24 People Describe The Horrors Of Suffering A Panic Attack

Volkan Olmez
Volkan Olmez

Imagine what it feels like to lose a child in a crowded mall. Maybe he’s yours, or maybe you’re babysitting. Whatever the situation, now he’s gone. Your heart rate speeds up. Maybe you start to sweat. Panicky questions swirl around in your head: Is he OK? What if I don’t find him? What if something happens? Shallow breathes knock the wind out of you, and the room starts spinning until finally… you find him. Even after you sigh with relief, you can still feel your heart pounding in your chest.

Now imagine this happens with more intensity but randomly and seemingly without cause. This is the reality for the six million Americans who have panic disorder, an anxiety disorder that causes spontaneous panic attacks with no obvious trigger, according the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. But even those without panic disorder can experience a panic attack, and for those who do, it’s a truly scary experience.

To better understand what it feels like to have a panic attack, we asked readers to describe what it’s like. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “It’s like you’re drowning in a pool, but the people around you don’t see. They think you’re swimming like them.”

2. “Every part of your body is in overdrive. Your mind, your fears, your heartbeat, your breathing. Except there’s no brake pedal. You have to coast through until it eventually stops.”

3. “Panic attacks crash down like an avalanche.”

4. “It’s like my body is going on without me, and my brain said, ‘Nope!’”

5. “The smallest things can trigger the biggest feelings. It’s like someone lights a match and you react as if a bomb is about to go off.”

6. “It’s like an elephant sitting on your chest while you’re blindfolded and drowning.”

7. “It’s like everything inside you is building up into a gigantic tidal wave that’s going to break out of your body.”

8. “It’s like you’re stuffed into a small box and someone starts sucking out the air.”

9. “While some are loud and overt, mine are silently busy with every irrational fear colliding at once.”

10. “It feels like your mind is desperately trying to regain control of a body that has gone completely rogue. The more your mind tries to unscramble the circuits in your head, lungs and limbs, the more your body tenses, hyperventilates, panics and fights back.”

11. “It’s the feeling when someone scares you, except it doesn’t go away.”

12. “It’s like being thrown into the ocean and not knowing how to swim.”

13. “No matter how hard I breath I can’t get enough oxygen to my brain.”

14. “It’s like the sky is falling down and you’re paralyzed, unable to do anything but be scared.”

15. “Everything goes in slow motion like the movie ‘The Matrix.’ You can see and hear people, but you’ve officially entered a new physical realm. No one knows you’re there, and no one hears you.”

16. “Out of nowhere, every irrational fear becomes a mental monster that has tied you up against your will.”

17. “You feel like you need to run away from yourself.”

18. “[It’s like a] pressure cooker boiling with a lid.”

19. “It’s like a near-death experience, but you know it’s all in your head because you’re just sitting on the couch.”

20. “It’s like fireworks exploding continuously in your chest.”

21. “It’s like your heart is on fire.”

22. “Racing thoughts. Can’t breathe. Can’t think. Trapped in my skin. Frantic actions. Pacing. Curling up tight. Tight chest. I’m dying. Can’t think. Nothing makes sense. Trapped. Drowning. Hyperventilating. Finally calm. Detached. Out of sync. Exhausted.”

23. “It’s like a giant crushing your heart and lungs.”

24. “It’s like your skeleton is trying to jump out of your body.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

This story was published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.

Sarah Schuster is the mental health editor at The Mighty. She thinks every day should be a mental health day.

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