Shaking, Freezing, Feeling Numb: A Panic Attack

Okay, so this will be a personal post but maybe it will help someone...

Panic attacks can affect everyone and I would like to help others all the while telling you about my own experiences.
Forests have a calming effect on most people – going there always helps me.

What this post is about

If you ever had a panic attack you will know what I am talking about. If you feel like you might be having one at the moment, then maybe this will help you determine if it is the real deal. If you don’t know how a panic attack feels like but your loved ones are struggling with them then maybe, just maybe you will get a general idea on what it is like. If you are searching for a scientific explanation this isn’t for you because that is not what this post is about – it will just be me, talking about my own experience, how I deal, what helps me and what I absolutely cannot stand – it is (as always) just me rambling about my life.

Also: be aware, this post is very long but I just wanted one complex post considering all points I could think of – even though I still could write a lot more. If you are searching fore something explicit just look at the table of content to see if it’s there.

What is a panic attack?

As I said: I don’t exactly know the scientific facts, I can just talk from my experience but since reading about other’s experiences helped me a lot with getting through panic attacks that’s what I want to do. I don’t know but for me it just helps me to know I am not alone in this, there are others feeling like I do and it is not that uncommon – even though it might feel like the world is exploding all around you.

So: What’s a panic attack? Essentially a panic attack is a huge surge of panic – as the name states. You just feel extremely helpless and like you can’t do it (whatever it might be) anymore. It is that feeling when the world is crumbling all around you and you don’t know where to start fixing it. It just happens – sometimes it is a slow process building up to the explosion – the panic attack – and sometimes it happens from one moment to the other, not expected at all. A panic attack can happen to everyone – and that’s what makes them so damn scary!

What does it look like?

I get asked what a panic attack looks like from time to time but I don’t feel like I can give a general answer to that. From the outside you may not notice a difference but inside a person might be struggling very hard to keep a still face. Some of my friends – especially my boyfriend – can tell when I am feeling panicky. I go very still (because I try to calm myself down), I am just quieting down and moving all my strength to the “inner me”.

Also I might excuse myself if it happens when I am out and about – I might go to the toilet or just somewhere quiet. Often it is the environment and all that is happening around me that triggers a panic attack, so I will just search for some place quiet. When I am alone I will just sit still and don’t move a muscle – also I often go searching for my boyfriend to hug me and try to calm me down by just being there. In my case it often helps to be around someone close – not too many people though!

Who gets Panic Attacks?

As I said before: a panic attack can happen to everyone. No matter your age. No matter your origin. No matter where you are. No matter what is happening. No matter how successful or unsuccessful you are. No matter what you do. It can just happen and when it is it is essential to know how to deal with it because otherwise – and I am talking from experience – it might destroy you.

A Panic Attack – what happens?

So now we get to the more complicated part. As for this whole blogpost: this isn’t a general answer. It is just my experience and what I have been told from other’s.

How does it start?

A panic attack can happen because of so many things but most of us have some specific triggers – for me it’s everything that is out of my control, that includes riding the train, flying on a plane, but also sickness, death and car crashes. So, when a panic attack starts it is mostly because I am somehow reminded of my own mortality or that of my loved ones.

I had my first panic attack when I was 19. My lymph node on my neck was swollen and I had no idea why. I often heard that things like that can be a sign of terrible sicknesses, so I was faced with my own mortality. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about what would happen if I died now, if my life would just end and I did not achieve anything. So, I panicked.

The worst thing? The panic attack made everything worse. It made me feel more out of control than ever, it made me feel helpless, it made me feel like crap and like something was seriously wrong with me! The next day I went to the doctor’s and as it happens I just had a wound in my mouth from an operation I had on my wisdom tooth which got infected. I felt better then but still: the panic attacks haunted me since then.

Do I have or did I have a panic attack?

I can’t tell you that. I will tell you everything I know about the panic attacks happening to me – the symptoms, what it feels like, what helps me and what can trigger them. Still if you feel like you might be having a panic attack then you got to see a doctor – a psychiatrist at best. For now, you can also just text me – leave a comment, go to Instagram and dm me – and describe what is happening to you. I can’t give you a professional diagnosis but for me it always helped to have someone understand me. To have someone who knows what I am going through – that was a huge part of calming me down.

What does it feel like?

Moving on to the symptoms. There are so many and in most cases I only experience some of them – thank god! Still, I just drew up a list of what it feels like for me and what sensations I might experience.

A panic attack has a peciluar feeling to it that is hard to describe. Let's try none the less

Feeling like you can’t breathe, move and speak

One of the most difficult parts of having a panic attack for me is the feeling that I can’t move, I can’t speak, and I can’t breathe – even swallowing is hard. This might sound strange, but I feel like my body isn’t mine anymore. It is just like a husk and my mind is outside of it. I can give myself the order to move my finger and it will work but still it is just not registering in my brain.

Also I feel like I am forgetting how to do basic things – breathing, talking, swallowing – I remind myself to them but that makes it worse because I feel like I can’t. Also, I forget how to spell and if I am alone and trying to text someone it just won’t work. It is just such an abstract thing to happen and if you never experienced a panic attack it might just seem like a thing that a mad man would say.

I for myself found that it helps me to focus when someone is there with me, asking me questions. I might take a while to answer them, and that makes me more anxious at first because I feel like I can’t remember the simplest answers (like what is 1+1) but when I finally remember I see that it is just in my head, that I am not broken, that I can still think and that breathing, talking and swallowing works just fine.

Panic attack where you freeze and feel numb

Similar to what I just described, I often feel very cold – ghostly cold almost. I feel numb and like I am already dead. I can’t feel my hands, my legs, my arms. I feel like my ears, my mouth, my eyes and my nose aren’t working – even though they clearly are.

Anxious thoughts

I will always – ALWAYS – think about dying while having a panic attack, since that is the essential trigger for me and I guess it is for many people. So, I get a panic attack thinking of cancer, thinking about my plane crashing or just me dying in my sleep – even worse thinking about someone close to me dying. That last one is the worst since I got pretty good at dealing with my own mortality but I just can’t imagine myself living with someone close to me dying!

Depression

So if you are suffering of depression panic attacks might happen. When I feel especially depressed I might get those anxious thoughts – mostly like: if I die now I did not achieve anything. Since I would not say that I am really suffering from depression I am not so sure about how those two work together I can only talk from depressive periods.

What else you might feel

This is a list of feelings other people described to me (and I could relate to):

  • Feeling like you will faint at any moment
  • (Feeling like or really) vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Shaking on your whole body
  • Feeling your own heart pond really fast
  • It may feel like a stroke or a heart attack

How long does it last?

This question gets a different answer every time I get a panic attack – whilst the symptoms may differ from person to person, they are still similar, how long a panic attack lasts on the other hand is another story. For some it might just be a couple of seconds, but then it can go up to a couple of hours, even days in extremely hard situations.

When I was really stressed for a longer period of time the panic attacks returned constantly – every night I wanted to go to sleep I had to go somewhere, call someone to calm down and finally fall asleep. It was mostly the anxiety of having a panic attack that made me have one and so I got stuck in a circle. Since I removed that stress, it got normal again, but it was a long couple of weeks…

How to stop it?

I talked about that a couple of times already, but I feel like I have to sum it up – and in what better way than to make a list. So here we go:

Talk to someone
First of what really helped me calm down in the moment was talking to someone close to me. They might not understand at the moment, but you got to explain everything you are feeling – how your body might be shaking, you feel like you can’t breathe and think straight, and so on – and they will get it eventually. Just tell them you are feeling stressed out (talking about what stresses you out might be helpful – but just if you feel comfortable doing that). Tell them you are panicking and most importantly: tell them what you need! The guessing game doesn’t help either one of you!
Cuddle, talk, do whatever it takes
A good friend, your parents or maybe your significant other can be the best thing to help you deal. If you tell them to just hold you tight, to keep talking to you (i.e. asking you questions, telling you a story) or to just listen they will do that it can help you immensely. Do not be afraid to go to them and don’t be ashamed – there is nothing to be ashamed of! You are having a panic attack, they happen for a reason – they will understand!
Read forums
For me it was a relief to find out I wasn’t the only one struggling with anxiety. I spent hours reading threads in forums, talking to strangers and just watched them talk about it. If you type in panic attack into YouTube, Google, ... you will find some excellent self-help posts and videos. And you will be surprised by the amount of people struggling with panic attacks
Deal with the cause
Okay that may seem easier said than done – and yeah, it kind of is. But I saw on myself that it helped me immensely to just accept that we are all going to die one day. I have to keep reminding myself of the wonderful life I had so far and even though it would be short it would be okay to die. It is something completely different if I have a panic attack because someone else might be in danger. Then I just don’t know what to – I was in that situation a couple of days ago and I just couldn’t calm until they were in the clear. So yeah, the last point might help with that
Therapy
Okay, I say that as if I got a clue but honestly, I don’t. I am too afraid to go to therapy – mostly because my mom had some pretty shitty experiences there. So, since my panic attacks have gotten a lot better (following the previously explained steps) I never bothered to make an appointment. Still I will say that in my mind it would be the right thing to do – especially if you don’t want to confide in someone you know. Psychiatrists are taught to listen closely, and they know what might help you! So do it! Also most countries got a special hotline for panic attacks specifically or problems with your psyche in general – so that might also be a solution.

How often do they happen?

Puh, that totally depends. A panic attack might only happen once and never again – you are very lucky then. But it might also happen every time you are stressed out, every time you fly on a plane or go to a public place. If it is appearing periodically you should definitely see a therapist to get to the cause of them.

What triggers a panic attack?

Also a question I have answered before but would like to summarize. For me (and many others) a panic attack is triggered when I am out of control. That might be happening when I am on a plane, a car, a bus or even in Uni. It might also happen when I am trying to fall asleep and think about maybe never waking up again. It happens when I am sick and because of that I am reminded of how easily a human can be broken.

It also happens when I am drunk or high – that is why I keep away from any kind of drug since I was 19. A glass of wine doesn’t hurt but never more than that. If I drink and get dizzy that is another point where I don’t feel in control of myself. Also too much caffeine may have a similar effect.

Furthermore I often feel panicky when I am alone. If that’s the case it is mostly because if something happened to me there is no one there to get some help. Also, I heard people talking about having panic attacks whilst being pregnant or just before getting their period. I can’t talk to that because I haven’t experienced that but I imagine the real trigger – being out of control – might be the same.

One thing seems for sure: the trigger is always being out of control (for me).

Is a panic attack dangerous?

Yes and no. A panic attack itself will not harm you. Your body will take an eternal fear and tries to defend you against like an outside danger. That is why your heart rate goes up (adrenaline spikes), you might be sweating and so on. If you calm down your mind (and you will– don’t worry, even if it doesn’t feel that way, every panic attack stops eventually) the outer symptoms will stop too.

If you suffer from chronic diseases on the other hand a panic attack might become serious. I can’t help you with that because I don’t exactly know which diseases it affects but it for sure does for everything considering the heart. Because of the accelerating heart rate it can trigger cardiac arrest if you are prone to that – just talk to you doctor to find out if that is the case for your disease or not.

How can I help someone having a panic attack?

I talked about that too. If you know someone suffering from a panic attack comfort them in every possible way. Especially do what they say – if they want you close: hug them, if they want to talk: let them, if they want you to ask them things: ask them, and so on. Just listen to what they are saying!

Also, inform yourself. Read some articles about panic attacks, watch videos. The more you understand what is going on inside them the better you may help. Be understanding and lift them up – never make them feel bad about themselves. They might never confide in anyone again and that’s the worst thing that can happen!

If you don’t feel up to that task talk to them. Tell them your own fears (not whilst they are having an attack though) and try to convince them to see a professional or do some of the steps I listed before – you can also do them together, so you might be able to help them more the next time you are in that situation.

A word to the haters

One last thing and this is for the people who think panic attacks aren’t real, they are just a way to catch attention and we should just get over ourselves: SHUT THE HELL UP! You don’t know what it is like to feel like you might die every second from now, to fear the panic but to still have to live with that fear – you may never know and you are damn lucky for that!

I could write a whole other post about that and maybe one day I will but for now that’s enough. I hope I could help some of you – even if it may just be a little. Feel free to contact me any time – I will respond to my best ability!

I love you all and stay safe!

Signature of the author Linda

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