Facing Anxiety: What a Panic Attack Feels Like


According to Beyond Blue, 1 in 3 Australians, or up to 40% of the population will experience a panic attack at some time in their life. This is an anxiety condition involving feelings of stress or fear triggered by being in a particular situation.

Different people will experience a panic attack differently and the level of severity also ranges from feeling like you are experiencing a mild breakdown to being convinced that you are about to die.

In this guide we will look more closely at what it feels like to have a panic attack, the possible symptoms you are likely to experience and steps you can take if you are having panic attacks and don’t know what to do about them.

What does a panic attack feel like?

Ask most people who have panic attacks or have had them in the past and they will tell you that one of the main fears a panic attack engenders is the fear of losing control. Your brain convinces you that you are losing control of your mind and/or body and something bad is about to happen which you can do absolutely nothing about.

This can create an overwhelming sense of panic in which your heart starts racing and you begin to experience symptoms such as nausea, chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath.

You can’t understand why this is happening to you and this increases your sense of anxiety even more and with your thoughts rushing at you like freight trains, you begin to feel like you are losing your sense of reality and identity.

There is nothing you can do, resistance is useless, you are completely trapped and the end is coming; these kind of thoughts assail you one after another until you are helpless, paralysed and completely terrified.

Fortunately, although it seems like an eternity for the sufferer, all this happens in just a short period of time and after a few minutes your brain and body begin to calm down through sheer mental and physical exhaustion.

What are the symptoms?

Although everyone’s reactions can be different, if you experience at least four of the following symptoms during your episode, you are likely to have experienced a panic attack;

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • A choking sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Hot or cold sensations
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feeling detached from yourself
  • Fear of losing your mind
  • Fear of dying

The thing about a panic attack is that you don’t experience these feelings in isolation, but are overwhelmed by them all at once, which is what makes the experience so terrifying.

What causes panic attacks?

It is believed that panic attacks are derived from the brain’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response to danger; a primitive survival mechanism left over from when our ancestors needed to be able to respond quickly in life-threatening situations such as being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers.

Today, family history, biological factors and past trauma or ongoing stress can also be contributing factors and if you are experiencing panic attacks regularly, it could mean you have an anxiety condition.

Panic attacks can also perpetuate further anxiety if the sufferer begins avoiding situations where attacks have occurred. They become trapped in what is known as a ‘panic loop’ where fear of having another attack creates a form of anxiety of its own.

What to do if you’re having panic attacks

Things you can do yourself to lessen the impact of your panic attacks on your life include adopting calming habits such as breathing techniques and yoga and meditation exercises to help relax your body and mind.

Reaching out to friends and family is also a good idea, especially when you feel like a panic attack might be imminent, as they can help to calm you when you need it most and can provide an objective viewpoint to help you keep things in perspective.

Because panic attacks are about fear of losing control, one of the most effective things you can do if you feel an attack coming on is to actually surrender to the experience. If you stop fighting it, then you’re no longer adding to the anxiety that feeds the attack and it may dissipate more quickly than would otherwise be the case.

And if you feel that taking some time out in a peaceful environment may be part of the solution to your problem, Palladium Private is a private health retreat that tailors programs to their clients’ needs in order to facilitate their rehabilitation process. To find out more about how Palladium Private compares to other services and what a health retreat can do for you, click here.