13 Alarming Signs of a Panic Attack

Panic attacks can affect people from all walks of life. In fact, panic disorders affect about 6 million people in the United States! Despite how common panic attacks and disorders are, though, many people don’t know much about these debilitating attacks or how to deal with them.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

By learning to recognize panic attack symptoms, you can start to gain a more thorough understanding of the issue. With greater knowledge means a greater ability to deal with panic disorders.

So, what are the warning signs of a panic attack? The first might come as a surprise…

13. Exhaustion

When people think of panic attacks, exhaustion might be one of the last sensations that comes to mind. However, people who have panic attacks commonly experience exhaustion.

Exhaustion is not the same as simply feeling tired.

Many people equate exhaustion as the same feeling as simply feeling tired. But, there is quite a big difference between feeling tired and being completely exhausted.

  • Feeling tired implies that you still feel generally well and your energy levels are likely to be restored after an adequate amount of rest.
  • By contrast, exhaustion refers to feeling so tired that doing even the most basic tasks becomes nearly impossible, such as taking a shower or eating. While it may help, rest doesn’t always make it better. Some people describe exhaustion as having heavy limbs.

Why do panic attacks cause exhaustion?

During a panic attack, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are dumped into the bloodstream in large quantities. This surge in hormones is effectively the body’s “fight or flight” response, which preps the body to confront or evade a perceived threat (the trigger for the anxiety attack).

When the panic attack is over? That’s when exhaustion hits. Why? Because the fight or flight response is incredibly draining on the system. Therefore, it can leave you feeling totally exhausted.

Exhaustion isn’t the only side effect of fight or flight.

While exhaustion is certainly an unpleasant feeling, it’s not the only symptom of a panic attack that can make you feel out of sorts. If you find yourself feeling suddenly more short-tempered than usual, this next symptom may be one you need to look out for…

12. Agitation

Agitation is a more classic symptom of panic disorders and anxiety attacks. Like exhaustion, it’s also closely related to the body’s fight or flight response.

What is agitation?

When someone is feeling agitated, they may feel “off” without having an exact reason as to why they feel that way. Believe it or not, agitation can present itself in a number of ways:

  • Some people get angry and snappish.
  • Others feel like they need to flee from a particular situation.
  • Some even become excessively quiet.

Why do panic attacks cause agitation?

The short answer

Agitation is a byproduct of fight or flight hormones.

The long answer

Experiencing excessive feelings of agitation is also tied into the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When these hormones are dumped into the bloodstream, they effectively change brain chemistry. Specifically, these chemicals are associated with the fight or flight response, which means the body prepares for confronting or evading a threat. It therefore only stands to reason that someone who can do neither one will become agitated in one way or another.

Agitation can, without a doubt, make one feel irritated with even the smallest annoyances. When you aren’t feeling like yourself, these feelings can cause you to question the reality around you. If you find yourself experiencing racing thoughts and feelings of panic, this next symptom is one to keep your eye on…

11. Racing Thoughts and Feelings of Panic

A hallmark sign of a panic attack and/or panic disorder? Racing thoughts and feelings of panic.

What do racing thoughts feel like?

Some days, your mind may seem to be going at a million miles an hour, working overtime to make you over-analyze every possible scenario in the world. Even the most remote possibility suddenly begins to feel like something that is imminent.

Worse yet, when you experience racing thoughts and feelings of panic, your mind begins to create problems for you faster than you can think of solutions.

Before you know it, you may start to feel as if the whole world is closing in on you. It’s similar to the feeling described by claustrophobic individuals when speaking of being inside an enclosed space. The difference is that you feel like all of your thoughts, good and bad, are going to be turned into a reality.

Why does it happen?

When you have anxious thoughts, your brain has a tendency to make you feel as though you are losing your sanity. You tend to think of worst-case scenarios and then play them out in your head. What’s especially frustrating is the fact that racing thoughts technically serve a purpose.

In its most basic form, this thought process is supposed to be a survival technique. After all, being able to quickly perceive a threat was quite handy for our ancestors. In this case, however, the exact opposite is true. The end result of this process isn’t surviving and thriving but experiencing frequent panic attacks.

Panic attacks can cause physical symptoms, too.

It’s clear that racing thoughts and feelings of panic aren’t exactly the most pleasant experiences. While there are many symptoms of a panic attack that can occur within your mind, there are also physical symptoms to look out for, such as the following…

10. Changes in Body Temperature

Many people assume that mental illnesses don’t really affect the body. These people are wrong. Mental illnesses can affect far more than cognition, wreaking very real havoc on someone’s physical health, too.

What does this symptom feel like?

When experiencing panic-related changes in body temperature, you might begin to feel exceptionally hot or cold for seemingly no reason. Some people even report feeling so cold they’re almost shivering and then feeling feverishly hot in a matter of seconds.

Why do panic attacks cause temperature changes?

The short answer

Temperatures change as a result of panic attack hormonal surges.

The long answer

When you have a panic attack, your body releases a surge of chemicals, which can mess with your body’s ability to regulate its own temperature. Therefore, you may feel hot, cold, or a mixture of both, one right after the other.

This symptom isn’t the only way a panic attack can affect your body.

Experiencing unpredictable changes in your body’s temperature is just one of the many symptoms to look out for in terms of a panic attack. The following is another common physical symptom of a panic attack that can feel particularly alarming…

9. Chest Pain

Chest pain may be one of the single-most alarming physical side effects of panic. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most common physical symptoms of panic attacks.

What does panic-related chest pain feel like?

This chest pain is often described as being in the upper or lower portions of the chest. This pain may be:

  • Dull
  • Achy
  • Sharp
  • Stabbing
  • Throbbing

It’s also worth mentioning that you can experience chest pain without the heart being directly involved. Feeling chest pain does not necessarily mean you’re having a heart attack or some other type of cardiac episode. However, you should seek immediate medical attention if the pain persists or you feel like you are going to lose consciousness.

Is there a way to manage this pain?

Some people find sitting still and taking deep breaths helps their panic-related chest pains.

Why does panic cause chest pain?

Similar to other symptoms of a panic attack, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are largely involved. Specifically, their presence increases your blood pressure and heart rate. As a result, it may be much harder to breathe, which can generate chest pain.

More physical symptoms to come.

With so many of the symptoms of a panic attack taking an overall toll on you mentally and physically, it’s likely that you’ll feel generally weak from the overall experience. But, is this feeling of weakness something that you should be concerned about?…

8. General Weakness

Generally speaking, this type of weakness refers to a lack of overall strength.

What exactly does general weakness refer to?

Just as the name implies, general weakness refers to a perceived inability to stand up quickly or do anything that’s especially strenuous. Some people classify it as the same thing as exhaustion, but they are actually two very different sensations. After all, when a person is exhausted, they may very well feel weak. However, it doesn’t happen in every case of exhaustion.

What does this symptom feel like?

For those individuals who are typically healthy, they might suddenly feel like they no longer have the strength for their legs to hold them up if they try to stand.

Why does panic result in weakness?

The short answer

Panic attacks result in a surge of hormones. This surge can result in weakness.

The long answer

Your sense of strength is directly impacted by everything that happens in your body when you have a panic attack. When you experience the symptoms of a panic attack, it all comes together to make you feel shaky on your feet, even under the best of circumstances.

In fact, it’s virtually impossible to have so many hormones dumped into your bloodstream at one time without a significant physical impact. General weakness is part of it. What makes a panic attack unique from some other situations is that you might feel very charged up yet weak at the same time.

Panic can be a real punch to the gut.

Unfortunately, the following physical symptoms of a panic attack can result in severe discomfort…

7. Digestive Problems

It isn’t at all uncommon for people who have panic attacks to experience a whole range of digestive problems.

What sort of digestive issues can panic attacks cause?

These specific issues can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Why do panic attacks cause digestive problems?

Imagine what would happen if you constantly pushed your car’s engine to the limit and beyond without ceasing. Now imagine how much worse that would be if you had the engine turning as hard as possible and then suddenly slammed the transmission into another gear. It doesn’t take someone with a thorough understanding of cars to figure out that the end result probably wouldn’t be good.

It’s basically the same thing with your body and anxiety’s effects on it. Namely, when you’re upset, anxious, or even depressed, the digestive system is directly impacted. The longer this goes on and the more severe the attacks become, the more likely it is that your digestive issues will become chronic issues.

Sometimes, this digestive discomfort can contribute to the following sign of panic…

6. Abdominal Pain

Another common side effect of panic attacks? Abdominal pain. If the discomfort or pain becomes severe or it doesn’t go away, though, it’s time to seek emergency medical treatment.

What does panic-related abdominal discomfort feel like?

It varies by individual. Some may feel a dull ache while others experience sharp pains.

Why does it happen?

Sometimes the pain is a result of other panic attack symptoms. For instance, repeated vomiting can cause pain, as can severe diarrhea. Constipation is another source of pain, especially if it goes on for a number of days.

However, sometimes the surge of hormones associated with acute panic may be to blame for short-term pain or discomfort, or even the following symptom…

5. Trembling in Your Hands or Throughout Your Body

Some people who have panic attacks experience tremors throughout their body. For some people, this trembling is especially potent in the hands. In fact, for some people, trembling hands are one of the first signs that an anxiety attack is coming.

Why do panic attacks cause trembling and tremors?

Chances are, you’ve experienced at least a few instances where you were suddenly scared by something. Perhaps you had to give a public speech and you were extremely nervous. During this time, if you looked down at your hands, you may have found that they were trembling. In some cases, you might have even found it difficult to hold a piece of paper securely.

A panic attack is no different.

This trembling is common in those with panic disorders because of all the adrenaline coursing through your veins. Think of it this way: It’s similar to putting racing fuel in your car’s engine. All of that pent-up energy has to go somewhere. For many people, this trembling is the way that it manifests.

For others, it manifests in the following ways…

4. Excessive Sweating

Granted, not every person experiences excessive sweating when they get an anxiety attack. That being said, it’s a common enough symptom that you shouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

Where does the sweating occur?

You might experience sweating in only one part of your body, such as the armpits or palms. Conversely, you may find that you start to sweat all over.

Why is panic-related sweating so bizarre?

What makes panic-related sweating so odd is the fact that if sweating occurs in places like the hands, these sweaty areas may also feel cold.

Why does panic cause sweating?

One potential side effect of surging hormones and the bodily reactions it causes? Sweating.

While sweating can be uncomfortable, it typically isn’t dangerous (unless it contributes to dehydration). The following dizzying sensation, though, can make you feel like your whole world is turned upside down…

3. Vertigo

You’ve probably heard someone explain that they start to feel dizzy when they’re on the verge of an anxiety attack. That’s another common sign that your anxiety is getting out of control.

What is vertigo?

Many people use vertigo to describe a fear of heights. However, it technically refers to a type of dizziness where it feels like you are spinning.

How severe is this symptom?

In severe cases, it can come on without warning and it can strike even when you’re sitting down.

Why does panic cause vertigo?

Anxiety causes your blood pressure to change rapidly, along with your heart rate. And when these changes happen in quick succession, you start to feel dizzy. Why? Because of the increased pressure on both cardiac output and blood pressure.

Now, it’s true that anxiety can cause your pulse and blood pressure to skyrocket. However, when your pulse goes up very quickly, you may experience an initial rise in blood pressure followed by a rather significant drop. This sensation occurs because it’s virtually impossible for the heart to properly refill with blood while it is beating so quickly. In other words, it’s pumping less blood volume, meaning that blood pressure begins to decrease.

As previously mentioned, this process could occur fairly rapidly. As a result, you might start to feel dizzy and you may even experience blurred vision.

Vertigo may be dizzying, but the following symptom of panic can quite literally take your breath away…

2. Tachypnea/Rapid Breathing

One very noticeable physical symptom of a panic attack? Rapid breathing.

If you notice that your breathing increases when you get nervous, it’s easy to understand why this would be something that would naturally go along with a panic attack.

What is tachypnea?

Tachypnea is a medical term that refers to shallow, rapid breathing.

Why does panic cause rapid breathing??

The short answer

It’s a natural part of the body’s response to a flood of hormones.

The long answer

When a panic attack sets in, people have a natural tendency to take in rapid and shallow breaths, often without even realizing what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, this feeling of not getting enough air typically only serves to make the panic attack worse. In other words, when people take in shallow breaths, they may feel as if they aren’t getting enough air. This sensation can cause even more panic, resulting in the natural instinct to breathe in air to get more oxygen. However, the resulting breathing is rapid and shallow, meaning the body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. That, in turn, can lead to more shallow and rapid breathing.

All in all, rapid breathing only serves to worsen the panic attack.

The most alarming symptom of all?

So, just what might be the single-most alarming sign of a panic attack?…

1. Tachycardia/Paid Heart Beat

While tachycardia can sometimes signal a potentially serious medical condition, it isn’t at all uncommon for individuals who are experiencing an anxiety attack to have tachycardia.

What is tachycardia?

Tachycardia refers to a rapid heartbeat, meaning that your heart is beating more than 100 times a minute at rest.

Does this symptom appear alone?

Often, no. It’s also common to experience heart palpitations, a sensation of the heart beating too quickly or too hard. Some people can actually feel their heart beating in their chest or neck.

Some people also experience PVC (premature ventricular contractions), which feels like the heart is fluttering.

Why does panic cause rapid heartbeat?

It is directly tied to the cortisol and adrenaline that runs through the bloodstream during a panic attack. Specifically, adrenaline causes the heart rate to go up dramatically. The more anxiety you experience, the more likely it is that your heart rate will go beyond 100 beats per minute.

What’s next?

What’s most important for someone experiencing panic to know?…

Final Thoughts

Panic attacks happen for a wide variety of different reasons. Specifically, every person who experiences them typically has a different set of triggers that will set them off.

Knowing these symptoms is key to managing panic.

If you’re able to accurately identify the triggers and then recognize the signs and symptoms of panic attacks, it becomes easier to know when an attack is about to happen. And that knowledge means you can have an easier time coping with this condition.

Management is possible.

While experiencing a panic attack can feel like the end of the world, it isn’t; eventually panic attacks will end. Learning how to manage panic in the meantime can make it easier to get through panic attacks and lead a more fulfilling life.

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