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    15 Things You Should Know About Anxiety, From A Person With Panic Disorder

    The symptoms of a panic attack can interrupt your day-to-day life in the most unexpected of ways.

    Hello my fellow anxious — or maybe just curious — souls. My name is Alexa, and I was diagnosed with panic disorder* in 2014. Because I've been managing my anxiety for about seven years now, I've learned a thing or two about coping with triggers and symptoms. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I decided to answer questions our readers have about anxiety, panic attacks, and panic disorders — from my own experience.

    1. Q: What does having an anxiety attack feel like? –aahdz1015

    A person holding their hand to their chest
    Catherine Mcqueen / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    A: Panic attacks are different for everyone, but most agree that it can feel similar to a heart attack. Personally, I experience two variations of panic attacks — let's call them Panic LTE and Panic+, just for fun.

    Panic LTE is "lighter," and often unexpected. My body suddenly feels hot, like I've just sprinted a mile, and sweat drips down my lower back and near my hairline. It's like a hot flash, but I'm 25 and shouldn't be hitting menopause anytime soon. The sweating is often accompanied by shaking hands, nausea, and dizziness, and the experience usually lasts about 10 minutes — or shorter if I practice deep breathing beneath a fan.

    Panic+, on the other hand, builds quickly when I'm under stress. The pressure starts in my chest, making it difficult to breath, and this feeling evolves into heavy breathing, hyperventilation, and a racing heart. I get light-headed, my hands and legs shake, and fears of my heart suddenly seizing become penetrative. Panic+ has stayed with me from anywhere between 10 minutes and two hours. (She's a bitch, tbh.)

    2. Q: How does this affect your day-to-day life? –sparklyglue78

    Alexa Lisitza

    A: The symptoms of a panic attack can interrupt your day-to-day life in the most unexpected of ways:

    Panic LTE is annoying. One time, I was waiting in line to buy groceries when the heat and vertigo suddenly hit me. My options were quickly limited to sitting on the ground with a bag of grapes in my lap, or fainting. I chose the former and a very rude older woman felt the need to repeatedly remind me that the floor is, in fact, dirty. I assured her that I was 100% aware.

    Panic+ is less controllable. When I was in college, the fire alarm suddenly went off in my dorm while I was brushing my teeth. Smoke filled the halls, and my hands started to shake. The shaking caused me to miss my teeth, and I severed the little flap of tissue under my tongue that connects the tongue to your bottom jaw. I couldn't talk for a week.

    3. Q: How should people help you when you have a panic attack? –La Peligrosa

    Alexa Lisitza

    A: If someone you know has panic disorder or experiences panic attacks, ask them how to help. Some people like to be spoken to gently and rubbed on the back, and others want you to stay the hell away from them because having another body nearby makes the air in the room feel thinner.

    Personally, I've learned through therapy that grounding techniques — which aim to remind the anxious person that they are present and in control — can help bring my panic attacks to a halt, but they are hard to do alone. Above are a few tips I've sent to my boyfriend, which he keeps on standby in the notes app on his phone.

    4. Q: Is there a pattern, or do [panic attacks] really come without particular triggers? –romycoers

    A neuron firing
    Koto_feja / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    A: As the American Psychological Association points out, panic disorder can be genetic, the result of a biological malfunction, linked to stressful life events, or a combination of these. Therefore, panic attacks can come without triggers and be a result of genetics and biology, or they can become associated with real-world events or locations.

    My anxiety is linked to my grandmother, who also experiences panic attacks. However, despite the genetic connection, I find that I still fall into the category of those who experience a combination of genetics and life events being a cause. For me, panic LTE comes with no triggers. However, I have noticed that Panic+ most often rears its ugly head when I'm in spaces I cannot escape without drawing attention to myself. This can be something as simple as a movie theater or an airplane.

    5. Q: How do you get diagnosed with anxiety, if one of the things that makes you most anxious is doctor’s offices? –Anonymous

    Fatcamera / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    A: Ah, yes. Doctor's offices are another location that I cannot easily escape from without drawing attention to myself, and the idea of being in one can trigger a panic attack. I've found that speaking to the nurse who often sees you before the doctor is a good way to ease my anxiety.

    Before entering the room, I share that I have panic disorder and that the office space can be hard for me to navigate. The nurse will fill in the doctor on my request to leave the door open and inform them that I may need to step into the hallway for a moment during my appointment. As a doctor, they likely have many patients with anxiety and have been trained on how to approach the situation. And more often than not, simply knowing that the doctor will accommodate you if you become overwhelmed can be enough to ease your anxiety.

    6. Q: How do you help yourself when you’re out in public alone and feel an anxiety attack creeping on? I used to love grocery shopping and now can barely walk into one without my heart rate skyrocketing and feeling light-headed. –courtneys44b51aa14

    How to ground yourself using the 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety:

    Twitter: @mindowl_org / Via Twitter: @mindowl_org

    A: When you're out in public and feel anxiety creeping in, my therapist suggested the 5-4-3-2-1 method:

    Step One: Name five things you can see around you. It can be anything. A tree, a girl holding her mom's hand, an ant on the sidewalk — anything.

    Step Two: Name four things you can touch around you and, if you can, touch them and notice their texture while you list them.

    Step Three: Name three things you can hear. A car, crying, laughing, whatever is around you.

    Step Four: Name two things you can smell. Really sniff. Is there a bakery nearby? Maybe there's a car whose exhaust pipe needs fixing.

    Step Five: Name one thing you can taste. Do you have a stick of gum in your pocket? Does the grocery store have samples? Does anyone have a mint?

    Acknowledging each of these things will help ground you by centering your thoughts and calming that ever-beating heart.

    7. Q: Is the feeling of a panic attack or the fear of a panic attack worse? –romycoers

    A person looking out a window with a mug in their hand
    Peopleimages / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    A: We've delved into what a panic attack feels like, but the other half of panic disorder revolves around fearing a panic attack, which can lead to agoraphobia, or the fear of certain places or situations. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with agoraphobia actually developed it after one or more panic attacks in the same or similar places or situations. From then on, they fear being in said place or situation, and can avoid them by staying in their home.

    While panic attacks can be physically painful, agoraphobia can be mentally and socially draining. It's up to individuals to decide which is worse.

    8. Q: How have you dealt with this pandemic? –Anonymous

    Alexa Lisitza

    A: COVID-19 is no one friend's, and I am certainly no different. The combined stress of a worldwide pandemic, learning to work from home, suddenly being around my partner 24/7 with no privacy, and what seemed like a never-ending stream of bodies that look like mine being killed on national TV was more than I could have previously learned to handle.

    By June 2020, I developed costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone, which was a new chest pain linked to my anxiety. I had to wear a cute (please read this sarcastically) heart monitor for two weeks while diagnosing the condition. It was around this same time that I started making TikTok videos — you can see my little heart monitor friend in the screenshots above — and they became a grounding method in themselves. I was so focused on creating that I had little time to stress over anything else, which is why hobbies can be an anxious bae's best friend.

    9. Q: I have anxiety, but I was wondering what you do before you go to bed to get your mind to stop panicking? –camerasapprentice

    View this video on YouTube

    YouTube: Meditation and Healing / Via

    A: I'm just going to drop the above three-hour clip of meditation music for anxiety and say you're welcome, because this has gotten me through more than a couple nights of restlessness.

    10. Q: Is it common or possible to have anxiety without panic attacks? –db85

    A person holding their hands together
    Peopleimages / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    A: Of course! Feeling anxiety and anxiousness is a normal part of life, and it's not always associated with panic attacks. Similarly, there are also other anxiety disorders outside of panic disorder, including: generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and more — all of which don't always manifest with panic attacks.

    11. Q: I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and I’m now on some medication. I feel so awful about it and I’m afraid to tell anyone outside of my parents. I just continue feeling like there is something wrong with me. Do you have any advice? –Anonymous

    A THREAD: Free and affordable therapy options for the cheap, poor and broke.

    Twitter: @AlexaLisitza / Via Twitter: @AlexaLisitza

    A: For anyone experiencing anxiety, my first advice is always to seek professional help through a therapist. They can help you identify triggers, provide techniques for management, and get you to identify any underlying causes that may extend outside of the biological. Some therapists even offer sliding scales, meaning they adjust their rate to your income. Flip through the thread above to find affordable therapy options.

    Outside of professional help, my advice would be to remember anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, and there are over 40 million adults in our anxious bae family. Anxiety is nothing to feel awful or embarrassed about. The fact that you went to get diagnosed shows that you're already on the road toward getting your anxiety under control and you should be so incredibly proud of that. Now, move at the pace you're comfortable with.

    I didn't fill in anyone outside of my partner and family until four years later and, when I did, it opened the gate for them to share the mental health issues they'd also been struggling with, and now we're all there for each other. Letting people in can make your personal community stronger, and those who love you will want to support you.

    12. Q: How do I even get a partner [when I have] anxiety? –alyyyy66

    Two people cuddling in the grass at a park
    Ollie Millington / Getty Images / Via Getty Images

    A: Juggling a partner and anxiety can be...daunting. Personally, I learned to openly discuss my anxiety with friends, family, and honestly, the internet, a year before meeting my partner. By the time he came around, he knew before I even had to tell him, and I answered any question he had. Having that open communication was crucial — then, he wasn't confused the first time he saw me have a panic attack, and he has continued to be an anchor. Finding someone you trust to be patient, supportive, and understanding of what you need when you're feeling anxious is the only difference between us and those who are searching for love without the added addition of anxiety.

    13. Q: CBD does NOT do it for me. Have you tried anything "natural" that works? –jaxe46fddfb3c

    Two bunnies in the grass with the caption "My stress relievers"
    Alexa Lisitza

    A: First off, SAME. Second, my natural methods may not work for everyone, but they could work for you:

    1. Kick caffeine to the curb. Coffee and soda make your heart rate speed up, which can trick us anxious baes into thinking a panic attack is coming on — and that just makes us more anxious.

    2. Walk, walk, walk. I hate running. It hurts my knees and my boobs, and I refuse to do it. But stopping and taking a walk outside is calming. My heart is no longer racing from anxiety, but focused on my light exercise instead.

    3. Drink water. Did you know your heart has to beat faster when you're dehydrated? Same concept as #1. We don't need our hearts unnecessarily pounding.

    4. Take a wash cloth, dip it in cold water, and dab your face and the back of your neck with it. I'm honestly not sure why this works, but sometimes it can stop a panic attack in its tracks.

    5. Talk to someone. A therapist, a friend who also has anxiety, your parent, anyone.

    Bonus: If you are in the position, try getting a pet. The routine of taking care of them and their cute faces can help relieve stress.

    14. Q: Do you have any favorite apps for guided meditation and breath work? –jaxe46fddfb3c

    Whil: Mindfulness & Meditation / Via App Store

    A: While I don't personally use apps for guided meditation, I have a few friends who rave about Whil: Mindfulness & Meditation. They offer training in 12 areas of wellbeing, including: reducing stress and anxiety, being happier, taking one-minute breaks, yoga, learning meditation, improving your sleep, boosting physical health, and more. They also have a section geared specifically toward teens who want to improve their mental health. It's available for free in the App Store.

    15. Q: Will it ever go away? –mantarayyy_jenna

    What other questions do you have about anxiety? Or what management tips do you have for our anxious fam? Let me know in the comments!