Understanding the Stages of a Panic Attack

Stages Panick Attack

A Panic Attack Is a Deeply Personal Experience

The truth is that no two panic attacks are alike. As individual people, we all have our own specific triggers. We draw anxiety from our individual experiences and memories. We process anxiety and manifest it differently. We all recover from them differently.

But the other truth is that when a panic attack occurs, we will all suffer the same or very similar symptoms, to varying degrees.

The Hallucination

This can be a visual or auditive, and usually occurs at the start of the attack, as part of the trigger.

Recently, while falling asleep and in a semi-conscious state, I began having realistic visions of car accidents. Multiple disasters flashed before my eyes, one at a time, like a compilation of those six second vine videos.

It can also easily occur in the midst of the mental chaos.

I once heard, while in the throws of a panic attack, the sounds of a dangerous dog running up behind me. I vividly heard his nails scraping across the pavement as he ran. I heard the chain around his neck rattling as he moved. The sound drew closer and closer, as I stood frozen.

When I forced myself to turn and face the animal, there was nothing there!

The Pain

It may feel like a rock in the pit of your stomach.

Or it may feel like a gas pocket caught beneath the diaphragm, putting pressure on your lungs. It slowly rises up through the center of your body until it settles right in the middle of your chest.

From there, the pain may begin to radiate out from your center and spread through your shoulders and arms.

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The Adrenalin Rush

The moment your brain perceives impending danger, it kicks out a rush of adrenaline. Share on X

The moment your brain perceives impending danger, it kicks out a rush of adrenaline. Your muscles receive a boost of energy to either fight against the danger or run from it (the Flight or Flight Response). Your blood flow and oxygen intake both increase.

If there is no danger, and thus no fighting or fleeing, the chemicals and their energy just build up with no release.

Your body temperature rises, and you may feel sudden wave of nausea. If you are hyperventilating, you may feel a tingling sensation in your extremities or your face, accompanied by dizziness.

Am I Having A Heart Attack?

It’s no wonder many people confuse their symptoms with those of a heart attack. This can cause the panic to intensify as you worry more about the physical symptoms and less about the emotional trigger that initiated the whole process.

Consider your health status and the circumstances prior to the attack, but if there is any doubt in your mind, don’t hesitate to call 911.

The Emotional Eruption

The anxiety that had been sitting in your chest moves higher and higher until it erupts in an explosion of emotion.

You weep uncontrollably, and your body painfully heaves, as if you were physically vomiting fear.

This is the crescendo; the culmination of every symptom you’ve experienced to this point.

The Aftermath

The worst is over, but now begins the recovery process. The chemical flood waters recede, the pressure decreases and your muscles suddenly relax, leaving your body physically exhausted.

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Your brain, however, is hyper-aware of what you’ve experienced, and is still screaming

Did anyone get the number of that bus!?

It is confused as to why it initiated the Fight or Flight Response in the absence of danger, but it is completely elated that you survived!

At the end of a panic attack, I am usually overcome with a sense of sympathy, for my own self. I want to wrap myself tightly in my own arms and say

I’m so sorry that you had to suffer through that horrific event!“.

This is when it helps to have a superhero by your side, offering their own compassion and condolence… and maybe even a high five for your strength and perseverance.

Could you be a superhero?

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