Millions of people all over the world experience panic attack symptoms. These occur out of the blue and involve a great sense of doom, fear and sometimes even physical symptoms. Panic attacks can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or antidepressants. Don’t be afraid to seek therapy. Would you rather take a chance with therapy and medications or continue to suffer from panic attacks while in public?
What are some Panic Attack symptoms?
The most obvious is fear. I still remember my first panic attack because the fear was insane. It was a Saturday night in Redlands, California the day after I drank a lot; typical freshman college weekend. I went to a Chinese store to order some food with a friend and while standing in line, started to experience fear. I had never just randomly experienced fear before. This time was different because there was nothing to fear besides fear itself. But then the fear started to make more sense. I was afraid of standing in line and being in the store.
Then there are the physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, lightheadedness, dizziness, tachycardia and shortness of breath. Some people also tremble. My physical symptoms weren’t as bad. I would only experience sweaty palms thankfully. But I can imagine how more intense physical symptoms can worsen the panic attacks, worrying the person into thinking that others are aware of their symptoms. For me, sweaty palms were a sign that I was getting anxious and that a panic attack was looming around the corner.
Then there are the symptoms of overthinking, a general feeling of anxiety, heightened vigilance for danger and wanting to escape your environment. Some people also get depersonalization and/or derealization. Depersonalization is when you don’t appear real in your surroundings while derealization is when your surroundings don’t appear real to you. I experienced some derealization but it wasn’t until in my late 20s. My panic attacks started when I was 20.
The worst part of the entire experience is definitely the fear. It’s like experiencing a sense of doom like something really bad is doing to happen to you. This is accompanied by the thought that others around you could be noticing you having a panic attack. This further motivates you to leave the vicinity. I don’t believe that I ever walked out of a classroom or mall (the majority of my panic attacks occurred in college lecture halls or in the mall). However, I do remember being in an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh with my mother once, and I had to get up from the table and go outside because the panic attack was too unbearable.
Lastly, the most important feature that distinguishes isolated panic attacks from panic disorder is the worrying about future panic attacks. People with isolated panic attacks have them too randomly to worry about future ones. But people with panic disorder constantly worry about future panic attacks; it becomes part of their daily thought content. This is another worrisome symptom because it can prevent you from going to places where you previously experienced panic attacks. For me, I was worried to go to the mall thinking that I would have another one. This symptom can get tricky because it can easily lead to agoraphobia, which will be discussed elsewhere.
So what do you do about them?
If you keep experiencing them, than what should you do? Honestly, what worked for me was an antidepressant called Prozac. I took about 20 mg once in the morning. Probably within six months of consistent use, my panic attacks significantly went down. The medication was like a miracle. How did I improve so much just from taking one pill every morning? The dose was low too. Prozac goes up to 80 mg. But I can’t complain. I started the medication when I was 20 and continued it until 28. I know, eight years is so long! But the problem was that I stopped taking it a few times and my panic attacks had returned.
The reason I tried to stop again at 28 was because I was ending medical school and had matched into a residency training program. I was in a good place mentally, free of panic attacks for many years and was ready to try going off the medication again. My recommendation is that you need to be in a good place in your life to try to go off an antidepressant for panic attacks. Panic attacks can be induced by drugs, alcohol, stress and genetics, so it’s important that you’re in the right state of mind when discontinuing an antidepressant. Overall, panic attack symptoms are brutal.
Have you had an experience with panic attacks?
Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)