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22 Panic Attack Symptoms That Aren't Just a Pounding Heart

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When we think of panic attacks, we might think of a pounding heart or shortness of breath. But there isn’t one way to have a panic attack. Some people might not realize what they’re experiencing is a panic attack if their symptoms stray from the stereotypical.

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community to share with us some unexpected symptoms they experience during a panic attack. Because assuming everyone’s experience is the same might make those who experience panic attacks feel frustrated or invalidated. And whatever your experience is, you deserve understanding and compassion.

Here is what they had to say:

1. “Panic attacks make me feel trapped, like I’m suffocating or claustrophobic, which makes me panic even more. I feel like I need to escape wherever I am and just run away or rip my own skin off. It’s a horrible feeling.” — Amy W.

2. “I struggle with nocturnal panic disorder, so about 30 to 40 minutes after I fall asleep my panic attacks awaken me with the sensation that I’m suffocating. I wake up hyperventilating and pounding on my chest to breathe. In the seconds before I wake up I am utterly convinced I am dying. This has happened hundreds of times.” — Diane C.

3. “Intolerance to repetitive or loud noises. If I’m already freaking out, noise in general makes it a million times worse and makes me fly into a rage. Intolerance to touch — a hug is the last thing I want or need. Not really all that surprising though I guess.” — Taylor J.

4. “The scariest and worst for me is tunnel vision. The world around me looks like I’m watching a blurry TV screen. It’s fuzzy, I can’t focus and it feels like I’m spinning.” — Rachel E.

5. “Constant feeling of needing to dig or rip at my skin. I get this constant thought that somehow if I ripped all my skin off, I’d feel better? It’s like feeling too trapped or too big for your own skin all of a sudden.” — Roxy R.

6. “Extremely heightened senses! Everything is too bright, too loud, too rough and a really heightened sense of smell makes me feel sick — everything tastes like metal. My senses all become so overstimulated. Then all the other stuff kicks in: heavy chest, can’t breathe, hyperventilating, tingling hands, dizziness and light headed. Nothing makes sense. Nothing feels right.” — Claire M.

7. “Paranoia. It feels like not only is the world collapsing around me, but also that it’s personal, like everyone’s out to get me.” — Jake A.

8. “Sensitivity to anything touching my body. My favorite blanket that I usually curl up under or my cat lying on me or touching me is too much to handle. Also the feeling of being both hot and cold at the same time.” — Jess F.

9. “I sometimes get very fidgety. I have to move around, pace the floor or rock back and forth for a while. I use repetitive motion as a tool to help me calm down. It’s like my body just does it subconsciously at first until I can take over and control my own movements again.” — Courtney P.

10. “I disconnect. It may sound like an oxymoron, but depending on the trigger of the attack, my mind just sort of floats out of my body. At least, that’s the way it feels.” — Kristy H.

11. “I suddenly start pouring sweat. It comes on like I’ve walked out into a rainstorm. I also become agitated at the beginning. My skin feels like it wants to go everywhere all at once and I can’t focus on anything but what I’m feeling.” — Mikki I.

12. “I get severe pains shooting down my arms and my fingers go numb. I always get sick to my stomach, which can last for hours. I also get body tremors to the point where I can barely stand at times.” — Krista C.

13. “Nausea and vomiting. While throwing up is already unpleasant enough, I have emetophobia so nausea causes a never-ending panic cycle.” — Sabrina O.

14. “Memory loss. I just go blank. [I] don’t remember why I’m there or what I’m supposed to do. My chest starts shaking and it vibrates out to my hands and feet. Then I start to tear up because I’m angry at myself for not having better control. Body sweats, like a mist from head to toe.” — Terri A.

15. “I can’t walk right. It sounds weird, but if I’m out like at the mall and get really anxious or panicky it will sometimes feel like the floor is falling from under me. Almost like when you’re falling asleep and you jerk awake and ‘catch yourself’ for no reason.” — Kylie F.

16. “I know I’m going to have a panic attack when the room gets foggy. I feel almost like I’m looking through a dirty window at the world. That then makes my heart race and it will make my leg start to bounce. After that, my normal panic attack will set in. I’ve gotten to the point where I know if the world is looking foggy to go ahead and get somewhere where I can take a second to myself and breathe.” — Katie W.

17. “Tremors. I shake really badly and any noises freak me out worse. I feel the need to hold on to something but often times can’t grip on. The worst is I often can’t stay standing up, as my knees buckle and my balance is put off.” — Sarah M.

18. “The out of body feeling of depersonalization and derealization. Also slurring my speech, blurred vision and an overwhelming feeling I could die at any moment.” — Tia T.

19. “Everything starts to look smaller than it really is. A hand right in front of my face looks like a dolls, something across the room looks a good 50 yards away. I used to see white spots; sometimes I had to touch things around the room to make sure they were real.” — Kenna P.

20. “My muscles constrict and I get stuck in the position my attacks hit me in. As the hyperventilating continues, it feels like my muscles get so tight they’ll rip at any moment. Afterwards it feels like my body has been beaten with a baseball bat.” — Nelly J.

21. “Becoming disoriented and not knowing where I am, even if I’m on roads I take all the time. Sweating, tears and hyperventilating happen at times. I get this surge that seems to come from the ground up, but stops at my head where it can’t get out and instead builds up.” — Hannah B.

22. “Inability to speak. I go almost without words at all. I hyperventilate, furiously rubbing my palms together, and I cannot focus on anything. I completely shut down. I can no longer function.” — Lee M.

What would you add?

Getty image via Melombra76

Originally published: January 4, 2018
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