Is it normal to get this freaked out?
February 25, 2011 7:59 PM   Subscribe

In situations where I am stressed, both minorly and majorly, I sometimes get totally overwhelmed by the things I hear and see. It makes my heart race and I become unable to speak or think. Is this normal, or could it be indicative of a psychiatric disorder? I know, you are not my doctor. And I plan to see a therapist once I can afford one, but that won't be for a few months.
posted by Night_owl to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's a panic attack. Whether it's "normal," is totally dependent on what's going on in the rest of your life, how long it's happening, how you handle it, etc. See a therapist once you can. Until then, Google panic attack, try moodgym, anything you need to do.

Panic attacks are horrendous and treatable.
posted by sweetkid at 8:11 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Panic is, to some extent, normal, but becoming unable to speak or think is pretty extreme and could be indicative of a larger problem, such as an anxiety disorder.

Do see a therapist when you can afford it--there's good, very inexpensive ($4-generics inexpensive) medication that will help you cope. You may want to look at this page to see if there's a free or low-cost clinic that you could visit--getting help sooner rather than later will almost certainly increase your quality of life.

In the mean time, you might want to look into some meditation techniques and deep breathing--I've found both to be helpful when dealing with panic attacks.
posted by MeghanC at 8:17 PM on February 25, 2011

That is anxiety. If it's impairing your ability to function, see a therapist. Look into deep/controlled breathing techniques.
posted by freshwater at 8:22 PM on February 25, 2011

The fact that you worry about something so simple and common to everyday life says Panic Attack to me.
posted by sanka at 8:41 PM on February 25, 2011

Welcome to the wonderful world of panic attacks. Until you can see a therapist, the only thing I can recommend is avoiding high stress situations. Because putting yourself in them will NOT make this go away, it will, in fact, only make it worse.
posted by strixus at 9:09 PM on February 25, 2011

While it could be a panic attack, you may want to read the book The Highly Sensitive Person. It talks about people who are just more sensitive to external stimuli.
posted by uniq at 10:34 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Panic Attack. You may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Google it to see if the symptoms match up. My girlfriend suffers from GAD and unfortunately gets panic attacks from time to time...she keeps hers under control with a heavy dose of Lexapro and a bottle of xanax within arms reach at all times...but also through meditation and relaxation techniques. What really seems to help her is "body scan" type relaxation where you go through each part of your body from your toes to the tip of your head and progressively become aware of, then relax, each individual component. If she is at home and happens to have a panic attack she will usually begin this exercise.

My understanding of the biology behind a panic attack is that it is essentially a misfiring of your bodys built in "vigilance" response...whereas normally only a lion jumping out at you from the bushes would trigger such a rush of terrible fear and adrenaline...the body becomes miscalibrated so that any stressful event causes a MAJOR flight/fight/fear response. Obviously this is way oversimplified (and perhaps totally bogus) but it helps me to understand what my girlfriend, and others who suffer panic attacks, are going through...
posted by jnnla at 2:16 AM on February 26, 2011

Panic attacks, to some extent, are a backdoor mechanism your body uses to relieve excess stress. Ideally, you want to find some long term, direct methods to relieve mental and physical stress, as well as some techniques for de-escalating your body's flight-or-fight response as quickly as possible once it kicks in.

Vigorous exercise is great, especially if you aren't currently doing it. I've found that daily physical exercise really, really helps me relieve mental and physical stress. Biking, walking, swimming -- some activity that is absorbing and uses many different muscle groups gives your body an opportunity to clear out a lot of mental and physical cruft. In my experience, 20-30 minutes of walking, biking, or swimming each day will pay huge and immediate dividends.

For de-escalating your body's fight or flight response, I've found that breathing techniques are immensely helpful. Take full, deep breaths in through the nose, hold them for three seconds, and exhale slowly through pursed lips. Repeat.

Another thing that has worked for me is to read a magazine article or some other piece that is short and absorbing. I find it's more calming to read something on paper, as opposed to on a computer screen, but that's not as important as giving your brain some other form of stimulation that is immediately absorbing and distracting without being too loud, bright, or threatening. Magazine articles and newspaper feature stories are great for this.

Finally, know that you are not alone! This is a fairly common experience. Once you understand what they are and learn what triggers your panic attacks, you can do a lot to make them infrequent, shorter and less intense.
posted by mosk at 3:20 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing panic attack. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I'm sure I've had it my entire life, but I was diagnosed about six or seven years ago. It's definitely not a big deal. I've never gone on a daily drug for it, which is nice. As I've gotten older and become more aware of the situations and thought processes that send me into these attacks, I seem to have them less and less frequently. After trying a few different anti-anxiety medications I've found one that works GREAT and is, in fact $4 for a generic. Over the past five years I have been to therapy, which has been amazingly helpful- I need the medication less and less, and I'm more able to rely on my own ability to recognize and cope with the anxiety to treat it. Don't put off visiting a therapist- depending on where you live, there are probably free/low cost/sliding scale mental health resources available. Do you have health insurance and/or a GP you like? My first anti-anxiety meds were prescribed by my GP, not by a psychiatrist. Good luck!
posted by kella at 5:50 AM on February 26, 2011

Thanks for asking this question. I recently realized that my 'hectic worrying inside' feeling was anxiety -- I never realized my 'hectic-everything-is-too-loud-too-much!" was a panic attack. I thought everyone felt that way a couple times a day. I thought you had to be rocking in the corner for it to be a panic attack . . .
posted by MeiraV at 7:36 AM on February 26, 2011

Nthing Panic Attack. I use Valerian Root to treat mine. It's sold in most Health Food stores and even some Grocery Stores. Might help take the edge off until you can be seen by a doctor. (Get the pills not the tea. The stuff tastes horrible!)

I take one if I can feel an attack coming on (rare) and two if I'm in a full blown attack (often), sometimes if it's really bad I'll take three (very rare). I also sometimes take it at night to help me sleep. One or two pills never make me drowsy. I'm still perfectly functioning. It just helps me mellow out. Three pills sometimes makes me drowsy but usually it's just a more mellow feeling, like "Okay, I could sleep now." (I now use Melatonin to actually get to sleep, that stuff really helps knock me out. Just in case you are having trouble sleeping too.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:16 AM on February 26, 2011

I'm wondering about Asperger's here. People can get overwhelmed by sound and blinking lights, fast movements they can see etc and then go into shutdown. Get somewhere plain and quiet or put your hands over your ears and stare at a plain surface, and see if it helps.
posted by LyzzyBee at 11:48 AM on February 27, 2011

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