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21 'Warning Signs' That Let People Know They're About to Have a Panic Attack

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Like most anxiety symptoms, panic attacks come in all shapes and sizes. Many experience the “classic” panic attack symptoms — shortness of breath, racing thoughts and sweating — while others experience less well-known, but just as debilitating symptoms. But what about before a panic attack happens? Are there warning signs that let us know when panic is going to “attack?” And furthermore, is there a way to intercept a panic attack before it happens?

To answer these questions, we asked our mental health community to weigh in on the “warning signs” that let them know they are about to experience a panic attack. While it’s not always possible to stop a panic attack in its tracks, sometimes knowing the warning signs can help individuals get themselves to a safe place or slow the attack before it hits.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “The best way I could describe it is narrowing vision, like everything around me seems to just blur and I start to get dizzy.” — Nichole L.

2. “My heart races, my chest gets tight and my body just starts to shake. Then the panic attack hits. [Then I experience] hyperventilating, stuttered speech and head jerks.” — Aaron B.

3. “I can’t concentrate. It feels like I’m zoning out of everything, but I can’t control it. I feel frozen mentally, physically and emotionally. My thoughts start racing, and then usually my chest tightens. Then the panic attack starts.” — Kaylie E.

4. “My heart feels like it skips a beat and all the sudden it feels like it’s going 100 mph. I feel dizzy, and it feels like I have marbles stuffed down my throat to [the point] I can’t speak or breathe.” — Kayla B.

5. “I start to become unsettled and feel out-of-body. All my senses start to become extremely sensitive too. I kind of know my triggers now, so I’m not as manic as I have been.” — Danny C.

6. “Electricity. I get this jolt of electricity right in the center of my chest that spreads through my body. Then it gets hard to breathe and I start sweating. My heart and mind start racing. I start thinking, Oh god, I’m dying, over and over and over.” — Heather E.

7. “My mind starts getting cloudy… I experience depersonalization and feel very anxious. Finally, I start hyperventilating and crying. Then I know it’s for real, [and] later, the other symptoms start coming as well.” — Luz B.

8. “My heart starts banging out of my chest. My hands start shaking, and my hearing muffles. At that point, I know what’s coming.” — Shelby S.

9. “For me, it all starts with the sensation of trying to swallow hot coals, then shortness of breath, followed by being hunched over as I am struggling to breathe. I feel as if the ground itself wants to swallow me whole.” — Nathan H.

10. “I always know I’m about to have a panic attack when the smallest of messes get under my skin. [It] makes me feel like I’m spiraling out of control. Whether it’s my room or at work, I become obsessive about cleaning, maybe since it’s one thing I can control.” — Emily L.

11. “My chest gets really tight and it’s like there’s a huge weight sitting on my back shoulder blade area. Then it’s like I can’t catch my breath or take a deep enough breath to be able to breathe normally.” — Abigail B.

12. “For me, I start to tense up and [search] for escape routes. I completely shut down to the point I can’t even speak when I have an attack. I’ll start to hyperventilate and try to hide. My biggest warning sign is I start looking for a quick exit or a place to hide.” — Jessica E.

13. “Seeing stars is my main warning sign… Then the feeling of someone jumping on [my] back and giving [me] a massive bear hug, cutting off [my] blood flow and oxygen.” — Jake T.

14. “I get very irritated by everything.” — Rebecca L.

15. “If I’m out somewhere, I start feeling really self-conscious and nervous, like everyone is watching me and judging. My breathing starts to pick up speed until I can hardly take a breath and I start shaking my legs or fidgeting with my fingers. It just comes out of nowhere.” — Gerrie K.

16. “When I can’t count to 10 or ground myself and calm down, I know it’ll be a panic attack.” — Ashley L.

17. “I get really, really hot. And I feel like the walls are closing in on me and I try to breathe, but the air won’t enter my lungs. Then I can feel everything spinning and I try to remove myself from any situation I am in before it happens.” — Ashlyn P.

18. “I clench my jaws to the point my teeth hurt and I develop a headache. And it feels as though my insides are being rung out like wet towels. Lastly, I get a pain from my mid-back up to between my shoulder blades and [experience] painful, shallow breaths. If I catch myself clenching my jaws, I can regain control. If I get to the back pain and shallow breaths, then it’s too late to stop it. I’ll be in a full blown attack.” — Kyra H.

19. “I start to hear my heartbeat in my ears, my breath quickens and my vision narrows. It’s like my world is crashing around me and there is nothing I can do to hold it up. Truly a helpless feeling.” — Kelsey R.

20. “The ‘sense of impending doom.’ It usually comes on when I’m faced with a task I suddenly feel I can’t do — most often it’s coursework. I just sit there staring at the task in front of me, unable to even think about how I might get it done. My thoughts race and my [breathing] gets shallow, and I often have to fight back tears. That’s when I know it’s about to hit.” — Lauren C.

21. “I start to feel ‘tingly,’ especially in my hands and feet, like I have too much energy in these points that just wants to escape.” — Susan K.

What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally published: June 2, 2017
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