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Did I have a panic attack? What does that mean? [Anxiety Series, Part 1 of 4]

Did you feel like you were going to die? Maybe thought you were having a heart attack? Considered going to the ER? Maybe you went to the ER to get checked out? Thinking about seeing your doctor or a cardiologist?

The symptoms of panic attacks unfortunately overlap with heart attacks such as shortness of breath, vertigo, feeling outside of your body, pain in your chest, a choking feeling, unable to get enough air, pains, or pain in your chest. This certainly doesn’t help with anxiety! However MOST people will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives. MOST people! It does not mean you are crazy!

Please go to the ER if you are ever unsure if you are having a heart attack or a panic attack, best to air on the side of caution. If it is not a heart attack you will feel much better after getting the medical A-okay and sent home. Knowing that you are medically okay will help you relax enough to probably prevent this from happening. If you get checked out by doctors and are not easily soothed by this information and continue to have anxiety please make sure to read part 3 of this blog series!

Now, what exactly is a panic attack?

Here’s what happens. The body has normal sensations, such as a heart flutter, elevated heart rate, feeling some tightness in the chest, this happens to everyone at some point. This definitely happens to me if I am experiencing a lot of stress, and not in touch with how stressed I have been, then my body reacts. The figurative “pressure” becomes very literal when our bodies feel stress.

During a panic attack our mind misreads these bodily cues. It feels the heart racing and signals an alarm. You may think, “Wow I can feel my heart beat so hard, it feels so fast, is this normal, am I okay?” This causes laser focus on the bodily sensation while adding lots of antsy questions to the mix and that sends your body more alarming signals, “Whoa we are not only really stressed out but now we are in danger because the mind says so!”

This causes a bad communication cycle between the mind and body, like a mean game of ‘telephone’ if you will. Neither one is reading the situation correctly. The brain says, okay we need to release adrenaline because we are clearly in a dangerous situation (probably sitting on your couch watching tv…. or maybe at your desk at work.. very dangerous). The adrenaline is what kicks off our “fight or flight” response which is our very primitive response to recognizing danger. Guess what adrenaline is now going to do? Amp up all of your terrible symptoms! Now your heart is beating out of your throat, maybe you feel like you cant swallow or get enough air, your chest feels tight and you are sure you will probably die because that is exactly what this flood of adrenaline will make you feel like!

Since we are not in need of all that adrenaline for fighting off a bear for example and are just worried sitting down wondering what is wrong with us, you can see how this leads to bad bad things.

So again there is good news, MOST people have a panic attack at some point throughout their lives. This does NOT mean you are crazy. Anxiety is treatable and preventable with the right self care and help. Read part 4 of this series to find out what you can do to cope when you experience anxiety and preventative measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of future occurrences.

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