“Suddenly, out of the blue, I felt a sense of dread and fear. My head felt strange; I thought I might keel over. I could feel that my breathing was fast and shallow; I could not take a full, deep breath. I feared things were going to get beyond my control. My hands were shaking. I felt urges to run to the toilet. I could feel my heart pounding. Disconcerting “waves” were travelling along my arms and legs. My fear and agitation increased as I could not get things under control. I felt panicky. I was wondering whether I had some serious medical condition; that perhaps I might die. The intensity of the panic increased. I felt terrified. Then I felt something that is hard to describe; like  a disconnection between my head and my body. My fear of not being able to regain control dramatically increased…”

Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear that can occur “out of the blue” without any apparent cause. Panic attacks can be extremely frightening. If they are recurring then there is a tendency to develop “anticipatory anxiety” or apprehension between panic attacks focusing on the fear and dread of having another panic attack.

The experience of having a panic attack varies from person to person and from one attack to the next. Thus the example above is just that, an example.

Generally, a panic attack involves a period of intense, overwhelming fear. Some of the following symptoms develop abruptly:

  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
  • hyperventilating
  • trembling or shaking
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • sweating
  • heart palpitations, pounding heart or increased heart rate
  • sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • a feeling of choking
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • chills
  • hot flushes
  • numbness or tingling sensations in the arms or feet
  • feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of dying

If you believe you are suffering from recurring panic attacks talk to your GP to ensure that you do not have any medical condition resulting in your symptoms. Seek help then to manage your panic attacks by talking to a counsellor.

Panic disorder can develop. This involves a person experiencing an unexpected panic attack and then developing substantial anxiety about the possibility of having another panic attack or about the implications of the attack or its consequences. The person thinks that each panic attack is a sign of incapacitation or impending death.

Many people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia as a consequence of severe, unexpected panic attacks. They develop avoidance behaviour. They might stay at home and avoid going out of the house, or, when away from home ensuring they are in a place where rapid escape is possible. Typical situations that agoraphobic people avoid are  shopping centres, trains, buses, being far from home, crowds, elevators, supermarkets and tunnels. This avoidance behaviour is an attempt to cope with unexpected panic attacks. Being agoraphobic is very debilitating. If you think you may be agoraphobic seek help now.

To read more about panic attacks, panic disorder and agoraphobia see:


panic attacks


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