The truth about panic attacks

That title may be a little misleading. I'm obviously not a doctor, or a scientist, or any form of mental health specialist so I can't exactly reveal "the truth". However, when I was lying in bed the other night, with my mind swirling incessantly around as it does most nights, I realised there seems to be a disconnect between the perceptions and realities of panic attacks.
Now, I have severe anxiety. Severe enough to be transferred to some pretty gnarly medication. Yet those classic gasping for air panic attacks that you see on TV? I probably have one of those two or three times a year. 
I tend to call my panic attacks "panics" because there is that association with the phrase "panic attack" that you need to be hyperventilating, even though it's not always so. In my case, they usually manifest in one of these ways:

- An overwhelming, but unspecific, fear that makes my heart race and my stomach feel like it has a belt tied around it that is slowly tightening. This is the most common form of panic attack for me and usually results in snappiness followed by tears. It usually happens at night and it is most distressing because there is no clear reason for the fear.

- Sudden lightheadedness and trembling. These are most likely when I'm tired, so they happen often in the morning, especially when I'm rushing around and stressed. My legs will suddenly start wobbling and I'll have to sit down.

- Catastrophic thinking: Becoming convinced that something terrible will happen. For example, I might be on a train and suddenly feel certain that it's going to crash or be lying in bed and expect a phone call with bad news. These are completely unfounded beliefs but are very real and, as you can imagine, terrifying. They are usually followed by the palpitations and stomach tightening that I described above.

- Similarly to the above, I can have a desire to escape the situation I'm in. These are common when I'm in public, particularly supermarkets, when I become overwhelmed by my surroundings. In these cases, I need to get out of that place and find somewhere to sit down as quickly as possible.

- Then there are the days when I just shut down. I can't talk, I can't move. I'm just a blank. These are the rarest but also the scariest because it's like I'm not even there.

Why am I writing this? Because I really want to challenge the misconceptions I read and hear about anxiety. There is so much awareness now, and it's fantastic, but this also means myths are being spread more than they used to. What misconceptions would you like to address? 

*A stock image has been used in this post


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, from someone who suffered with severe panic attacks when I was a teenager I can say that you are 100% on point. Panic attacks are absolutely awful and there were days/weeks where I couldn't leave the house - they were crippling. It's nice to see someone as influential as you in the blogging world, talking about this openly. Sometimes I feel that the internet mistakes a little bit of an anxiety feeling for full on panic attacks, and it really irks me. xx

    Jane x Poptarts Beauty
    Make sure you check out my giveaway - a Beauty Box full of products, worth nearly £60! Click HERE!

  2. Great post Becky. I struggle with anxiety, yet don't suffer from the 'TV show' style hyperventilating and crying episode often at all. I need to be in a very bad place for that to happen - and usually I am able to remove myself from those situations.
    I find it hard to explain my worries to people, who often don't take it seriously or don't help me remove myself from the situation as I don't 'appear' to be panicking. A greater understanding of what can be going on in our heads would make it easier to communicate what we need, though of course explaining as eloquently as you have above isn't always so easy when you are panicked. Even thinking of trying to explain myself and my thoughts more clearly to my OH starts me worrying - even though he tries to understand.

  3. I really loved this post! I suffer with anxiety as well and it upsets me how little people know about it. One misconception I'd like to address is that people think I don't suffer with anxiety because I'm confident around my close friends, or people brush it off as being shy. I get told in college to speak to people more and not be 'shy' but people don't seem to realize how difficult it is for me to speak up, when the thought of it fills me with sickness and dread.

    Holly Olivia x

    1. I used to get told that all the time too! Frustratingly enough I am shy anyway but of course that's completely different to the anxiety!

  4. The first bullet point is EXACTLY how I'd describe the majority of my 'panic attacks' too, and it makes me so reluctant to call it a panic attack. I'm unsure if that's how they're classified, but all I know is that when I feel that way, often right before I'm about to go, all rational thoughts go out of the window and I feel so afraid of something I can't place my finger on. I cannot explain how relieved I am to read that I'm not the only one. Sometimes it feels like you have to tick certain boxes to be considered a genuine sufferer of anxiety or depression online, and it means that more often than not I stay very quiet about it. Posts like this make it that little bit less daunting :) x

    Martha Jane | http://marthajanemusic.blogspot.co.uk

  5. I think it's different between people and people need to accept that and not judge. You're totally right, not all panic attacks are when you're hyperventilating. I used to have quite a lot like that, I remember reading that some people could hide their panic attacks and I was like err what?! It made me feel like I was doing it wrong, I'd hate for people to think it was for attention but I would genuinely be hyperventilating and the room would spin. After counselling I rarely get them, and now I am better able to control them and they are extremely rarely hyperventilaty ones!

    Title is a bit misleading ;) even scientists don't know all the truths behind mental illnesses! xo

  6. Yeah this is very true - I used to have panic attacks all the time and I found that I could be in a lot of pain, and hyperventilating and no one would even notice. It's not usually as dramatic as people expect it to be!


  7. Amazing post as always Becky on a serious issue!
    I very rarely have severe panic attacks now but probably monthly get the feeling of needing to escape a situation or place I am in. Often walking out of restaurants and social situations to sit by myself somewhere quiet. Even though it's been written about a lot recently and in the media I still feel like my friends don't fully understand it.

    Neesha | Reinventing Neesha ♥

  8. YES! I have my "normal" panic attacks that I'm totally capable of disguising/hiding. These bring shakes, burning eyes and a stomach drop sensation like on a roller coaster. The big, hyperventilating ones are (mercifully) rare for me. I had a "normal" one at work today following a bad conversation, admitted it to a Co-worker as I needed to take a break and she said "But you don't look like you're having a panic attack".
    I agree that there needs to be much more awareness of these things. Thank you for writing this post. Lisa x

  9. Amazing post sweet! I struggle on a daily basis and am on a pretty hefty dose of meds to help me.
    I've only had a handful of hyperventilating attacks, but it's basically every point you've made above that I suffer with day to day.

    Sam x

  10. This is exactly what I am like too! It's nice to know I'm not alone- although it's horrible that you suffer too.

    "Then there are the days when I just shut down. I can't talk, I can't move. I'm just a blank. These are the rarest but also the scariest because it's like I'm not even there"

    This is the stage I'm in right now :-(

    Thank you for writing this lovely XX

    Lexie X

  11. Really brave post! Really true and honest.

  12. I completely understand you, as I go through the same thing. "I might be on a train and suddenly feel certain that it's going to crash or be lying in bed and expect a phone call with bad news.". Yes, yes, yes.

    I don't wish those feelings upon anybody, but it is good to know I am not alone feeling them.

    I so have the gasping for air panic attacks more frequently than you, about once or twice a month sometimes, but I have gone through periods of a couple of months at a time without having any of that sort as well.

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this post, and to tell you you are not alone.




  13. I actually spent a long time thinking I was a fraud because my panic attacks are not the gasping-for-air-sobbing-for-20-minutes kind, there just comes a point when something in my brain and body clicks, like I've been teetering on the edge of a cliff and suddenly been pushed off.

    It's really, really awful to read any kind of post like this and see someone's suffering, but I have so much respect for anyone who gets it out there. You have definitely helped me to see that I'm not alone, and I'm extremely grateful.

  14. This is such a brilliant post. There are so many misconceptions about anxiety - yes, it involves those horrific attacks but the little day to day things are just as equally part of it too & I'm so glad you wrote about this!
    It's interesting to have a name to put to those scary thoughts that you call 'catastrophic thinking'. It seems silly but I never really thought of them as part of anxiety. I thought they were just an odd thing I do but now it seems obvious they're related haha!
    Great to be able to read a post on this topic :)
    Maeve // Thrift O'Clock

  15. Oh god I had my first panic attack few months ago, I could breath or move, I was dizzy and start crying, it started after I thought to harm my self, I know, not very healthy thought, and the worst part is that I didn't even know I had a panic attack! It was something totally new for me, but after that first time I found my self under this situation few more times. I really don't know how to control it, the only thing that saves me is the bach's rescue remedy...

    Thank you for sharing!


    1. Oh bless you, Andy. Have you seen your doctor about it? I know it's scary but I really recommend it.

    2. thank you. No, i haven't see a doctor, i don't really like doctors. But maybe if something like that happens again I'll probably have to go.

  16. I feel like the term 'Panic Attack' is thrown about quite a bit nowadays and, like you said, always conjures the wrong images of hyperventilating. I tend to just say "I'm feeling panicked if I have one coming on and, depending on who I'm with, they're usually quite good at holding my hand and getting me through whatever situation its in (usually at the Supermarket which is fun!). For me I've always said it's like I'm behind a glass wall, watching everybody else but not being able to fully engage and then I get worked up because I feel so stuck and trapped.

  17. Catastrophic thinking. Yes :(

  18. Thank you for writing this, it's so important that people realise that a panic attack isn't just one specific thing (i.e. hyperventilating).
    I have panic attacks thanks to my anxiety disorder and people assume that if I'm not outwardly showing signs of panic that I'm ok, it's just not true, I can be falling apart inside and feeling like I'm going to die and appear ok on the outside.

  19. Thank you for writing this! I was extremely stressed and anxious the other day, and felt like I couldn't breathe, and googled 'what is a panic attack' and came to the realisation I was having one. I think they have varying severity, and I think that I have had them for years, now that I look back on it.

  20. I totally agree with this. I have only had maybe two typical attacks. Most of the time mine consist of being convinced something terrible is about to happen and feeling really dizzy xx

  21. This is exactly the kind of post I've been waiting for. I can go for weeks feeling 'on the edge' of a panic attack but feel stupid saying so because I may have not actually had what most would call a 'real' attack for a while. It's reassuring to know that I'm not being melodramatic and others feel similar!

  22. This is how I feel when I'm having a 'panic' I don't like to use the term 'panic attack' either! But when I get to my lowest this is exactly what I go through and it's really hard to explain but my biggest feeling is wanting to escape. I often actually feel the need to be miles away from where I am, and especially to be near the sea! Thanks for writing this post lovely :)

  23. I am a very anxious person but never really classified my 'break downs' as panic attacks since I never have hyperventilated, but I have had what you have listed above and it makes so much more sense to me now. Thank you so much for this post.



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