Is This A Panic Attack?
‘Is this a panic attack?’ is a question you may have asked yourself. I know that in the early days I certainly did. I remember very clearly my disbelief when I overheard a medical professional telling my parents that I was experiencing panic attacks.
There was a very clear idea in my young head of what a panic attack looked like. In fact, there was a girl in my class who had panic attacks and they exactly matched my expectation. Her panic attacks were visible and you could certainly hear them. She became very agitated, she would cry, she would talk very quickly and loudly about her fear of passing out (in between trying to catch her breath) and ultimately she would sink to the floor and appear to actually feint. Most of this matched exactly what I had seen on TV or read about.
In comparison what happened to me was very different. It felt more like a withdrawing inside myself. I would become very quiet, my vision would focus in and the wider world became very blurry, I felt as if I couldn’t catch my breath and my chest and tummy felt very tight and constricted – but I certainly couldn’t form words about what was happening or my fears. I certainly never passed out, I was aware of the entire thing.
How could both of these experiences have the same diagnosis? I even told myself that the doctor must have it wrong. Sometimes I believed that I must be making my illness up because it didn’t match my classmate’s symptoms.
I now know that anxiety and panic come in many different forms, and that whilst the symptoms come from the same basic reactions in the body we all experience them differently. We are all individual.
So if someone asks me ‘is this a panic attack?’ my answer will nearly always be yes.
If you are experiencing any (or all) of the wide range of symptoms of a panic attack – then yes it is a panic attack.
Responding to Danger – Fight or Flight!
Remember that your panic attack is the ultimate response to your mind perceiving danger. Or believing there is danger. It doesn’t have to be a real danger in this modern world. It can be something you read on social media, something someone says, it can be a particular place or situation.
Some of us respond to danger by having to move. Some of us stay and fight or even freeze in place.
If you are naturally an extrovert then I believe your panic attack is likely to be very open and visible. If, like me, you are more introverted then perhaps you will try to keep everything contained inside. Or perhaps not. Remember you are an individual.
You may be very aware of being unable to catch your breath, and this focus and fear that you cannot breathe will likely make it worse. Or you may not be bothered by your breathing but the feeling in your chest convinces you that you are having a heart attack.
Perhaps for you it is the tingling in your fingers and toes that you notice. Other people may never feel that.
The list of differences goes on and on and I am sure by now you are getting an idea of why my answer to the question, ‘is this a panic attack?’ is usually yes.
Does It Matter?
I would also add that other than to reassure you that you are not going mad, I don’t actually believe that the answer matters. If you are scared, and that fear is affecting your life in any way then the important thing is that we help you to let go of it. Whatever ‘it’ is.
So my main focus with all my clients is firstly to help them identify what they want to experience in their lives instead, and then to help them get there.
No matter what you call your symptoms, if it falls into the wide spectrum of anxiety and panic there is a really high chance that you can let it go.
If you want to have a chat about how to do that then please get in touch to book your initial free consultation.
Or take a look at my new book ‘No Tigers, No Lions – A Practical Guide To Mastering Your Anxiety’. It’s available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book versions. You can use it on your own as a step by step workbook, or if you prefer alongside your work with a therapist.
Brenda Cox – Cognitive Hypnotherapy in Colchester, Essex
The Tree Room, Trinity Street, Colchester