SELF – The Unexpected Signs You’re Having A Panic Attack And Don’t Even Know It

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Lots of people talk about having a panic attack – it is even in our slang vernacular – but it isn’t always clear what panic actually is, and more importantly what it FEELS like. I was pleased to help flesh out signs you’re having a panic attack and what you need to know in this great piece by Korin Miller for SELF.

And if you personally suffer from anxiety, you’re at an even greater risk of dealing with panic attacks, licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., tells SELF.

How can you know if you’ve had or are having a panic attack? While we’ve all had moments when we feel incredibly stressed out, Clark says the biggest difference is that people who suffer from panic attacks typically have a sense that they’re dying. “Panic is often mistaken for a heart attack,” she says.

In addition to feeling like you might die, experts say panic attacks are also defined as meeting four or more of the following criteria:

  • You have a rapid heart rate.
  • You have tightness in your chest.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You start sweating.
  • You feel like you might faint.
  • You feel as if you might be going crazy.
  • You feel shaky or actually start shaking.
  • You feel nauseated.
  • You feel like you’re choking.
  • You feel like you’ve lost touch with reality.
  • You feel numb or tingly.

If you feel like you’re having a panic attack, try to stay calm and not fight it (easier said than done, but it may help). “When you fight with your increasing panic, the anxiety sometimes tends to worsen,” Clark says. She recommends getting yourself to a safe place where you can be as relaxed as possible, reminding yourself that you aren’t dying, and trying to calm your breathing.


Alicia H. Clark, PsyD