What happens in the body during a panic attack?

Panic attacks are triggered when our brains perceive a threat. Usually when a panic attack is occurring, there is no actual current threat to you but the body nevertheless behaves as if it is in crisis and needs to protect you. During a panic attack, your body has a surge of adrenalin to set you up for fight or flight mode but because there is no actual threat to run from, the body is just bombarded with a host of very unpleasant anxiety symptoms. So what does a panic attack feel like? While the experience can differ from person to person, below is a personal account of various panic attack episodes.

girl with hands on head representing a panic attack


It usually comes on suddenly and often seemingly out of nowhere. It can feel as though you can’t quite fully catch your breath. The harder you try to breathe in enough air, the less air it feels like you’re actually breathing in. In many ways it can feel as if your lungs are failing you when in reality you are breathing just fine. I have often measured my oxygen saturation and it almost always shows up as 100% even when it literally feels like I am not getting in any air.

Am i having a heart attack?

Your heart can beat extremely fast and you can often hear it pounding loudly in your chest. It is very alarming to be sitting still and suddenly have your heart burst into a loud and rapid rhythm for no apparent reason. Quite simply, it can often feel as though you might be having a heart attack, especially if you’re also having chest pain, which is not uncommon for panic attacks. Many people often find themselves in the emergency room with cardiac symptoms which turn out to be panic attacks.

A Mixture of unpleasant symptoms

Along with a racing heart, your stomach could get a sinking feeling along with a cold sensation running through your body. You might even start to shiver uncontrollably and the next thing you might notice is that you have broken out into a full on sweat. Sometimes you might feel as though reality around you is slipping away. It can be a strange feeling of dizziness combined with a loss of sensation of your surroundings. It can also feel as though you’re falling asleep into a darkness and you can’t stop yourself.

Lastly, it might feel as though you are choking or are unable to swallow. Your throat might become very dry and sometimes it actually does become hard to swallow. Your mind can become very fuzzy and it might be hard to “think straight”.

There is hope

The most important thing to remember is that while all of this feels absolutely terrifying, you are not actually in a medical crisis, you are able to breathe and swallow just fine and your heart rate will eventually return to a normal rate. If any of this sounds familiar and medical issues have been ruled out, you do not have to suffer alone. Panic attack treatment can help. Contact us today.

For some immediate tips for how to cope with a panic attack when it’s happening, check out this helpful article.

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