What does it feel like to have a panic attack?
February 23, 2021 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Where and when do they happen? I’d love some personal examples and anecdotes please. This is research for a story I’m writing. Thank you!
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have weird panic attacks I DM D&D games, I love it, it's the highlight of my week every week but about 75% of the time after a game I will have a massive panic attack that no one liked the game, they're all lying and I suck as a DM, I'm a huge joke, who do I think I am to be DMing I am so stupid etc in a death spiral of fear. I've DM'd the same group for 7 years now, if they hated it it wouldn't still be going, but my brain is a complete bastard. I have no idea why I get the fear after the event and wonder if it's tied to adrenaline from the performance aspect of being a DM. Mine is also triggered when going places that strangers will touch me like dentists, or hairdressers, covid has exacerbated this to the point I am sitting here with a toothache because that pain is preferable to the panic attack I'll have if I go to the dentist.

What it feels like to me. Have you ever been climbing up the side of a really steep hill/mountain and you hit a patch of gravel and start to slide and can't get a hand hold, that feeling of fear as you fall and slide. Like that but longer, with an underlying fear that one day you won't stop sliding until you fall off the mountain.

These are my experiences, not claiming this is representative of anyone else.
posted by wwax at 11:11 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]

The times it has happened to me, it's literally felt like I was having some sort of heart issue. I'd feel sweaty, my heart felt like it was beating way too fast and way too hard. I felt light-headed and got that woozy feeling, like everything I could see was in a tunnel, of sorts. My breathing increased and I kept thinking, "Calm down! Calm down," but it felt like it was a physical event out of my control.

The main thing was that it wasn't a ramp-up type of event. I felt a little bit of nervousness about something (the last one hit me right after a crowded supermarket stop in the middle of the worst of lockdown) and then BLAM, it hit me right away, and I just had to wait it out.

There are things I can do if I feel like one is coming on, but I find when I'm in the middle of them, it's easiest to let them kind of wash over me as I stay still (as long as I'm somewhere I can do that) and just make sure I keep breathing.
posted by xingcat at 11:15 AM on February 23 [15 favorites]

My roommate woke up one night thinking she was having a heart attack. Her chest hurt, she couldn't breathe. Went to the ER, turned out that was a panic attack.
posted by hepta at 11:16 AM on February 23 [4 favorites]

I have your classic “I’m dizzy, I can’t breathe, I’m going to hyperventilate, everything is tight, I’m going to bawl“ (yes, all of these things can exist at one time) panic attacks. I got taken advantage of three years ago and the panic attacks manifested after that, usually when I encountered someone who looked like the person who assaulted me (and unfortunately, there were a couple of people in my department and a couple of people in my graduate program who resembled the person). They also happened when I found myself in tight spaces without control of being in that space, which is not quite the same as claustrophobia (for example, I had a student in my office for an advising appointment and they tried to close the door despite me having the door propped open with a chair and I almost hyperventilated on them. They won’t do that again. :) )
posted by joycehealy at 11:19 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]

My panic attacks are really different from my anxiety attacks and are not generally reactive, as in they do not occur at the moment of intense stress or anxiety. Mine happen when I am already run down from a long difficult period of stress, and 80% of the time wake me up or happen just after waking, and the other 20% is usually while I'm sitting at a desk thinking about nothing more than lunch or spreadsheets and then there goes the *thump* of my adrenal glands core-dumping and we're off. The only anxiety I feel during mine is that I'm probably about to die right now.

Mine always start with one hard thump in my chest that does not feel like a heartbeat, it almost literally feels like someone has bopped me in the chest with something small but solid. Sometimes, right at that moment, if I cough really hard it will short-circuit it and stop.

But if it doesn't, it feels a lot like everything they warn you about heart attack symptoms in women, especially the adrenaline tingling in my arms and neck. There is a dull ache in my chest (the only thing that diverges much from "classic" sharp pains with a heart attack) and over the first 10 minutes or so it becomes increasingly ache-ful to breathe. This is where I decide that it is definitely not a heart attack, it is definitely probably surprise anaphylaxis (I do not currently and have never had any serious allergic reactions) or maybe a panic attack.

While my body feels as if my heart is racing, the adrenaline thrumming in my hands and neck means I can't actually feel my pulse to know for sure. It just hurts, and if I'm somewhere private I end up moaning on my exhales because it hurts so much. This goes on for 20-40 minutes and it is not possible to do anything but stare at whatever's in front of me. I get in bed if I wasn't already there, mostly out of fear of falling. I can work my phone to send a text though my hands are very unsteady. I prefer help getting to the bathroom if I need to go.

I try to invoke the Mammalian Diving Reflex, which will work if I can get a basin and ice together in a way I can dunk my face (splashing and cold compresses do not work for me), but I am not capable of making that happen by myself. If my husband is here he knows what to do to set it up.

[Content warning: vomit]

Eventually I will have to get to the bathroom because I become increasingly nauseated and my guts also start grumbling in a threatening way. If I am very lucky I will throw up, which stops the panic attack instantly as my body diverts resources to that whole process. Unfortunately nothing I try to make the puking happen sooner will work, I have to wait until it is time. I used to take a couple of chewable Children's Benadryls at the start as a ward against my imaginary allergic reaction and to chill me out, but it has the side effect of being anti-emetic and that's the opposite of what I want, so I don't do that anymore.

I am vaguely functional after it is over, like my hands aren't shaking and I have had to drive sometimes to get home from wherever I was and that was okay, but I do need a couple hours' nap afterwards and I'm not super useful until the next day.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:28 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]

I don't get them often but they usually manifest as racing heart, shortness of breath, sometimes dizziness, sometimes overall muscle tension. I got them every afternoon for a couple of months until I figured out the med I was on was causing them. Fun times. I have also gotten them while sitting at my computer doing nothing obviously stressful, and, the very first time, lying in bed reading a perfectly nice book and otherwise having a perfectly nice evening. (Fortunately, my mom the therapist recognized what was happening and talked me through it, because I thought I was having some severe physical crisis.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:29 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]

Apparently Lyn Never and I are the same person, because that description fits my experiences to a T (although the stomach stuff doesn't always resolve it right away so much as slow things down so the adrenaline fades away). I didn't know cold water triggered a reflex but sitting in a cool shower is my go-to for recovering.
posted by brilliantine at 11:35 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]

I go the complete other way - dissociative attacks that lower my body temperature, make sound feel like I'm underwater, sometimes everything goes a bit dim and blurry. Every single action suddenly takes five times as much effort, and I can't bring my thoughts together. I'm usually able to function on autopilot, but my reaction times are shot and I can't concentrate on solo tasks, though I respond when people talk to me. Usually this whole thing happens once a sharp stressor is taken away - getting back from the dentist is super fun, at least I know I shouldn't drive.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:41 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]

For me, the physical symptoms of a panic attack are almost always accompanied with an overriding emotional feeling of “death is imminent, I am going to die NOW” even if I am able to rationalize and realize that the panic attack is happening.

They’re pretty shitty!
posted by furnace.heart at 11:41 AM on February 23 [9 favorites]

Mammalian Dive Reflex reference for anyone who wants to keep that in their back pocket for the next time. I know people who can make it work with their hands or even just wrists with a cold enough tap, but it doesn't help me unless it's my face and ice water. I can only do 15-second dunks but I try to do 3-4 of them in pretty quick succession.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on February 23 [6 favorites]

I don't have them so much anymore, but when I did, it was typically in groups of people, and I could tell it was creeping up on me because my senses would get... weird. I'd be increasingly sensitive to noises and lights, and increasingly aware that I wasn't saying anything, or nobody was talking to me, and my pulse was racing weirdly, and it would just pile up and pile up and I couldn't stop it and I absolutely had to leave. I could hide in a bathroom stall (small, quiet, protected) if I had to, but often I'd just flee. I think maybe it gave me a slight sense of control to feel like I was walking/burning it off, though I'd feel like I had to go and go and go and I'd often be quite far away by the time I felt like I had much of a say over it. I'd feel shaky and weird for a while after.

Once I was in a large group training/seminar at work, where I was desperately hoping we wouldn't have to break into small groups or do any role-playing or be singled out in any way; to my relief, we did not, but then at the end of the meeting the presenter asked us to stand up and turn to the person to our left and massage their shoulders and the surge of panic was incredible. I spent half an hour shaking in the bathroom of a building I'd never been in before halfway across campus. It's just a white-out in my brain.

It's possible these weren't proper panic attacks; I tended to call mine anxiety attacks because I don't literally think I'm having a heart attack, which seems to be very common in panic attacks.
posted by kite at 11:44 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]

Usually some combination of several of the following: feeling mentally overwhelmed and panicky, hot and flushed (particularly the face and neck), sudden sweating, heart pounding (not just fast but stronger), shortness of breath, dizziness. It's not just panic (adrenaline) for me but also a feeling of claustrophobia and even hopelessness on top of that. Controlled breathing, like what one does when meditating (if possible), helps it pass more quickly than it might otherwise resolve itself. Afterward I might feel like I want to do something physical, like go for a brisk walk or pace in an agitated way, or (less healthily) binge eat / drink.
posted by aught at 11:45 AM on February 23

For me it's nausea like when you've had waaaay too much coffee and it's making you feel ill in the pit of your stomach. Plus shaking and waves of disassociation. It's a lot like coming down from a really bad acid trip.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:53 AM on February 23

I had one, once, when learning to drive as an adult (an activity that gives me much anxiety). We'd pulled over into a layby so I could switch into the driving seat and try pulling out onto a road. It wasn't very busy but it was a fast road, and it came on before I knew what was happening: I sat in the drivers seat, did all the adjustments, looked out at the road to judge the traffic and the next thing I know tears are rolling down my face, I am hyperventilating and choking, my hands are slick with sweat and I'm shaking all over uncontrollably, and I am so scared, just so inexplicably confused and scared and I am almost out of body thinking "what is happening, how did this happen, how did this start" and I have no control of anything. My partner was saying over and over that it was ok, I was safe, I didn't have to drive, and it passed off almost as quickly as it came on, leaving me feeling shaken and hungover.

ps: I bought an automatic and have never had an attack since. Stick, UGH.
posted by AFII at 11:59 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]

just one bad one 4 years ago. Way too much happening in life, felt nauseous at work, went home. Called online medical number, told them my symptoms, and they said "sir, please hang up the phone and call 911" which did the opposite of stopping my panic attack. I live out in the country, and was afraid the ambulance wouldn't find me, so I headed to my neighbor. He saw me in the Ring camera, but I couldn't hear anything he said to me, and then I wandered off and passed out. By the time I was almost to the hospital, in an ambulance, I was finally feeling a little better and was able to talk with the medic, but didn't remember much about my neighbor helping me, and everyone telling me I probably wasn't having a heart attack. I'm not a doctor, so super rapid heart rate (tracked on my fitbit as a great cardio workout) without sharp pains and hyperventilating felt like a heart attack to me. I thought I was dying, couldn't understand what people were saying, remember being moved inside--the transition from light to dark--remember someone taking off my shoes. Apparently I said heart attacks run in the family, over and over again. Came home from the hospital in those grippy socks they give you. The next day I felt like i'd been run over by a truck.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:17 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]

When I had one over an extremely stressful event at work, it caught me at night after I had gone home. I remember feeling my heart racing, my chest aching, pangs of pain coursing through my body (adrenaline? cortisol?) from head to toe, every muscle tensed or clenched, and it was all I could do to keep from screaming out loud at the top of my lungs. But the worst part was having the same repetitive thoughts of doom and despair looping over and over again breakneck speed. It felt like there was a runaway train in my head, and I couldn't interrupt the thoughts or think about anything else even for a second. It was so unbearable that I seriously considered flinging myself off the balcony. It was agony.
posted by keep it under cover at 1:52 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]

When I have had a panic attack, it has felt like a purely physical experience rather than something mental. For me, it comes on suddenly, when I'm in the middle of something else. While they seem to occur during seasons in my life in which I feel depressed or unhappy or anxious, my panic attacks aren't directly precipitated by feeling acutely anxious: rather, they generally happen some time after I've been feeling anxious - maybe a few hours, or the next day, after the acute anxiety has lulled. I interpret it as my body crying out to my conscious self in an effort to make sure I'm aware of the stress and unhappiness it has been carrying. The first time it happened in the afternoon, right when we had moved to a new city, and we were about to sign a lease: I had dreaded moving, but had resigned myself to it, and while I'd been feeling upset about it the day before, I wasn't feeling particularly anxious at that particular moment. From that moment onwards I started having panic attacks every month or two, apparently randomly. They've woken me up from sleep; they've come on suddenly while I was driving, which was terrifying; they've happened when I've been cooking; and they've also come on when I've been out on a walk.

The experience feels cardiac to me. I'm EMT-trained, so the first time when I was surprised with one, I knew it was super unlikely to be cardiac as I'm young and have basically anti-risk factors, so I pegged it as a panic attack, but it did feel cardiac. The most salient sensation for me is chest tightness and pain, which is how it starts. I feel like I can't breathe, like my central chest is constricting and squeezing. It's accompanied by an adrenaline rush (fight or flight), as I feel suddenly caffeinated and tingly and shaky and emotional. I usually start crying, totally outside my control, partly because of the adrenaline and partly because of the pain. While it's happening, my breathing speeds up and gets shallow, and I have to struggle consciously to take deep slow rhythmic breaths. It's still a deeply intense and unpleasant experience, even though I know that it's just a panic attack and it will be over soon. As xingcat says, I find that the best/only thing to do after onset is to let the panic attack wash over me and then roll away. It lasts maybe 10 minutes, and I'm left feeling like I've just had some combination of huge emotional confrontation and too intense cardio workout - shaky, exhausted while feeling unpleasantly worked up, headachy, dizzy, somewhat nauseous. The best way to dissipate all this for me is something physical - ideally, a walk and then a massage (if my husband will oblige me).
posted by ClaireBear at 2:08 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]

Oh this is really interesting! I'd sort of assumed everyone else's were a lot like mine, but there's such a spread of answers here. I hope my answer isn't too long, I just realise now that I've never actually articulated what they're like to anybody before.

My panic attacks followed a very similar pattern for about twenty years, and would only hit when out of my home, either in a public place or at work or in someone else's house maybe. They were always very, very physical. You know that feeling you get when maybe you've eaten something dodgy without realising, and then this feeling starts to wash over you and it starts to dawn on you that you're about to have to find a bathroom stat, and the adrenaline starts pumping and your eyes widen a little and you're in a public place and everyone is watching you and what if you can't make it?! That rising sense of... oh god... oh GOD... OH GOD, accompanied by the feeling of the strong need to act normal. The actual physical need isn't there for me (thank goodness), but it very much feels like it is, and no amount of rationality or past experience will convince me otherwise. It'll be accompanied by hot and cold flushes (which are most unpleasant), and I'll get a little clammy handed, and get an aching in my lower abdomen. They're connected to shame, and being in any situation where I could potentially humiliate myself is enough to be a reliable trigger during a bad phase. I think hence why the focus on the bathroom, because it feels like the potential for ultimate shame.

When I was a teenager they used to be accompanied by depersonalisation - i.e., I'd start to feel detached from what was around me, which would also feel a little like lightheadedness. I'd often feel like I very much need to sit down now, generally when I was on public transport and there wasn't a seat available - and I'd panic at the awkwardness of asking anybody, or drawing attention to myself in any way. Feeling unable to sit down would tend to make me feel dizzier and more depersonalised.

The overwhelming emotion of them was, I need to get out of here, but can't, and I am about to catastrophically shame myself.

In the last few years though they've started finding me at home, rather than when I'm just out and about. When that happens, they're not so typically physical. It's more that my head will be chocka block with panicky thoughts that will rise and rise until I feel absolutely trapped by the circumstances of my life, with no way out (so, a different kind of feeling unable to escape). This will escalate to hyperventilation, and sometimes real, inconsolable sobbing, but has none of the sense of needing the bathroom, presumably because I have immediate access to one. It's almost impossible to "snap" myself out of it while it's happening, even though it's more clearly just a thought pattern (unlike the more physical ones before, when I wasn't actively worrying about anything to trigger it beyond being aware that now would be a really awkward time to have a panic attack), so they still end up having to run their course.

Interestingly (to me!) I've never felt any of the heart attack sensations or restricted breathing sensations that are the norm. I never had any of the sensations of imminent death, just, shame, and feeling out of control. (Which is ironic because now, with long Covid, most of the lingering respiratory symptoms and cardiac symptoms I've been pushing to get taken seriously for for almost a year get repeatedly dismissed by medical professionals as anxiety, much to my chagrin. But that's an aside; my bitterness is showing.)
posted by FifteenShocks at 2:26 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]

As you'll have gathered by the various responses, it varies from person to person to some degree. I've read it described as liquid fear injected into the body, and that metaphor makes sense to me based on my experience of panic attacks. For me, it's a sudden onset of extreme fear. My heart speeds up, my breathing becomes shallow, and it is difficult to take deep breaths without concentrating really hard on doing so, and I feel claustrophobic and as if nothing is going to be okay ever again--a feeling of total doom. My brain slows down, and it feels as if my vision can only focus on one thing at a time. Generally, there's an elevated sensory situation where every sound is louder, every movement is slower, and I can't think clearly. I feel extremely claustrophobic (outside of panic attacks, claustrophobia is not a problem for me typically), and I usually end up sobbing. The first time I had a panic attack and didn't know what a panic attack was, I thought I was having a stroke.

I can't readily find it, but the NYT also had an article at some point in the past 5 years or so where people described their various experiences of anxiety and panic.
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 2:26 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]

I keenly remembering it being very physical - a bit like the classic 'heart attack' style mentioned above. It would begin, seemingly at random, with a slam of adrenaline and my heart getting louder and faster followed by acute but unplaceable fear. It was like the terror of waking from a nightmare very quickly, but rather than fading it would cycle and amplify - everything became louder, brighter and my vision became distorted. I absolutely thought I was about to die the first few times. I remember once crawling into a friend's room at college because I was so dizzy, and I couldn't talk because my teeth were chattering so much.

After a few trips to the emergency room I eventually recognised the juddering in my chest as the starting sign. I learned how to breathe through it enough to short whatever circuit had been triggered, before things escalated.

I still have anxiety but haven't had a full-blown panic attack like that in years, it was such a specific sensation.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:30 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]

To clarify the above: 'seemingly at random' at the time, but looking back it was when I was most tired and stressed.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:37 PM on February 23

For me, the physical symptoms of a panic attack are almost always accompanied with an overriding emotional feeling of “death is imminent, I am going to die NOW” even if I am able to rationalize and realize that the panic attack is happening.

I had them a lot as a kid when I had neglectful parents. I'd basically go to bed and then lie there thinking "Something is wrong, I can't breathe right. Something is happening. I am CLEARLY DYING. I am not getting enough air. OK I need to tell someone I am dying I can't just quietly expire...." and I'd go climb into bed with my mom (I was maybe seven or eight) and would have some semblance of "Okay, at least if I die someone will know"

They were just bad and kind of hard to explain/relate to afterwards because they felt SO MUCH like a physical thing, like there wasn't something wrong with what was happening at that point in time, I just started to flail for no obvious (at the time) reason. As an adult, I rarely have them, though I do manage an anxiety disorder. The few times I've had panic attacks there is very clearly an "OK I am clearly DYING RIGHT NOW" because of that weird feeling that is like a sudden adrenaline rush but unlike, y'know, actual adrenaline like being scared or being on a roller coaster, it doesn't slowly drain away, just stays there being like HEY DO SOMETHING.

I had a friend who got more textbook panic attacks and it was all, for him, about worrying in advance about being stuck somewhere and in a shame-inducing situation like "What if I get on the bus and I have to pee WHAT THEN??" Mine also have to do with being stuck but more like "What if I can't get out of this situation (event I am not enjoying, work commitment I do not like, person starts talking about a thing that I find triggering or upsetting) WHAT THEN???" but I've gotten better at recognizing these before they get too far gone, as well as have access to therapy, medication and exercise when I need them, so I have them much less frequently now.
posted by jessamyn at 3:44 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]

Here's a tip: a portable blood pressure monitor can be handy.

We had a panic attack situation that seemed like a heart attack: sudden chest pain, disorientation. After the Emerg nurse took a pressure reading and then wandered away to do something else, we figured it was not as big a deal.
posted by ovvl at 3:49 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]

I had acute panic attacks every weekday until I started on Paxil.

Symptoms were mild vertigo, derealization (if you've ever been way too high and in a situation where you had to act normal, kind of like this), pounding heartbeat at first. Then basically my brain started throwing everything it could at me to say "you're dying, NOW!" Tingling in left arm, rushing in ears, confusion, extreme fatigue (with a side of "don't close your eyes or you'll die"). And always, as others have said, with a general impending sense of doom.

I never had them at home, and the triggers were weird (being in a place with high-bay style ceilings; eating crunchy food like chips, for some damn reason.) Anyway, I can chat about it now because Paxil just completely killed it with no problematic side effects in my case.
posted by ftm at 3:51 PM on February 23

I forgot to say where and when panic attacks happen - for me, they only happen when I am in extremely stressful life stretches, like transitions I am feeling very anxious about, for example, and since getting on SSRIs I hardly ever have them anymore (though they do still happen from time to time). When they do happen, it's guaranteed to be at a totally random time within the day and a totally random place, and they can either have a trigger or not. Once when I was in school several years ago I realized at the beginning of a class that I had done the wrong reading, and that triggered it. Made no sense since there were no consequences whatsoever to my having done the wrong reading (just do it later, right? I didn't even have to actively participate in class), but it was at a time in my life when I was feeling very, very stressed out by a major life transition and a few significant personal problems. Other times they've come on at very random times - on a date with a boyfriend when nothing bad was happening (but again, during more broadly stressful periods of life), while working but not experiencing anything especially stressful at work, etc.
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 6:54 PM on February 23

I have similar experiences to kite. Too many people talking at once, or too much noise generally, or being in a group and feeling conspicuous in my non-participation, or getting something wrong in front of other people, and the inside of my brain just bleaches out or tangles up with panic and I can't think any more and I just have to get AWAY AWAY AWAY as fast as I possibly can to somewhere quiet and hidden and alone. And then it subsides very quickly and I feel shaky and washed out, and often rather sad and ashamed, but calm.

What's going on in my brain is definitely panic, and it certainly attacks, but I agree with kite that it doesn't seem to be what people mean when they talk about a panic attack. It doesn't come out of nowhere (the triggers are predictable) and although there's certainly stuff going on in my body (way too much adrenalin), it's what's happening in my brain that I notice.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:59 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]

An anxiety attack, for me, is a lot like the feeling I had as a kid when I knew I was in trouble. There's usually something mental happening to provoke it (i.e., I'm worried about something) but sometimes it just pops up. I can provoke anxiety in myself by thinking about certain topics or events, and sometimes I can reduce/eliminate the anxiety by thinking about it logically.

A panic attack, otoh, is feeling like I have done something incredibly awful - murdered someone, say - but without anything going on in my brain. I am in danger! I am dying! I am being hunted down! It's purely a physical reaction for me and I can't think my way into, or out of, a panic attack. It is overwhelming physically and mentally, it blocks out everything around me.

During the daytime, a panic attack for me starts with the feeling that I can't quite take in enough air - a bit light-headed and a tight feeling in my chest. I start to feel faint. Sometimes I can stop it if I notice this happening but often, nope. All of my muscles become tight and they kind of feel like they're vibrating. If I 'unclench' they immediately clench back up. I sometimes start to shiver (feel really cold) or get very hot and clammy. I'll feel my stomach start to turn loops and I'll often get nauseated. I always feel an overwhelming need to escape myself - which is obviously impossible - just a very strong "gotta get away" feeling that I can't do anything about/with. It feels like being surrounded by, and like I'm coated in, white static - all sounds fade into a static noise and all physical sensations feel like low-level electrical shocks. I recognize all of this as panic now, and have for years, but it's still awful to have to wait it out. I have been told that people around me don't notice it - and I don't usually tell people it's happening because often their attempts to help just make things worse. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and often comes in waves - huge crash of panic followed by a slight remission followed by another crash.. etc.

At night, I wake up with all of the above symptoms at top volume already. No ramp-up. Just BAM! HELLO! PANIC! Usually my heart is pounding and I can't seem to slow it down (which then makes me worry that I'm having cardiac issues, which loops up the panic even more - fun!) Night is hardest because there are no distractions and all the symptoms feel more intense as a result. I often lie there waiting for what I am certain is my impending death. It suuuuucks. The only good part is that I'm by myself when I wake up with one (my husband is asleep) so I don't feel like I have to hold myself together at all.

Panic attacks leave me with low-level anxiety for a few days (usually) and almost always super tired and emotional.
posted by VioletU at 3:39 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]

To avoid the edit - like a lot of people, my first panic attack sent me to the hospital because I was obviously dying. Once I knew it was panic, and before I had any meds for it, the sensations were so overwhelming that I remember thinking that I'd rather kill myself than live with it for any longer. I was just so terrified that it would never end (and, of course, that fear led to looping panic attacks that, no exaggeration, lasted almost a month, nearly non-stop.) It was the worst thing I had ever experienced (and still is).
posted by VioletU at 3:45 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]

I don’t have them as a regular thing but I have definitely had panic attacks. A memorable one was the day they called the election for Biden. I had just moved but I dropped my unpacking to go walk around the city and see how people were celebrating.. When I came back I tried to tackle the mess in the basement. All of a sudden, I got dizzy, couldn’t pick up boxes, couldn’t get a good lungful of air, and my heart started racing. Everything in my body told me to STOP. So I did, but I couldn’t get my heart rate down for a long time even with deep breathing and a good hug from my husband. A couple of other people told me they had something similar happen to them that day. The words “emotional hangover” were used but it very much included physical symptoms. It was weird, because I was SO happy and relieved that day, but it was like my body still had to deal with the craziness of the prior week of not knowing who won the election.

Other panic attacks have been more of a slow burn. I get worried about something and my brain just latches on and won’t let go. I get restless and my heart rate spikes over and over again. I wear a Fitbit and it tells me I’ve been in the “fat burn zone” for 8 hours on a day that I haven’t left my desk.
posted by jschu at 5:12 PM on February 24

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