Unexpected Signs of a Panic Attack That You Probably Didn’t Know About

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Panic attacks can be frightening to experience, especially if you’re not familiar with the symptoms of one. Some symptoms and signs of panic attacks are unexpected, and you may not immediately recognize them as a panic attack.

It’s always important to get checked out by a medical professional if you are experiencing any chest pains or other panic attack symptoms, so you can rule out any other, more serious, causes. But symptoms that feel like a heart attack or another disease might actually be signs of a panic attack.

Here, we’ll go over 5 unexpected signs of a panic attack that you probably didn’t know about.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an episode of intense fear and anxiety that seemingly comes on out of nowhere. Most often, there’s no direct or apparent trigger for a panic attack, which is what makes them so frightening. Panic attacks can come on even when there is nothing happening around you. For many people, the worst part of living with panic attacks is not knowing when they will come on.

Many people just experience one or a few panic attacks in their lives. Some people, however, experience many panic attacks over the course of their lifetime. When someone experiences multiple panic attacks, and lives in fear of when the next one will come on, this is diagnosed as panic disorder.

Every year, over 1 in 10 people in the U.S. experience a panic attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack

  • Intense anxiety or fear
  • Fast, pounding heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath, or feeling like your chest is tight and you can’t breathe
  • Stomach problems, including nausea and stomach cramping
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling faint or dizzy

Related Blog: I’m Worried: Is that Normal, or Do I Have an Anxiety Disorder?

What causes panic disorder?

There isn’t one single cause that leads to a panic attack or panic disorder. Panic disorder is thought to be caused by several different factors, including:

  • A genetic predisposition (meaning that panic disorder runs in your family)
  • Being under a lot of stress, and being sensitive to stress
  • Biological changes in your brain

How is panic disorder treated?

Panic disorder is a scary disease, but fortunately, it’s treatable. Mental health professionals usually use psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both to treat panic disorder.

An evidence-based psychotherapy method called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), in particular, has been shown to be very effective for panic disorder. CBT helps people to recognize when their thoughts are causing them to feel anxious, and to challenge these thoughts. However, anti-anxiety medication can be very effective as well.

5 unexpected signs of a panic attack

Some symptoms of a panic attack, like shaking and shortness of breath, are more well-known. Others are more unexpected, but just as common. Here are 5 unexpected signs of a panic attack to watch out for.

Related Podcast: Overcoming Fear + Living in the Present

You might feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Many people who experience a panic attack for the first time think they’re having a heart attack because the chest pain is so intense. Only after they are rushed to the Emergency Room do they learn, after tests, that there’s nothing wrong with their heart -- it was a panic attack.

This doesn’t mean that you should brush off any chest pain. Always, always, always get checked by a medical professional to rule out any heart problems. However, if you have a healthy heart, then you may be experiencing panic attacks.

You feel like you’re dying.

Many people who’ve had panic attacks say that they felt so frightened that they thought they were dying. It can be incredibly scary and confusing to suddenly be hit with the intense symptoms of a panic attack -- especially if you don’t know where they’re coming from. 

Panic attacks are not life-threatening, but they can certainly feel that way when you’re in the middle of one. If you feel a sense that your life may be coming to an end, that might be a sign of a panic attack.

You feel a sense of impending doom.

It sounds like wizardry, but it’s true: many people who face life-threatening situations, like a jellyfish sting, a seizure, or a heart attack, experience a sense of impending doom before the serious symptoms come on. In other words, they can feel that something terrible and tragic is about to happen.

This is also true for some people who get panic attacks. Before the physical symptoms of a panic attack come on, you might feel the sense that something is terribly wrong. It might even make you feel like you’re about to die.

You feel detached from reality.

Some people feel completely detached or disconnected from the world around them while they’re having a panic attack. It might feel like you’re floating in space or that the world around you is not quite “real.” This is called derealization.

Derealization might cause you to have a distorted sense of space, time, or size. You might visually experience the things around you as being fuzzy. You may feel like you’re trapped in a dream (or a nightmare).

You’re afraid you’re going crazy.

Panic attacks can make you feel like you’re going crazy, especially because oftentimes, they come on with no apparent trigger. When your body starts reacting the way that it does during a panic attack, and you can’t figure out what’s making you feel this way, it’s easy to start worrying that you’re losing your mind.

If you’ve been hit with the physical symptoms of a panic attack, like trembling, sweating, or a racing heart, and you start worrying that you’re going “crazy,” 

If you experience panic attacks, it’s important that you see a mental health professional right away. With the right treatment, you can learn to manage this condition.

What Should I Do Next?

Option I: Reach out to a therapist from the directory

Option II: Catch our class replay: Decrease Feelings of Anxiety & Stress With Technology Featuring Timmesha Butler

Option III: Check out our Be Intentional - Oversized Tote

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