This Is What A Panic Attack Actually Feels Like



Panic attacks suck. Not just a little bit. They suck big time.

I had my first one when I was 21. It was overwhelming and scary because I’d never experienced anything like it before. In fact, I got so freaked out by what was happening to me that I ended up in A&E where I got given a welcome dose of Valium.

It’s sort of become a funny story that I tell people now. Being high on Valium kind of is funny, and we should laugh at funny stuff. Because life can get too serious. But panic attacks aren’t funny. Like I said, they just suck.

And I’ve had them more regularly than I would like ever since.

It’s seemed strange to me over the years how so many people know so little about panic attacks. But then I remembered that I was one of them. Before I had my first one, I didn’t know anything about panic attacks.

So I thought I’d write something all about panic attacks and what they feel like, for me. Not because I want other people to give me any sympathy (although, come on, we all like sympathy)! But more because if like me one day one of them suddenly hits you out of the blue, I wouldn’t want you to feel as scared as I did.

People experience panic attacks differently.

I have a type of OCD that means I get panic attacks from intrusive thoughts that I start freaking out about. I also have anxiety disorder, which gives me completely different feeling panic attacks.

BUT. From talking to other people who also suffer from them, it’s kind of obvious that there are some commonalities between them all.

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Ninja Panic Attacks

When I went through CBT for my OCD, my therapist was super keen on me trying to come up with analogies to try and describe how I was feeling.

I went along with it.

I had to give a name to my OCD and I had to try and come up with weird ways to describe my panic attacks. The only way I could think of to talk about my panic attacks caused by anxiety was to liken them to ninjas. Hey, the Assassin’s Creed film had just come out and ninjas were on my mind.

As far as I know, I’ve never been targeted by ninjas. But I always imagined that if you were, you would feel it.

You know that feeling you get when you can feel someone watching you.?Their gaze staring at you. Their presence lurking, but every time you turn to see them there’s nothing there? That’s what my anxiety panic attacks start as. I can feel them, hiding, ready to pounce.

These ones are kind of horrendous because you can feel them coming on for ages before they actually jump you. You know you’re going to have a panic attack at some point, you just want it to be over with.

The amount of times I’ve sat down and screamed in my head “JUST HURRY UP AND BRING IT”.

Slap In The Face Attacks

These ones are pretty self-explanatory. It feels like getting a slap in the face; unexpected, out of the blue, and downright unnecessary.

I’ve had these panic attacks in the cinema. On the tube. Lying in bed. On a date. Over dinner with my family. Almost everywhere you can think of, I’ve probably had one.

The thing with the ninja attacks is you can feel them coming. The slap in the face attacks just suddenly hit you out of nowhere.

You’re unprepared for it, caught off guard. And they can be vicious.

What Do They Actually Feel Like?

Like I said, different people experience panic attacks differently. For me, it’s a physical AND mental experience that, like I also said, just sucks.

My breathing starts to get extremely light and fast, which makes me panic even more. Sometimes it feels like the air is too thin and I can’t breathe properly.

My mouth goes drier than any desert on the planet, and my tongue suddenly feels too big to fit in my mouth. My whole body starts clamming up, not in a way where sweat starts dripping down you. Just more of an uncomfortable clamminess that makes you feel gross.

My senses almost go into overdrive. If I’m listening to music, it suddenly seems to loud. Everything looks brighter, and your mind starts racing so fast you feel like you can’t concentrate on anything.

Then there’s the nausea. You feel like you might vomit everywhere. You never do, but you forget that in the moment. The knots in your stomach, and the anxiety, make you feel like you can’t sit still. Like you’re not in control of yourself. Like you might do something irrational.

It’s a horrible feeling to feel, not trusting yourself.

What To Remember If You Have One

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, through therapy or self-development or books or whatever, it’s that nothing is permanent.

Panic attacks can feel like they’ll never end. Anxiety can sit with you not just for hours, but for days. But it passes. Like a storm; the sun will always come back out.

I hope you never experience panic attacks, really. But if you do, just remember: you will be ok.

Mental HealthNick Arnold