Am I having a panic attack?
Panic attacks are “an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes” (American Psychiatric Association 2013). These happen without warning and cause intense distress because you’re not sure when or where the next one will happen. It’s like you’re at their mercy. To cope, many people may start isolating themselves. They may miss work or school, avoid religious or spiritual gatherings, avoid friends, various social situations, or even avoid driving for fear that a panic attack will happen and they will either embarrass themselves or faint and crash the car.
But panic attacks can also be expected. For example, if you have a fear of heights, asking you to climb a see-through staircase outside a tall building may bring on a panic attack.
Panic attacks can happen when you’re already feeling anxious but also when you’re calm, like sleeping or relaxing. How do you know it’s a panic attack? If you have 4 or more of the following symptoms, it could be a panic attack:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Trembling or shaking
- Chills or heat sensations
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Feeling of choking
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
Something to remember, you can experience panic attacks if you have an anxiety disorder or even a depressive disorder.