“OMG, I’m having a panic attack” is not just something your overly dramatic friend says when she can’t find her keys. A panic attack is not the next level of freaking out. It’s an actual physical reaction to fear and it can be scary as hell. One of the weird things about panic attacks is that they seem to come out of nowhere. There’s usually no real danger or obvious reason.
What it Feels Like
A heart attack. Seriously. Panic attacks can give you heart palpitations and chest pain, make you shake, sweat, or have trouble breathing. You may you feel like you are choking and could even faint. Many people feel like they are dying when they have their first panic attack and often head to the ER. The attacks usually last about 10 minutes but can go for an hour.
How to Deal
Other than calming you down and making sure that you aren’t having a heart attack, there’s not much the ER docs can do for you. The good news is that besides completely sucking and ruining your day, on its own a panic attack doesn’t do any major damage. Which doesn’t mean it’s NBD, because, recap: you will feel like you are dying.
It’s Not Just You
Many people will experience one or two attacks during their lifeline, and about 2% of all Americans have frequent panic disorder. Women are twice as common as men to have them.
When to Call a Pro
Experts say that if you have had several panic attacks and are afraid of having another, you may have a panic disorder. For that, you should see a mental health pro and talk about therapy and/or medications.
But since panic disorders often co-exist with other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, it’s a good idea to talk to someone, whether it’s a friend or therapist, about what might have caused it. That way you can put that sucky experience to work for you by improving your overall mental health.