Anatomy of a Panic Attack

It starts one of two ways:

In the mind…
Doubts, fears, responsibilities mounting against your perceived ability to control it all.

In the physical…
Something happens. That feeling in the pit of your stomach. It drops.

Your heart starts racing. You feel like you just ran a marathon, but you’re completely still. Paralyzed.
I can’t do this.

Your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. You can’t catch your breath as you feel a tightness in your chest.
I’m going to have a heart attack. I’m going to die. I can’t do this.

You try to calm yourself down…try to escape to that happy place…try to picture yourself in better circumstances.
It’s not working. I need this to work now. I can’t do this.

Your skin becomes clammy as you continue to hyperventilate, not realizing that one symptom begets another.
Oh my goodness, I’m going to pass out. I can’t do this.

You start getting lightheaded.
Yep, definitely going to pass out.

You can’t sit still – you want to keep moving. And much to your distress, you’re in a place where constant movement would be out of the ordinary – sitting at a desk, sitting in class, in a enclosed place with a group of people.
They have no idea what’s going on. I’ve got to get it together. More importantly, I’ve got to get out of here. Before I embarrass myself.

You’re fighting against yourself.
Calm down. Slow down. Breathe. There are some things that are naturally out of your control. You’re not going to die.
I’m losing it. I can’t do this. I’m not worth anything. Why me? Why do I have to be the one dealing with this?

Eventually, one wins out…for now.


This is not how everyone experiences a panic attack – these things are indicative of my worst panic attacks. I share this because I want those of you who deal with this to know that you’re not alone. Approximately six million Americans have panic disorder (Source) (which is different from experiencing panic attacks here and there.)

Finding out that there are others out there who know exactly what you’re going through helps out a lot. In the past couple of years, I’ve found out that some of my friends deal with some sort of anxiety on this life-altering level. There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

How have I kept my panic attacks at bay? By praying in the moment and focusing on breathing control. There are many different methods to combat and prevent panic attacks.

I’m here if anyone wants to share their experiences with panic attacks / panic disorder. Remember, you’re not alone. And you can overcome it.

– j

One comment

  1. HERO · February 20, 2014

    having panic attacks were not uncommon for me to have when i was deployed, but having them made everything i was doing so much worse. With the lack of empathy in my situation it was one of those things where i had to bring myself back to grip and move forward. I had wished though that every time i had one, that my wife or close friends were nearby.

    I havent had a panic attack in about a year or so now, maybe a little more… but the sound of thunder thats from a giant crack of lightning would send me back to things unpleasant. Actually blacking out for a few minutes and being able to feel again.

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