Anxiety disorders and panic attacks are extremely common issues. But not many of us feel comfortable talking about them, nor do we necessarily have all the information that we need. That’s why it’s important to understand the unexpected signs of a panic attack, because knowledge can be very powerful in these intense situations.
Panic attacks can happen to anyone, and they’re actually much more common than you’d think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.7% of U.S. adults will experience a panic disorder in any given year. A panic disorder is defined as having repeated panic attacks. And according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), women are twice as likely to have panic attacks than men are.
Recognizing the symptoms of a panic attack can be a tricky thing, because there are quite a few signals that might not even strike you as a panic attack. You don’t want to mistake these symptoms as something trivial, though, because you could end up suffering a lot longer than you need to. If you have any of these severe symptoms frequently, go talk to your doctor, because they’ll help you get the treatment you need.
Here are seven unexpected signs you’re having a panic attack, because knowing exactly what’s happening will help you feel better faster.
1You have heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
When you’re having a panic attack, you might feel like your heart rate is going crazy. This can cause extra panic, because you worry that you have some sort of heart problem. But if your racing heart comes with an emotional component of fear, anxiety, stress, etc., then it’s likely a panic attack.
2You feel dizzy or light-headed
According to the Anxiety Centre, anxiety dizziness can be a symptom of a panic attack. And that can feel very scary. Dizziness can be triggered by other physical responses to a panic attack like hyperventilating, stress, and fatigue.
3It feels like you’re having a heart attack
Any problems with your heart understandably causes immediate worry. Feeling like you might be having a heart attack is probably the scariest symptom of a panic attack, but it’s also very common. According to the ADAA, heart attacks and panic attacks share a lot of the same symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and numbness. However, simply knowing that these symptoms are a sign of a panic attack can help reduce the feelings of panic and thus the symptoms of the attack. But of course, heart attacks are serious, so when in doubt, call 911.
4You’re uncontrollably shaking
Feeling very shaky or even seeing yourself physically shaking can be triggered by your body’s fight-or-flight response. And when you’re mid-panic attack, we can totally see why your body would want you to get out of there immediately. Your hands, shoulders, and even your lips might tremble.
5It feels like you’re going to die
This might be the scariest symptom of a panic attack. Sometimes it comes in the form of feeling like you’re choking. Sometimes it’s associated with the earlier feeling of a “heart attack,” but often these feelings get so strong that they take over and convince you that your life is about to end. But this is an important thing to keep in mind when you feel this way: Even though these thoughts might be irrational, your fear can still be 100% real.
6You feel disembodied or detached from reality
This symptom might seem totally contrary to the others involved in a panic attack. Depersonalization means a person feels detached, absent of emotions, like he or she is on autopilot. If you’re in a stressful situation, and you feel yourself pulling away from the world and yourself, that may signal that you’re having a panic attack.
7Feeling really hot or so chilly that you’re shivering.
You might feel suddenly overheated and sweaty. Or you might get a sudden onset of physical chills. Rapid feelings of your body temperature changing, especially if accompanied by fear and stress, are clear signs of a panic attack.
Panic attacks are serious, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel like you’re having symptoms like these, contact your doctor. They can direct you to the kind of help that will reduce these scary symptoms. So you can have control of your panic attacks — not the other way around.