them in the car, in movie theaters, in my office, in class, and at home. Despite the name, outwardly, you don’t appear to be panicking unless you happen to verbalize your symptoms to someone. The panic happens internally – like the fight or flight response on steroids.

Read Signs And Symptoms Of Generalised Anxiety Disorder

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults in the United States and cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year ($22.84 billion of that total associated with the repeated use of health care services). 

The term “anxiety disorders” includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and social anxiety disorder, all of which develop from a complex set of factors like genetics, brain chemistry and life events. 

anxiety disorder
What A Panic Attack Feels Like: 3 Science-backed Ways To Cope

While all forms of anxiety disorder can impact the quality of your relationships, work productivity, and how you approach social settings, a brand new study from George Mason University, examined the correlation between six different types of anxiety disorders and physical, social, and occupational functional impairment and found that, “results overall indicated that the correlation between symptoms and [impaired] functioning is somewhat weak.” 

Read Anxiety Disorders Could Be Caused By Being Exposed To Narcissistic Abuse

While that might be hard to believe in the aftermath of a panic attack, I think these findings illustrate the complex nature of these disorders and may even provide some hope because anxiety doesn’t have to automatically lead to work/life impairment.

If you experience panic attacks, here are three strategies to help that are supported both by the science and my own personal use:

1. Exercise.  

panic attack needs action
What A Panic Attack Feels Like: 3 Science-backed Ways To Cope

Exercise has been shown to be a promising pathway for managing certain types of depression and anxiety.  When I burned out, I got panic attacks at least weekly.  That in turn caused me to stop exercising because the feeling of my heart rate elevating was enough to cause a panic attack. 

It was the first time in my life I had gone an extended period of time without exercising, and it was the exact wrong thing to do.  To break the cycle, I enlisted the help of a very special buddy, my golden retriever Sadie, and started walking short distances with her. 

I convinced myself that if something happened to me mid-walk, she might run to a nearby house and start barking. Gradually, I felt more comfortable walking longer distances with her and then worked back up to my normal exercise routine.  I had to re-train my brain to learn that the physical signs of increased heart rate and breathing didn’t necessarily mean something bad was about to happen.

2. Re-Train Your Brain. 

I now teach and train people how to be more resilient to stress, and part of that training involves building mental toughness and thinking differently about stress and the stress response.  In addition to physical exercise, cognitive exercises can help you regain control over your thinking, and that will help you have healthier reactions to stress.  These mental exercises have been an invaluable part of my own recovery.

Read 33 Lies Your Anxiety Tells You

3. Focused Breathing. 

If you experience anxiety, you may report issues with your breathing, ranging from shallow breathing to literally feeling like you’re suffocating.  Being able to have control over your breath is one of the most power techniques you can use when you’re anxious or panicked. 

Two of the most popular methods are “4-7-8 breathing” first described by Dr. Andrew Weil, and the 4×4 method (the Army soldiers I taught call it “tactical breathing”).  If you try 4-7-8 breathing, simply inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight.

If you try the 4×4 method, inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and hold your breath for four seconds. 

Recent studies evaluating breathing practices and soldiers showed that the soldiers who immersed themselves in specific breathing techniques saw dramatically lower levels of acute anxiety and post-traumatic stress.   

Read What Is High Functioning Anxiety Disorder?- Signs, Effects And How To Deal With It

You don’t need to be a soldier to take advantage of the benefits of breathing. One study showed that a single 15-minute block of deep breathing dramatically lowered stress hormones. These techniques are most effective when you practice them when you’re NOT under stress.  That way, you’ll be able to recall them easily when anxiety strikes.

Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for additional remedies, like medication or to learn about support groups.  I am happy to report that my panic attacks are largely a thing of my past.  I have learned a lot about my “wiring,” though, and know that I need to maintain the practices I outline above to most effectively manage my anxiety.  I would love to hear from you – what strategies do you use?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best medication for severe anxiety and panic attacks?

When it comes to taking medication for severe anxiety and panic attacks, it’s always the best idea to consult a qualified professional who can give you the right medicine to deal with your anxiety issues.

What foods cause anxiety and panic attacks?

According to Health Us News, foods and drinks that are linked to anxiety are alcohol, sugary drinks, cakes, pies, cookies, energy drinks, processed meats, ready-to-eat meals, gluten, and artificial sweeteners.

How to know if you’re having a panic attack or anxiety attack?

Panic attacks occur without any triggers, whereas anxiety attacks happen when in the case of perceived stressors and threats. Panic attacks generally abate after a few minutes, but anxiety attacks can go on for longer periods of time.

When can anxiety symptoms turn into an anxiety disorder?

When your anxiety and worry consistently persist for six months, chances are it has turned into an anxiety disorder. Three out of these six symptoms can be an indication of an anxiety disorder: sleep disturbances, restlessness, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and extreme mood swings.

Written by: Paula Davis, J.D., M.A.P.P
Download her ebook Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Well-Being & Resilience.
Originally appeared on Psychology Today
Republished with permission.
What Panic Attack Feels Like pin
What A Panic Attack Feels Like: 3 Science-backed Ways To Cope

— Share —

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

Unhealthy Guilt Syndrome: How It Affects Your Mental Health And Relationships

Unhealthy Guilt Syndrome: When Guilt Goes Too Far

Do you often find yourself feeling excessively guilty, even when you’ve done nothing wrong? If so, you may be struggling with unhealthy guilt syndrome. 

Ever wondered “Why do I feel so guilty over small things?” Guilt is an emotion that we all experience at some point in our lives. It can be a healthy emotion that helps us learn from our mistakes and become better versions of ourselves.

It can also serve as a reminder of our moral compass, nudging us to reflect on our actions and  right our wrongs..

Up Next

Success Phobia: What Is The Fear Of Success And How To Overcome It

What Is Success Phobia And How to Overcome The Fear of Success

Are you afraid of success? Do you feel crippled with fear at the thought of achieving your goals? Then you just might be suffering from the fear of success, also known as success phobia.

In the vast tapestry of human emotions, fear has long held the spotlight as an adversary to be overcome.

We’re no strangers to the chilling grip of fear, that paralyzing force that can suffocate our dreams and imprison us within the boundaries of our comfort zones. Yet, in the realm of fears, one often lurks in the shadows, underestimated and overlooked: the fear of success.

Up Next

Embarrassing Moment In Public: 20 Most Cringe-Worthy Moments You Can Relate To

20 Embarrassing Moment In Public We've All Been Through

Ever had an embarrassing moment in public? While embarrassing moments can really put us in a tight spot, these often add some color and spice into our lives and create the most memorable moments that we laugh at later. Let’s take a look at 15 most embarrassing moments that all of us have survived. 

20 Embarrassing moments everyone has experienced

The most embarrassing moment in public make you feel awkward and cringe.

Up Next

Psychological Safety At Work: Why It Is Important And How To Make Your Team Feel Safe

How Psychological Safety At Work Can Improve Employee Well-Being

Do you feel mentally safe at work? Do you feel included, engaged and valued? Psychological safety at work is crucial for both employees and organizations for building high-performing teams.

What is psychological safety at work?

Psychological safety meaning: Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception that they can speak up, share their ideas, and take risks without fear of negative consequences at the workplace.

You feel safe and comfortable to speak up,

Up Next

Humor As Therapy: 35+ Funny AF Mental Health Memes To Boost Your Mood

35+ Best Mental Health Memes: The Healing Power of Laughter

While mental health is no joke, we have all laughed at funny and relatable mental health memes as it helps to relieve our stress and make us realize that we are not the only ones suffering.

Although how therapeutic these memes actually can be are still in question, such memes still help in opening up the conversation about mental health and empower us to laugh at our struggles.

Relatable jokes make us realize that we are not alone and it is okay to feel this way as long as we seek treatment and try to get better.

What are mental health memes?


Up Next

The Power Of Emotional Security: How Psychological Safety Builds Stronger Family Bonds

The Benefits Of Psychological Safety: Why It Matters

Psychological safety at work is increasingly becoming a popular and important concept in the workplace around the globe. But what about feeling psychologically safe at home and in the community? How can we feel emotionally safe when we are navigating through the challenges of life? Let’s find out.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety refers to a welcoming environment, such as a home or a workplace, where everyone feels comfortable and believes that their honesty, sincerity and truthfulness is welcomed. A lack of emotional safety can lead to feelings of anxiety and apathy.

Being psychologically safe at home and in public places means having a

Up Next

Food For Mental Health: 10 Foods That Can Help Boost Your Mood And Reduce Stress

10 Mood-Boosting Foods: The Power Of Food For Mental Health

Is diet and nutrition the secret to boosting our mental health? The answer is a resounding YES! When you know how to eat the right food for mental health, you can not only better cope with stress and anxiety, you can improve your overall mental well-being.

There are certain foods which can not only help to improve our mental health, it can also help to overcome mental health issues like anxiety and depression, along with therapy. Let us find out what foods can help you in your journey towards mental wellness.

Food and mood

The food we eat can play a significant role in improving our mood as nutrition and mental health are closely related.

Nutrient-dense foods that are r

AI Chatbot Avatar
⚠️ Liza is in training with WMHA and may not always provide the most accurate information.