[Editor's note: Panic attacks can affect anyone at any time, and one person's experience may be vastly different than another's. In addition to the occasional panic attack, about 6 million people in the U.S. suffer from panic disorder, which includes recurrent attacks and significant fear of attacks in between those episodes. Panic attacks are often terrifying and debilitating, and although this list represents only one person's experience, we hope it's helpful in realizing that others know what you're going through.]
1. It's suddenly feeling like you're not in control and there's nothing you can do to stop what's about to happen.
2. It's numbness, tingling, and trembling that all signal that something is very wrong with your body.
3. It's your pounding, unrelenting heartbeat echoing the genuine terror coursing through you.
4. It's the feeling of being choked, constricted, and bound, accompanied by the ominous pain in your chest.
5. It's hearing the world as if you're underneath it, buried alive, with the sound of your breathing drowning out the sounds around you.
6. It's the feeling that your body isn't yours, and yet also being acutely aware of everything happening inside of it.
7. It's seeing spots and blurred visions as you search for a familiar face. Something, anything to ground you.
8. It's gasping for breath and feeling that it's never deep enough to fill your lungs.
9. It's being terrified to call for help — for fear of ridicule if it's nothing, or fear of death if it's something.
10. It's not knowing which is worse.
11. It's fighting to swallow back words like heart attack, stroke, life-threatening reaction — pushing them as far back as you can, but never completely silencing them.
12. It's wanting so badly to run and escape, but being too frozen to move from this spot.
13. It's knowing that you're probably fine, but also knowing that this time, you're probably not.
14. It's morbid thoughts running through your head, convincing you that you're actually, legitimately, seriously dying.
15. It's fiercely believing that you're losing your mind, and that these symptoms aren't even real.
But you’re not losing your mind, and these symptoms are very real.
What's actually happening is your fight-or-flight instinct kicking in when you don't really need it. It's an exaggerated response of your sympathetic nervous system, as BuzzFeed Health previously reported.
Panic attacks can be triggered by anything — like seeing a crowded train or having a random scary thought. When that fight-or-flight response kicks in, it can cause symptoms like increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, rise in blood pressure, dry mouth, etc. These are all normal responses, but they're scary as hell when you're not expecting them.
So you tend to freak out and ascribe meaning to them — like that you're dying/sick/going to faint/going crazy. And this fear can lead to hyperventilation, which can cause symptoms like shaking, tingling, dizziness, chest pain, and trouble breathing. No wonder you're panicking.
If you are struggling with panic attacks, don't hesitate to get help.
Whether that's reading up on it, talking to someone you trust, or making an appointment with a doctor or therapist.
Learn more and find help at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.