For the millions of American adults who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders, panic attacks may be one of the most prevalent and persistent symptoms. And while the experience of a panic attack is different for each individual, there is one universal truth for all who suffer from them: They’re terrifying.
“When someone suffers from one of these disorders, it’s completely debilitating,” Todd Farchione, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “Partly just because people recognize that what they’re experiencing is irrational, but they’ve learned to respond in a certain way in those situations so it’s a natural response to those experiences. It can be frightening.”
Perhaps one of the worst parts of panic attacks is the uncertainty of their appearance. They can occur at any time — even in your sleep. The fear-inducing experience peaks around 10 minutes, but the exhausting physical symptoms can extend far beyond that.
In an effort to understand what it’s really like to suffer from these conditions, we invited our Twitter and Facebook communities to explain what a panic attack physically feel like. We selected a few of their descriptions and illustrated them below:
“Mine are like I can’t stand up, I can’t speak. All I feel is an intense amount of pain all over, like something is just squeezing me into this little ball. If it is really bad I can’t breathe, I start to hyperventilate and I throw up.”
“At their worst, you can be thrown to the ground and totally unable to function. It feels like a terrorist attack or being chased by dinosaurs — yet while you want to run for your life, you can’t.”
“My body feels tingly and I get dizzy. I feel like ice is running through my veins. I want to run away from my body but I can’t, of course. Shallow breathing. Heart racing. Total panic.”
“It feels like every wall is closing in towards me; like I can’t see straight and my vision suddenly becomes spotty. Tunnel vision describes it perfectly.”
“Like taking off, except the engine that lifts you up is the fear and you cannot tell it to go away. [It feels like a] rollercoaster ride and an adrenalin high, but you’re seated.”
“It feels like being trapped and suffocated as if the building was on fire with no escape. It feels urgent and frightening.”
“It feels like my throat is being choked. My arms start tingling because I’m breathing shallowly and not getting enough oxygen, which of course panics me more.”
“It feels like I need to escape, get out and run because if I don’t, I might die.”
“They feel like all of a sudden, everything around you is looking at you, feeling you, sucking the air out of you, pulling the ground from beneath you.”
“[The] first time I thought I was having a stroke, my face went numb after [the feeling of] pins and needles.”