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Life During a Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack

A panic attack or anxiety attack is an intense but short-lived experience of gripping anxiety. These attacks can be severe, causing a host of miserable symptoms. While the actual attack doesn't last long, typically peaking in about 10 minutes but sometimes lasting a bit longer, the effects can continue and make life after a panic attack or anxiety attack miserable and difficult. Knowing what to expect during and after a panic attack can help you minimize and shorten the recovery time and move forward more easily and positively. 

The terms "panic attack" and "anxiety attack" are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference (see "What is a Panic Attack?"). Here, both terms are used to refer to the same general experience.  

Life During a Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack

When a panic attack strikes, it's all-consuming, completely taking you over. While specific symptoms vary from person to person and even from attack to attack in the same person, according to this HealthyPlace article, common experiences include:

  • Racing thoughts, either hyper-focused on the physical sensations of the anxiety attack or bouncing uncontrollably from worry to worry and fear to fear
  • Difficulty breathing, often to the point of hyperventilation 
  • Moderate to severe chest pain that mimics a heart attack
  • Rapid pulse and/or erratic heart rhythm
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Choking sensation, feeling like your throat is closing
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Numbness and/or tingling 
  • Derealization (the surreal sense that your surroundings aren't real)
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from yourself, feeling unreal, or feeling like you're watching yourself from above or a distance)
  • Fear that you're dying
  • Fear that you're going crazy

Life During and Right After a Panic Attack: You Might Feel Hopeless

Essentially, during a panic attack, you shut down as your body reacts to your thoughts and emotions. You are locked in extreme fight-or-flight mode for the duration of the panic attack. Because these attacks are so intense and consume so much energy, they "burn out" quickly; your body can't sustain this state of heightened alert for long. 

Unfortunately, even when your physiology returns to normal, the effects of an anxiety attack linger. Life after an attack doesn't instantly return to normal. Sometimes, it feels as though it never returns to normal. Physical symptoms of anxiety often linger, but they change from feeling wired and electrified to whole-body "wilting" as exhaustion settles over you. You might experience headaches, continued nausea or other digestive symptoms, and a vague sense that things aren't quite right. Unfortunately, anxiety continues. 

People often describe a sense of hopelessness or helplessness immediately following a panic attack. Anxious thoughts and emotions continue, and you might feel like waving the white flag of defeat and retreating to safety, somewhere away from the world. Know that this is normal. Rather than beating yourself up for having had an anxiety attack and barraging yourself with harsh, negative, critical words, give yourself a much-deserved break. Be kind to yourself. 

Approximately two to three percent of people in the United States live with panic disorder, a disorder marked by repeated panic attacks, in any given year.1 That means that anywhere from 6.6 to 9.6 million Americans have panic attacks related to this disorder every year. The number of people who experience anxiety attacks outside of panic disorder is nearly impossible to estimate as many go unreported. Still, it's safe to estimate that well over 10 million people in the U.S. experience panic attacks in a single year. That is a lot of panic and anxiety attacks.

You're not flawed if you experience them. While you may sometimes feel hopeless, you aren't truly powerless. In the next post, we'll look at life after a panic attack or anxiety attack and how to regain control. 

How are panic attacks or anxiety attacks affecting your life? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Source

  1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. "Anxiety Disorders." American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, April 23). Life During a Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/4/life-during-a-panic-attack-or-anxiety-attack



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Lizanne Corbit
April, 28 2020 at 12:39 pm

This -- "You're not flawed if you experience them. " It can be so easy for us to look at something like a panic or anxiety attack and think "flawed", "broken", "wrong", "something to be fixed".... but that only does more harm when our systems are calling out for gentleness and understanding. Seeing the numbers attached to this is particularly helpful to remove some stigma and give perspective. There are little steps and things that can be done to work with these behaviors, recognize and shift them. Thank you for sharing. Be well!

April, 29 2020 at 4:47 pm

Hi Lizanne,
Thank you for contributing to this post with your insights. It's tragic how anxiety (and other conditions, too, like depression and so many more) cause us to be harsh rather than gentle and compassionate with ourselves. And yes, so many little steps are possible and journey to positive results. No one is alone in these experiences, and no one is doomed to be stuck in them.

lucas
April, 24 2020 at 8:23 am

can anxiety cure forever ?

April, 24 2020 at 12:37 pm

Hi Lucas,
I have good and bad news. Anxiety can't be completely cured forever, because it's a normal part of human experience. It has a useful purpose, like alerting us that something isn't right in our lives and we need to make changes or keeping us motivated (a small amount of anxiety and stress can keep us alert and focused on our goals). The good news is that we can all, no matter how severe our anxiety, our personal background, etc., reduce anxiety so it doesn't get in our way, and we can learn to live well and thrive despite having some anxiety. There isn't a quick fix. Instead, it's a process of learning about yourself and your own unique anxiety, learning and trying different strategies for reducing anxiety, and being patient with yourself as the process happens over time. It can be helpful to have the support of a mental health professional either in person or online. Even though there is no permanent anxiety cure, you can expect that you can diminish your anxiety and break free from its trap.

bionaze
April, 23 2020 at 3:28 am

My brother is experiencing this. He lives alone away from the city and his job is a home-based job. He doesn't have any human interaction for so long. He always stays indoor to his apartment because he is saving money. furthermore, my big brother got anxiety. He always calls me and tries to help him just to make him calm. I was forced to visit him and stay for a few months in his apartment. I suggest my brother do a meditate and fortunately, he recovers and he can control it now. To those people who has anxiety, you can practice meditation. And try to talk with someone and do some activities with them.

April, 23 2020 at 11:24 pm

Hi Bionaze,
Thank you for sharing your insights. I, too, find that meditation is extremely helpful for anxiety. And you are correct about talking with people and being active. These things aren't easy to do when someone has anxiety, but with little steps, they are possible -- and extremely helpful. I'm glad you shared your thoughts with everyone here!

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