What does a panic attack feel like?

Panic attacks are different for every person, so keep in mind that your experiences are valid even if they don’t match up with someone else’s. But in general, panic attacks are characterized by some or all of these symptoms:

Physical

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes to vision, like seeing spots or “tunnel vision”
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded
  • Sounds seem muffled/muted or too loud/grating
  • Sweating or clamminess
  • Feeling too cold or too hot
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing or trouble breathing
  • Tightness, pressure, or pain in chest
  • Tense or shaking muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Pale or flushed skin
  • Headache or other pain/discomfort
  • Crying

Mental

  • Feeling of dread — conviction that you are dying or something terrible is about to happen
  • Feeling of terror, anxiety, fear, etc.
  • Feeling trapped, unsafe, threatened, etc.
  • Intrusive negative thoughts (shame, self criticism, etc.)
  • Racing or jumbled thoughts
  • Disassociation — feeling disconnected from your body or the world around you
  • Feeling of isolation — conviction that no one around you understands what’s going on
  • Numbness or blankness
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty understanding or processing what’s going on
  • Hypersensitivity, irritability, frustration, etc.

Note that most of these symptoms match up with what we know about the physiological “fight or flight” purpose of a panic attack.

This article is part of the “So You Had A Panic Attack” resource guide. Go back to the SYHAPA index page