I have been very fortunate to have only experienced three panic attacks in my lifetime thus far. A panic attack is different from an anxiety attack and many confuse the two.
An anxiety attack results from something which is causing you anxiety, and you are aware of what is causing your heightened anxiety. For example, driving during a blizzard on the highway and having a Mack Truck tailgating you while your parents back seat drive you; add in the fact you despise winter & highway driving . You may have an axiety attack from all of the stressful stimuli. You may find your heart racing, your palms sweating, your eyes tearing up, breathing quickly and a need to exit the situation.
A panic attack is mysterious, and is an unexpected guest. You could be having a grand old time with your friends and not consciously worried about anything and it hits you with no warning.
The first time I realized I had experienced a panic attack was hours after it happened, I had no idea previously what had happened to me. I was at a friend’s house for a dinner party and I was catching up with a friend who had just finished chemotherapy and radiation. I was asking questions around how the cancer was discovered and we discussed the treatments she had undergone and the surgeries; I am not a queasy type of person when it comes to healthcare matters, but I will admit I was a bit shocked at the appearance of this friend. I am not sure if the topic of discussion was something I was worried about personally as Cancer is one of the scariest words I know.
I was fully engaged in our conversation and I wanted to know more and what the next steps were with her recovery. Then suddenly I noticed myself becoming warm, like a hot flash, I was perspiring and my face was flushed and felt like it was on fire. I loosened my scarf and kept chatting and then my vision started to go; I was seeing sparkles like before I develop a migraine. I then excused myself from the table as I thought I was going to vomit. I started to make my way towards the stairs, but I could no longer see anything besides sparkles and blurred shapes. My friends noticed me teetering and began asking me if I was okay, I physically couldn’t speak or respond. I was worried at this point as my heart was racing and I was sure in that moment I was having a heart attack. My friend then yelled “Rachel sit down!!!” so I sat myself on the floor. I was blind so right then and where I stood seemed like the best spot to sit down. Then my hearing started to go and the voices asking me if I were okay became muffled & distorted like I was under water. I wanted to say “call an ambulance”, but I couldn’t – I couldn’t speak at all. I was sure I was dying. My hands were tingling and I felt like an old tv being shut down when the picture shrinks into a pin dot and then nothing. I was sure this was the end for me and I was scared, and there was no white light at the end of the tunnel just sheer darkness and panic. I stayed there on the floor of my friends’ condo in the child’s pose for a good few minutes as I was too weak to get up and I heard someone say “she is burning up” and then I felt a cold wet cloth against my neck. After ten to fifteen minutes, I began to return to myself, my vision came back, my hearing came back, my temperature returned to normal, and my heart was no longer racing. I was embarrassed and I apologized as I had no idea what had happened. I felt too well to have had a heart attack and I didn’t have chest pains. The only way I could describe what happened was like all of my senses were shutting down. I was sure I was dying and this was how a brain aneurysm felt or something. I crawled to my friend’s couch and I laid down. I was so weak still and I felt like I could sleep for a century as I was beyond exhausted.
I spoke to another friend later who was well versed in psychology and he said I had just had a panic attack. I didn’t believe him as I was perfectly fine; I wasn’t even going through an anxious time in my life; it didn’t make sense. Yet, what I had experienced was indeed a panic attack which is a fight or flight physiological response where your body produces too much adrenaline and my mind and body I guess were not quite in sync.
I still do not fully understand it, but I do know now what to expect if this happens again. The two previous times I had panic attacks they were a lot milder and at the time I didn’t know what was going on then (I thought I needed protein or something or I was dehydrated).
Your mind can make your body react in strange ways and if you are wondering what a panic attack feels like, I am sure there are variances, but what I experienced was a full blown panic attack. You cannot predict when they may hit, all you can do is ride the wave and know it will pass after a few minutes, and it is just your body responding to what your mind is subconsciously telling it.
Just remember most importantly to sit down, be comfy and try to relax as best as you can and it will pass.
Peace & love – Rachel