10 'Embarrassing' Symptoms of Panic Attacks We Don't Talk About
If someone asked you to name the symptoms of a panic attack, what would you say? Chances are, you’re already thinking of the common symptoms — hyperventilation, chest pain, lightheadedness — because these are the ones most clearly seen and widely spoken about. But what about the embarrassing symptoms — the ones we don’t hear about because people keep them hidden out of fear of being judged or misunderstood?
Panic attacks aren’t as obvious as many believe them to be, and everyone’s experience is different in some way. That’s why we asked our mental health community for the embarrassing symptoms they experience and believe people don’t talk about enough. Their answers were wonderfully honest and brave, and we’ve included them below. Remember: no matter how embarrassing your panic attacks symptoms might be, we promise you aren’t alone in it.
Here’s what our community had to share:
1. Poop and Gas
“Poop. My stomach gets ‘crazy’ when I panic. Sometimes I’ll throw up, but more often than not, it’s diarrhea. Nervous? Poop. Panic attack? Spend it on the toilet. Got somewhere important to go? Hope you’re not in a hurry. It happens to my mom, too. It’s like, where does it all come from? My toes?” — Ashley T.
“This is so embarrassing… but when I have a panic attack, I get really bad, immediate, violent diarrhea and/or gas. It is literally uncontrollable. I get about a 30-second warning that I need a restroom. I begin to sweat profusely and I become very intent on looking and acting as normal as possible as I try to find a restroom.” — Ashley B.
“Having gas or bad cramps. I’m sorry if I do pass gas while having a panic attack; my stomach hurts and I cramp so bad and so much during panic attacks that sometimes I have to relieve myself.” — Arden B.
“Irrational irritability. If I feel panicked, sometimes I enter fight or flight mode. At that moment, I either begin to feel angry over everything and nothing at all, or I enter flight mode: I’m like a child. Timid, quiet… I can’t express myself and simply look for a way to hide away.” — Heather M.
“For me, it’s anger. I get uncontrollably angry and lash out at the people around me. I try not to cause a scene, but it sometimes can’t be helped. It embarrasses me because it makes others uncomfortable. Plus, I feel like they all think less of me.” — Carmin R.
“Uncontrollable anger or irritability. Sometimes, my panic attack will manifest itself as a wave of anger. I’ll snap or yell or throw something. Once it’s passed, I feel so embarrassed and ashamed.” — Amanda L.
“Dissociation. I can’t remember what happens or what was said to me if someone else was there. I lose track of time. If I’m with someone and I panic and start dissociating, after I ground myself, they will ask me to answer them but I don’t even remember them asking a question. It’s frustrating and embarrassing because they don’t understand how I can just mentally retreat and, in a way, stop existing because the anxiety has taken over.” — Katherine C.
“Mine usually shows up as disassociation. I cannot focus. I’m in a sort of blurry fog. My eyes won’t even focus on someone, even if someone is talking to me. Even then, the sound is like the sound of the adults from Peanuts (Charlie Brown). I also pace or walk aimlessly (if out in public or at work) just to seem busy. Then the second anyone asks if I’m OK, if I’m not under control, I’ll burst into tears and I can’t stop.” — Grace J.
“The depersonalization and derealization are so terrifying! When, all of a sudden, for no reason you feel like you’re actually dying and at the same time it feels like a dream or like you’re about to have a stroke. So usually I am freaking out, trying not to die or lose my mind, just praying it goes away.” — Tia T.
“I completely shut down. I don’t respond to any outside stimulus, verbally or visually. I completely space out and enter my own world, and people don’t know how to react to that. It’s embarrassing when I am out of the attack later and then try to explain to them what happened. It’s usually kind of an awkward or uncomfortable conversation.” — Julie M.
4. Sudden Temperature Changes
“Experiencing anxiety in a very public place and feeling ‘hot and bothered’ — experiencing a hot flash — and wondering if I look as red in the face as I feel and if other people notice. Some people don’t understand or care how much of an impact their words and actions have on very sensitive people. People should be more understanding.” — Jessa P.
“Hot and cold flashes. I experience excessive sweating just from anxiety, so when I have a panic attack it just gets so much worse, going from too hot to too cold.” — Georgia T.
“My anxiety level has been at a constant elevated level. I am hot all the time. I will be in my car with the AC blasting. I will be cold and hot at the same time, it’s ridiculous. Sweating with chills.” — Lauren D.
5. Aversion to Touch
“My mom, my grandmother and my kid have tried to hug me or hold me and I end up screaming at them to get away because I can’t handle being touched in the midst of a panic attack. It’s humiliating and it doesn’t make my family feel much better. I would be lying if I said it hasn’t created a rift. I wish they knew I’m just irrationally afraid and in the middle of an emotional overload. It has nothing to do with a lack of love or some kind of aversion to them.” — Madeleine M.
“I had to explain to my family, in a time when I wasn’t panicking, that my nerves just get oversensitive and sometimes I can’t handle being touched. They asked how to know if they can touch me. I told them either to ask or I’ll push them off. They don’t take offense to it now. They still ask after the panic is gone if I was upset with them. But I just say, ‘Nah, my nerves just got overloaded.’ Then we hug after I’ve come down.” — Rebecca A.
6. Muscle Tension
“I get the worst muscle spasms/tension. Because of the hyperventilating, all of my extremities go numb. My fingers get twisted up. My legs wrap around each other and sometimes get stuck… My shoulders tense up so bad I’ve actually had to go to the ER to get muscle relaxers. When I would get bad panic attacks in high school, my dad would have to come to pick me up from school and massage me from head to toe because I wouldn’t be able to relax my body, even hours after my panic attack was over. All of this while not being able to talk because my entire face was too numb to move. When I had my first ever panic attack at school, my school nurse asked me if I was on drugs because I was so tensed up… it was so embarrassing.” — Katelyn G.
“When I have an especially bad panic attack, my body seizes up. My hands turn into fists I can’t open, and my legs and feet curl up. It happens in my face too. It’s pretty embarrassing. Luckily for me, I’ve only ever had this bad of an attack in the ER, but that was still embarrassing. After they medicated me and convinced me I wasn’t having a stroke, the nurse had to hang out and pry my body back open. I felt embarrassed it was so bad that even with medicine, it took like 15 minutes for the nurse to get my fingers, arms, feet and legs to unclench and no one could understand my slurring for like a half hour until my face relaxed.” — Beth H.
7. Uncontrollable Crying
“I cry uncontrollably when I have a panic attack. Part of it is fear, part of it is just adrenaline. But please don’t ask me ‘why’ I’m crying. There is no reason, and I can’t articulate anything in the middle of a panic attack.” — Jill A.
“Crying. Uncontrolled crying. Then I get embarrassed that I’m crying and cry more.” — Cindy T.
8. “Childlike” Reactions
“I rock back and forth when I have severe anxiety/anxiety attacks. I feel so childish; like sometimes, I need a warm blanket and a hug to calm me down and get me to stop. It’s super embarrassing, having people you’ve never met see you in that childlike state.” — Tara R.
“Rocking back and forth like a child. I know it makes me look childish but I feel safe when doing so.” — Victoria M.
“I always feel like I’m going to puke. I hate getting sick and I don’t want people to look at me. So, I’m afraid I’m going to get sick in front of everyone. I have to get out of the situation fast when I feel like this.” — Amanda S.
“Random, sudden vomiting. I’ve been embarrassed before by needing to run from the room because I was about to be sick.” — Kerrie W.
“One in particular — feeling nauseated/about to vomit. I literally have an irrational fear of vomiting. It’s horrendous and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” — Amanda J.
10. The Exhaustion Afterward
“Just having all your energy used up fighting something you can’t control. My worst one came during an exam (but was triggered by something unrelated to the exam), and while physically I still had the energy I’d usually have at that time of the day, it felt like I had just used an entire day’s worth trying to fight off the panic attack.” — Guthrie E.
What embarrassing symptom would you add? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash