If you or someone you love has or may have experienced a panic attack, you’ve probably been left with more questions than answers. Unless you’ve seen a mental health professional about the attacks, chances are you’ve only received the runaround from the medical community. You may have been told all sorts of causes for your problems: too much caffeine, too much stress, nothing at all. If you’re still not sure that what you experienced is such an attack, check the symptoms of a panic attack to see if they match up to what you or your loved one went through.
Feeling of Impending Death
What makes symptoms of a panic attack so frightening is they mimic the symptoms of life-threatening health problems, such as a heart attack. After all, we’ve all had the symptoms of a heart attack drummed into our heads thanks to the media so when we experience these types of symptoms, our first mental reaction is “I’m going to die!”
This feeling of death is hard to shake, even once the panic attack subsides. Even if you’ve had many panic attacks, you might still be wondering each time whether or not you are having an actual attack or a real health emergency.
The Flight or Fight Response Goes Haywire
Most of the symptoms of a panic attack (with the exception of the one above) come from our body’s built in flight or fight response system. Intended to prepare our bodies to survive a dangerous encounter, the system isn’t immune to malfunctioning or overreacting. No matter how scary public speaking is, for example, most of us would agree that it’s not on the caliber of coming across a lion alone on the African plains. Yet, the same system built to push into action from the latter also makes us freak out during the former.
If you’re not familiar with the inner workings of the flight or fight response system, here’s a look at some of what happens:
Heart beat starts racing to pump more blood into our limbs so we can fight or run
The redirection of blood to our limbs and extremities causes less oxygen to reach our brains and less blood to reach the stomach – the result is dizziness and “butterflies” in the stomach
As the blood rushes into the major muscle groups, it also departs from the toes and fingers causing a tingling sensation
The feeling of tightening in the lungs causes you to breathe faster to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood and thus make it more useful for the muscles during flight or fight but also makes you feel as if you are hyperventilating
Other symptoms: sweating, getting chills, having hot flashes, and getting chills
All of these experiences are symptoms of a panic attack. Coupled with an very real feeling of impending doom that paralyzes you from taking action and the realization that your feelings are irrational makes the experience even worse.
If you or someone you know has complained about the symptoms of a panic attack, you should consult a mental health professional and seek out treatment for the problem. Otherwise, they may get worse.