Description of Panic Attacks
I have suffered from panic attacks several times in my life, as I have mentioned a few times. Each time they lasted for several months and I ended up moving out of the country for a bit to travel which helped. I have not had major attacks since I moved to Germany. A few minor ones, but nothing that lasted into multiple days.
When I mention to people that I have panic attacks, they often ask what it is like. So here is a bit of a description of how I experience them.
Anatomy of an Attack
Imagine being frightened. Something immediate, like standing on the top of a building when frightened of heights or watching a dog run at you barking and baring teeth. You get frightened and your body reacts. Adrenaline flows, your heart starts to race and your palms get sweaty. In this situation, you realize that the dog is leashed and not able to get out of the yard or that there are bars to keep you from falling. Think of this feeling of fear and how it affects your body.
Now imagine you are sitting calmly at home and have the same feelings of fear with the same body reaction, but not anything concrete you can point out as a cause. The mind starts to whirl and seek out reasons. Sometimes it latches on external things, like being in the open or being alone or movies. Sometimes it turns inward and imagines all manner of diseases are causing these feelings. The mind seems to want to get rid of these feelings and needs a source to make that change. When it can’t find something specific, the mind whirls into the random and exotic.
Fear Feeds Itselt
An attack itself is a pretty frightening thing. This is especially true if this is a new thing. It felt like I was going to die. The fear of having more attacks begins to build and feed on itself. That stress itself can help cause more attacks and it builds.
Even when I was having attacks regularly, the rest of the time even outside of the attack was stressful and anxious. That feeling of not wanting the panic made me on edge. Everything blows out of proportion. Worry and anxiety go together. Everything sets me on edge and seems far worse. Creaks and groans in the house at night. Sirens in the distance. Even food coma after a big meal can set me to anxiety.
Logic has nothing to do with it
A point to notice in most of this is that the fears and reactions have nothing to do with logic. I once was in such a state that I decided to drive from my apartment to my parents place about 30 min away. I was so into an episode that I was convinced that I was having a heart attack and stopped at the fire department less than a mile from my parents where the local ambulance also parks. They did their tests and told me that I was fine. I was of course indeed ok, but it still felt so real and so frightening. About the same time I was going to the doctor regularly trying to find the source of various aches and pains that caused me to freak out. They always pointed back to stress.
All In My Head
Yes, this kind of attack is all in my head. My brain feels frightened and seeks out a cause but cannot find one. It latches onto anything convenient. This then becomes a spark for further fear.
Just because it is all in my head does not mean it is not real. The brain has immense control over the body and its reactions. As I get tired or otherwise stressed, the brain that I trained out of this to an extent falls back into old habits and the anxiety comes back. I keep battling with it and some days are better than others. Living in Germany, meditation and prayer, getting married and even working on this blog have all helped me stabilize. I will probably be dealing with things like in one form or another for the rest of my life, but I refuse to let it control me.
As a note, this is how I experience these attacks. Others may feel it differently. If you feel like this, please go see a doctor and/or therapist. These are nasty things and really ruin quality of life, though they can be treated.
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April 12, 2012 @ 8:14 pm
I totally get this… it’s something that when someone says ‘just don’t let it bother you’ you know they don’t get it at all. Sounds like you’re going pretty well though!
April 14, 2012 @ 10:51 am
Unfortunately “don’t let it bother you” is actually really good advice. It is just REALLY hard to implement.
April 9, 2012 @ 2:48 am
I use to suffer from panic attacks when I had to get up in front of a crowded room to deliver a speech. Or in this case the results from the week. At the time I was the head of a fiberglass manufacturing dept. and we had to meet every week and discuss what the newest sales figures were.
The way it was set up was that all of the heads of the other departments sat there while you had to discuss how good or how bad your dept was doing for the week.
I swear, I would literally freeze each time I had to get up there and give out my numbers. Just seemed like time was barely going by.
Everyone would be staring at you, and then you would see people whispering off to the person sitting next to them.
Couldn’t help but wonder if they were talking about me.
It just drove me crazy.
However, I did finally get over that fear.
Every morning I began to practice on my breathing.
I noticed that when I was in panic mode I was taking short shallow breaths.
After some practice (I used 10 seconds on the inhale and 10 seconds on the exhale) I began to get more control.
And thankfully today it’s not a problem anymore.
The main thing that helped me more than anything was that in my mind I knew that there was a solution.
April 12, 2012 @ 6:11 pm
Meditation is a good option as well. I have tried it a few times. Sometimes it helps sometimes it really doesn’t. My head is usually way overactive and even with meditation I can’t shut it off so easily. I have, though, started breathing deeply during the times of high stress and anxiety. In and out seems to help as it makes sure the brain can get air. I also remember that during a heart attack it is hard to breath, so when I know I can breath deeply, I can keep that from being in my head so much as my heart races.
April 8, 2012 @ 5:58 pm
Sorry to hear you have suffered from panic attacks. I’m glad that you have found ways to control/avoid them. I’ve only ever had one in my lifetime, which came on really suddenly. At the time I thought I was dying as my heart was pumping fast and I was shaking ridiculously.I had been run down with a chest infection and was a bit worried about my health, so thought there was something seriously wrong with me when took funny turn. Made me realise I needed to do everything I could to avoid stress. I haven’t had one since and hope that was it.
April 12, 2012 @ 6:08 pm
That is good to hear that you haven’t had more than one. One of my incidents started similar with a stomach ulcer that got me worried and had some nasty drugs that started the spiral. As I write, the problem seems to be the stress of the attack feeds on itself and can cause it to spiral into recurring attacks. Good that you managed the stress. I still have not gotten that fully conquered. Stress is still an enormous part of my life. Again, good on you.
April 7, 2012 @ 6:50 am
As much as I HATE that you experience this, I am always so happy to see when other people go through this. I dealt with this for almost a year of my life – I blog about it as well. One of the MOST comforting thing to a person undergoing this IS to know they are NOT alone! Keep writing and sharing your story!
Check out my blog! My story starts here: http://poynterjourney.wordpress.com/2011/06/ it talks about the ‘panic away’ videos which you can find here: http://www.youtube.com/v/OTQWEtkYsrg&fs=1&source=uds&autoplay=1 This one is specifically about flying….
But you should check out some of these techniques that helped me to ‘train’ my brain for panic attacks – pretty insightful!
April 12, 2012 @ 6:05 pm
Isn’t it great to know you are not alone? Especially with something like this that is so frightening and disorienting.
I did many years of therapy and have gotten a pretty good training into my head, but thanks for the links. I write mostly about travel and expat life, but I get into the fear stuff every so often. I’ll keep writing as it seem appropriate.
April 6, 2012 @ 11:31 pm
I’m glad you’re finding ways to help you manage the anxiety Andy and are experiencing these attacks less often. Good for you for continuing to fly even though it causes you such stress – always trying to not give in to the fear!
April 12, 2012 @ 6:02 pm
Thanks. As I think you saw on Facebook we had a really bumpy and windy flight the other day. I even tried that one without a pill and made it maybe 20 minutes into the flight before I gave in. My general life has been pretty attack/free. I still get tons of anxiety, but it has not formed into attacks that severe.