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What My Panic Attacks Feel Like

At first, little things trigger my anxiety more and more. My senses heighten. My mind and body go on full alert. I feel chilled, though my face is flushed. I feel like a deer caught in headlights, overwhelmed by the blinding lights of a situation I’m trapped in.

My body is frozen in place, but ready to flee. My thoughts curdle and scatter in a million directions. I hear an alert sounding in my head. Danger, danger! Escape, escape!

I become hypersensitive to sounds, movements, voices, darkness and light. Everything feels too close and too loud. Words people say jump out at me. Small movements people make feel like assaults against me. When people come close to me I jump back, startled.

Everything begins to fade to black. I am overwhelmed by everything around me, but I feel very alone, lost inside my body.

My chest constricts. I feel a weight pressing against my chest, preventing me from breathing correctly. My heart pounds wildly. My breathing is sharp and shallow. I gasp for air, as if I were drowning.

I feel light-headed and dizzy. Everything around me starts to spin. I feel disconnected from my body for a moment. The world feels painfully loud, bright and dissonant. I feel trapped and overwhelmed by the world, yet separate from it since I feel so different. I see so many colors at once, so many people talking at the same time. My rapid heartbeats and shallow breaths sound very loud to me, as if they echo throughout the room. I am aware of too much at once, and then suddenly only aware of my own head, my own body, my own attempts to survive this crisis.

The world stops behaving normally. It seems to freeze for a moment, and then start again at different speeds, at different volumes. People’s faces seem distorted, movements exaggerated and strange. For a moment, my heart beating seems louder than anything else in the room, and I feel like everyone is looking at me. But then, the world seems extremely loud, and me silent and ignored.

I realize I need to leave in order to survive this attack. I instinctively cover my face and head and go. I leave quickly, trying not to catch anyone’s eye. Outside, I take large, shuddering gasps of air. My body relaxes and I start to feel safe again. I sit somewhere, overwhelmed, as the blood rushes back into my head and the weight lifts off of my chest. I gasp for air again and again. Air never tasted so sweet as in that moment.

Then I find a place I can relax for a while and be alone. It takes time to heal from a panic attack. It usually takes me a few hours. I rest. I practice my breathing exercises and muscle relaxation exercises. Eventually I recover, and am ready to come back to the world again.

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Thinkstock photo via khiria.