Panic Attack Symptoms

Beautiful anxious woman experiencing a panic attack

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 Fear

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.

Antidepressant medications for panic attack symptoms

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)

Afraid Of Your Mental Illness

Scared blonde girl hiding behind wooden door

Stranger In Your Head

Some people remember when their mental illness started while others are completely oblivious to when they first began experiencing symptoms. Some don’t even know that they have a mental illness; these are the cases with zero insight. Suffering from a mental illness is not easy and many are ashamed to even recognize their newfound reality. Many are afraid of their mental illness because they do not know how to deal with it.

Fear is a natural emotion that should be extinguished as soon as possible. The longer you allow fear to marinate within your mind, the more complicated things will get in terms of your mental illness. By being afraid of your mental illness, you are preventing yourself from taking the necessary steps required to defeat the disorder at play. That’s because fear paralyzes you, preventing you from thinking clearly and getting a grip on your mental state of mind.

It can be difficult to accept your mental illness because it can truly feel like a stranger has entered your head. Your reality may start to take a different shape because you previously never experienced any symptoms. For instance, I remember the day that I experienced my first panic attack: I was in college the day after partying and standing in line at a Chinese restaurant ready to order food.

I suddenly felt a great feeling of unease while standing in line, as if fear had engulfed my entire presence. I wasn’t sure what I was experiencing because I never thought for one second that it was something mental; a panic attack didn’t even cross my mind. But in fact, that’s exactly what I was experiencing: a full-blown panic attack at the age of 19. But rather than running out, I uncomfortably stood in that line suffering while afraid of my existence. That was the longest Chinese order I ever placed.

I eventually learned that I was in fact suffering from panic disorder: I would worry about future panic attacks after experiencing a handful in public. I was afraid of my mental illness because it seemed to rock my world (in a bad way) whenever it felt like it! I felt like I was just a bystander, observing a stranger in my mind controlling my reality. I had to go on a psychiatric medication and eventually felt much better on it. Today, I no longer take any medications and I feel great because I’ve learned to take back control of my mind.

The point is that you may be afraid of your mental illness, but you have to eventually conquer your fear and take back control of your life. You cannot allow a mental illness to push you aside like a bully controlling your mind; these bullies have to be pushed aside with therapy, medication or willpower. But sometimes willpower is not enough; therefore, you need to seek psychiatric treatment and there is no shame in that!

Are you afraid of your mental illness?

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Agoraphobia With Panic Disorder

Blonde woman sitting along window suffering from agoraphobia

Fear Of The Marketplace

Imagine being trapped in your mind, not being able to function in the physical world because your confidence is handcuffed in your unconscious world. You open your eyes early morning and a flood of thoughts come rushing in: “you cannot go to the mall today”, “you will have a panic attack if you go to lecture”, “you cannot leave your home or else you will end up in the emergency room.”

This is the mental illness known as agoraphobia or the fear of being in public places. The patient’s rational is that a public place will cause humiliation or will be difficult to escape if a panic attack occurs. Usually, a person has experienced panic attacks prior to the development of agoraphobia, but the latest classification now lists agoraphobia as an independent disorder.

Some patients with agoraphobia cannot even leave their own home; stepping out of the front door brings upon a great fear. Can you imagine their quality of life? Try to put yourself in their shoes and experience the pain, suffering and depression that they go through on a daily basis!

How about patients who also have a comorbidity such as panic disorder? They muster up the courage to leave their house and attend a feared setting, only to be bombarded with a racing heart, a sense of doom and a feeling of detachment from their body! Their 911 alarm has rung again and they must now return to their prison cell known as “home.”

The important lesson learned here is that those of us who do not experience a mental illness, must remain thankful for being able to live our lives without worry and concern. And we must always be willing to offer help to someone who is suffering from a mental illness; they need all the support that they can get to defeat their struggles and enjoy life again as we do!

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)