Anatomy of a panic attack…

This is very raw and personal. I won’t give advice. I can’t tell you I’m an expert on anxiety. I can’t claim to know how to handle it perfectly because I’m still walking the long road to learning how to help myself.
Yesterday I had an panic attack. It’s been a while. I know I am not alone, that many people suffer with anxiety and the damage it can do to our mental health.

What I can share is what an anxiety triggered panic attack feels like and looks like for me. Yesterday I had one. It’s been building for a few days and I knew it was coming. I haven’t had a full blow attack for nearly a year, and this one was not as bad as they used to be, but it still crept up on me, as they do.

I am more aware now. As soon as I felt the familiar feelings, a day or two ago, I spoke to both my husband and also my therapist, this in itself is a huge thing because before I would hide what was going on from everyone, now part of my healing and recovery to is be accountable, to share with those I am comfortable with that I might be struggling and need a little bit of extra support and understanding.

If you met me, midst an anxiety attack, you wouldn’t believe it was happening. Yesterday, when I knew I was reaching the point where it was getting beyond my ability to handle it myself, I went and told an colleague, who at first thought I was joking because I am outwardly very calm. I just needed someone to talk to, to share what was in my head, to be accountable and to talk me down a bit.
I’m not entirely surprised it happened. I’ve felt old symptoms sneaking up in the past day or two. I’m tired, sleep is lacking, the husband is under incredible pressure at work with various projects and problems, I’m trying to start a brand new charity, run a business, be wife, mother, friend and keep life going. We have personal stuff we are dealing with, I’m on hormones to help one last try at getting pregnant, which make me tired, emotional and cranky, sheesh, most normal people would have run screaming by now with all that to deal with, right?

For me, it starts with a slightly elevated pulse rate and a pounding in my head. My chest feels a bit tighter and I feel a bit like I’ve exercised but haven’t recovered.

Then the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and fear starts to come through and I have to fight the urge to just run and hide and abandon everything. The physical symtpoms get worse, I feel in many ways like I am having a heart attack, my chest hurts, I get pain in my arms and neck and I feel dizzy and faint. These are purely symptoms triggered by my anxiety. I’ve had tests done, I have had my heart and blood pressure checked, my brain is just so overwhelmed it tells my body to fight and flee and as a result I can feel like I’m about to die but actually I’m usually smack bang in the middle of something so I have to carry on, stay calm, all the while feeling the intense pressure not to faint or drop to the floor because it feels like I can’t breathe. It’s the most frightening feeling, and I feel inwardly so out of control. These symptoms are what sent me to my GP three years ago, thinking that I was actually physically unwell, and what finally triggered my seeking help after a lifetime of anxiety and mild depression.

It passes, or at least the worst does. It takes me a day or two to get myself back to normal, to work on being calm, using the techniques that therapy has taught me to talk to myself, to push the voices in my head telling me “I can’t do this, I’m a failure, a fraud, I’m not good enough, I can’t cope, I can’t do all these things that others manage so much better” and to get myself back into a better space. I confide in those around me who know me best, share what’s triggered the attack and work out how to help ease the pressures that might be contributing.
The physical symptoms linger but start to ease, and I find myself able to breathe again without the fear I’m going to die…
But it’s not easy, it never is and it leaves me a bit shaken and emotional, however I am determined it will not break me. I know my enemy, I know it’s tricks and turns, I am getting better at seeing it coming and dealing with what it throws at me. I will not let it beat me. I’m ok, and I will continue to fight.

My name is Karen, and I have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, but I am not broken, and I am stronger than before and I will keep on fighting…

Posted in Mental Health and tagged Anxiety, anxiety attack, mental-health, panic attack.


  1. This is a very honest, frank and personal account of what a panic attack feels for you and to be quite honest I think it feels the same for most other people who suffer from them me included ( I have a vomiting phobia) . The difference is that most of us are not brave enough to admit to them. You are a very brave and exceptional lady and I am sure your story will give more people the strength to understand and seek help to understand what these very frightening, physically and emotionally disabling attacks actually feel like and in doing so learn to cope with them.

  2. This is such a powerful post. And although I am sure it was very tough to write. By writing it, it will help so many people. I know how terrifying that feeling of lack of control is. And the worry it will happen again. But it us amazing that you recognise the signs and you reached out for help. Those are reasons to be proud. Hugs Lucy xxxx

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