Hit the Panic Button
You may not know if you or someone next to you is having a heart attack, but you will absolutely know if it’s a panic attack. Panic attacks are sudden and abrupt; they usually last only about ten minutes and will leave you unharmed after they pass. That said, those ten minutes pack a real wallop. Symptoms of a panic attack, according to WebMD, include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart pounding
- Chest pain
- An intense feeling of terror, especially that you are about to die
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Tremors or shaking
- Cold sweats
- Nausea or stomach cramps
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes
- Chills or hot flashes
- A sensation of choking or suffocating
People who have panic attacks often suffer from panic disorder, the most characteristic symptom of which is the persistent fear of future panic attacks. This fear can be so intense that it escalates to agoraphobia, or the avoidance of places and situations in which a person has had or believes she might have an attack.
It’s important to distinguish panic disorder from generalized anxiety. A panic attack is an acute fear response that is disproportionate with a non-life-threatening situation. It’s a misfired fight-or-flight reaction. Over time and with repeated attacks, a person with panic disorder develops a general fear about having attacks that affects her quality of life.
Don’t Panic! You’re Probably Okay
The irony is that the fact that even when you’re mistaken in believing you’re dying from a heart attack, such thinking will worsen your panic disorder. When you’re caught up in these very real and very frightening sensations, it’s nearly impossible to think objectively, so how can you tell what’s really going on and how best to respond?
If there’s any question in your mind that your life is in danger, go to the emergency room. It’s better to be safe than sorry, even if you have to spend your afternoon in the hospital, just to be sent home with a clean bill of health. I’ve been that girl, and it seems frivolous in retrospect, but at the time, I absolutely needed someone in a white coat to promise me I wasn’t dying.