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What It’s Like to Have a Sudden Panic Attack in Your Sleep

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Imagine being sound asleep in your warm and cozy bed on an autumn night, and suddenly waking up, sweating profusely, your heart racing and a terrifying feeling of impending doom. You are feeling disoriented as you look at your clock and realize it’s only 1 a.m. and your alarm isn’t set to go off for another four hours. You don’t know what’s wrong, but you don’t feel well. “Maybe it was a nightmare,” you tell yourself as you attempt to calm down.

You don’t want to wake up your spouse who is sleeping peacefully next to you. You start feeling claustrophobic and trapped in your bed. Your breathing becomes shallow and you continue to feel worse. Your stomach starts to turn as you make your way downstairs and head for the bathroom. Now you’re sweating even more, your muscles feel tense, it’s hard to breathe, your heart is pounding and you start to tremble and shake. You go to the bathroom while trembling and feeling completely out of sorts. Your jaw feels locked and you feel unable to speak. Your mind starts racing with intrusive thoughts: “Am I having a heart attack?” “Am I going to pass out?” “Am I going to die?” “Am I losing my mind?”

You make your way to the kitchen and manage to have a glass of water. Still shaking, you realize your hands and feet are drenched in sweat although you feel very chilled. You wonder if it’s a virus. You go into the living room and wrap yourself in a blanket. As time passes, you start to feel a little better. You notice your heart isn’t racing anymore, you’re not feeling so cold and your sweating has ceased. You look at the clock and realize that about 20 minutes have passed. Your mind is still racing with “what-if” thoughts about the terrifying physical symptoms you just experienced. You look at the clock again; more time is passing. You wonder if you’ll ever get to sleep, and you ask yourself how on earth you will possibly make it through the day ahead.

I, along with others who are plagued with anxiety and panic disorders, have personally experienced this exact scenario many times. Oftentimes, an anxiety or panic attack comes out of the blue and without warning. Some of us have an overactive nervous system, whether it’s caused by extended periods of extreme amounts of stress, genetics or environmental factors.

Please, always consult with your physician to rule out any possible physical causes for your symptoms. Anxiety and panic attacks can be related to other disorders, all of which are treatable (although they can and do present alone, with the absence of an actual physical cause more often then not). However, it is important that you rule out any physical causes.

Photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash

Originally published: July 5, 2019
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