Anatomy of a Panic Attack

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The following information is presented according to Summer. I am not a physician, nor do I claim to have any answers. Always seek the advice of a medical professional if you think you are struggling with any ailments

A panic attack is defined as the abrupt onset of intense fear that reaches a peak within a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

* a feeling of imminent danger or doom
* the need to escape
* heart palpitations
* sweating
* trembling
* shortness of breath or
a smothering feeling
* a feeling of choking
* chest pain or discomfort
* nausea or abdominal discomfort
* dizziness or lightheadedness
* a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization (like an out of body experience)
* a fear of losing control or “going crazy”
* a fear of dying
* tingling sensation
* chills or heat flush

Panic attacks often occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep, which I've had happen.

There are two aspects of a panic attack. The physical and the emotional. Either one can show up first or they can show up together. Usually, if the physical symptoms present first, then I can keep myself emotionally under control. I can realize that my body is having a panic attack or “fight or flight” response, and therefore not get, well, panicked that something is horribly wrong. That doesn’t always mean I can stop the physical symptoms right away, but I won’t aggravate them further with fear about what could be happening.

When the emotional symptoms present first, it’s a lot harder for me to realize I’m having a panic attack, therefore easier to panic and swirl into a downward spiral of negative thoughts.

I had a beast of a panic attack Wednesday evening, the likes of which I haven’t had for about 18 months. I honestly think it was some depressing thoughts that triggered it this time, due to the book I had just finished, The Giver. I’ve never read that book before and as it unfolded I became more and more horrified at the society that was represented and the things people were doing. I got waaaay to into it you might say and put it down feeling very depressed.

Depressing thought led to depressing thought and somehow I found myself scrutinizing my own behavior, focusing on every negative aspect of my mothering and suddenly things became very wrong. I began crying uncontrollably and feeling an awful sense of doom. I felt intensely depressed and intensely afraid that I would do something to myself because of it. I called a friend to get some perspective but she (well meaning though she was) brought up some things that made me more terrified of what could happen because of the way I was feeling. I was also terrified that I would feel that way forever, become a basket case and not be able to be there for my family. My mind raced through every possible reason why I might be feeling this way so strongly and so suddenly. Not coming up with any answers made me panic even more.

I hung up and sat at the dinner table, sobbing and gasping for breath. That’s when I realized I was shaking badly. And suddenly I knew what was happening. With the knowledge came the will to stop the sobbing, and breath. Slowly, terrorizing warmth spread through my body, but with that I knew, came the peak of the attack. And it began fading away. Leaving me to wonder, why I had been such a mess in the first place.

When you’re in the middle of a panic attack, it is nearly impossible to see clearly, to think clearly, to realize the despair you feel won’t plague you the rest of your life.

These feelings were even harder for me, because at one time a few years ago, despair and panic attacks did plague every day. My only respite was sleep, my only focus, survival. Somehow I got through. But I pray to God I never have to go through that again.


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