A Look Inside A Panic Attack: This Is What Happens When Anxiety Strikes

You hear people mention panic attacks and anxiety, but what does it really mean when something like this happens? It’s different for everyone but we should keep these things in mind:

“Those who suffer from mental illness are stronger than you think. We must fight to go to work, care for our families, be there for our friends, and act ‘normal’ while battling unimaginable pain.” ~Unknown

It’s strange having a panic attack while surrounded by people. I’m experiencing something so private and so personal, but unless I externalize it, they are completely unaware. It’s almost an art to be able to hide it—to train myself well enough to function in front of others to the point that, if I do reveal to them the nature of my anxiety, they reply, “I had no idea.”

If you’ve never experienced a panic attack, they are almost impossible to explain. But I’m going to try.

Panic attacks are often pre-verbal, animalistic, and very, very private. No two people experience a panic attack in the same way.

It’s not always rocking back and forth in the fetal position (though I’ve been there). Some people zone out and become almost catatonic. Some can’t breathe. Some have chest pains. Some become aggressive. What happens to all of us, though, when we have a panic attack is the feeling or thought that either something catastrophic is about to happen. And as far-fetched as it sounds, I can assure you that it is very, very real.

If you love someone who has had panic attacks, or you’re genuinely curious, let me try to explain what happens to a person going through an anxiety/panic attack:

Imagine you’re driving your car in the mountains of Tennessee. It’s a sunny day and you’re listening to your favorite band as you steer your car around the bends. You’re enjoying the ride and thinking about your family or friends or whoever you’re going to see.

Then, out of nowhere, your power steering goes out and you plow straight through the railing. You grab the e-brake just in time, but the front end of your car is hanging off the mountain and the back tires are hanging by the railing you ran over. One wrong move and your car will slide off of the edge toward a 200-foot drop, and you realize there’s no escape.

Do you try to climb out of the back? Do you sit still and wait for rescue? Do you accept your fate? What do you do? The car seems to be sliding forward slowly. Or is it? It’s hard to tell. You can’t think. You have to get out of here, but you can’t move. You’re helpless.

This is a panic attack.

It comes out of nowhere usually, which makes it so cruel. We aren’t expecting it. We are living life. Then, in a matter of a second, we truly feel that we are on the brink of existence. I can’t stress enough just how utterly real this feels to us.

We recover, though, and that’s exactly why people who have panic attacks are warriors. We fight battles every day. We know the nature of The Beast. We don’t always know when he’ll strike, but we know that we will survive whatever he throws at us. We’ve faced this nightmare in our own way, and it hasn’t beaten us yet. We survived the last panic attack, and we’ll survive the next one. We have no choice.