The #1 Way A Panic Attack Doesn’t Feel Like

what a panic attack feels like

Life has gotten really stressful or woeful lately – either for you, or for someone you’re close to. You wonder if these feelings and extreme mind-chatter are going to escalate to a panic attack. But you don’t really know what a panic attack is, or what a panic attack feels like, which of course only makes you even more anxious.  You might have seen an actor with a panic attack on TV or a movie (Randall on This Is Us, anyone?), but it’s hard to distinguish reality versus Hollywood. So, your bottom-line question remains: What does a panic attack feel like? 

To start, the ONE symptom a panic attack does NOT include: pain. 

NO heart, chest, or other physical pain is felt during a panic attack. Panic attacks are not about feeling any physical pain at all. If anyone does feel chest pain, or any other serious, acute pain associated with feeling panicked, call 911 or get to the emergency room, now.

Once physical pain is ruled out, you can identify a panic attack. Panic attacks can be super uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. Here are symptoms associated with panic attacks:

  • Rapid or pounding heart palpitations
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness/feeling like you might faint
  • Feeling as if you might be “going crazy” or that you’ve lost touch with reality
  • A sense of terror, fear you might die
  • Blurred vision
  • Shaking, or on the verge of shaking
  • Nauseated or other stomach upset
  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling like the panic attack is never going to end
  • Symptoms start abruptly, usually peak at around the 10-minute mark, and then dissipate within another few minutes. (Although rare, a panic attack could go on for an hour or longer.)

What To Do When a Panic Attack Strikes

What should you do if you’re having what feels like a panic attack, or you’re with someone who is having a panic attack? 

To stop a panic attack, there are several key strategies for the person experiencing the panic attack to try:

  1. Stay as calm as possible. Sounds impractical, right? Perhaps. Yet it will keep the panic from worsening.
  2. Slow down breathing to as normal as possible. 
  3. Go to a nearby area they feel safe.
  4. Utilize a distracting mind game: Count backwards, point to the items in the room that interest them, or name their favorite movies.
  5. Be reminded that no, they are not dying, and it will be over soon.

For more detail on these various steps, click here.

Once the panic attack has wound down, it’s helpful to rest, get a good hot cup of herbal tea, and reflect. After returning to normal, it’s time to contemplate the next move: understanding what happened, and getting support from friends, family, and a reliable mental health professional who specializes in anxiety treatment. If the person who has the panic attack already has these support in place, all power to them. Reviewing triggers and what about your anxiety was different this time with a therapist can be especially valuable.

If you don’t yet have a therapist, there are plenty of good ones available and finding a good fit is worth the effort. Anxiety is highly treatable, and a good therapist can help you begin understand your underlying emotions and thought processes which led to the panic attack, and work with you to develop a plan to prevent panic in the future.


Find out about harnessing anxiety to maximize wellness: Get the Amazon best-selling book Hack Your Anxiety, sign-up for the free Hack Your Anxiety mini-ecourse, and subscribe to the Hack Your Anxiety newsletter. 

Photo by mahdi rezaei on Unsplash



Alicia H. Clark, PsyD