I will never forget the first time I experienced a panic attack. My boyfriend and I were seated at a local coffee shop. It was packed, and we were sipping on our teas and having a normal conversation. But then suddenly it hit.
I noticed the room grow louder. People's voices became amplified, and there was a loud buzzing in my ears. My body became unbearably hot, and my skin was flushed, as though I had a fever. My heart raced faster and faster, and as it thudded away — very audibly to me — I worried that the entire room could also hear it.
I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that the lights in the room felt too bright, and I couldn't focus on anything. I felt sick, like I was about to throw up the tea that I had just been enjoying. And I was also aware of the acute paranoia rising in my mind. I felt like every pair of eyes in the room had turned my way, staring me down and reading my thoughts.
I wanted out — away from the coffee shop and away from whatever was causing all of this. But my legs were numb, and I felt my body glued to the seat of the chair. All I could muster was a small whisper to my then boyfriend: "Can we go? I don't feel so well."
How Do You Know If You're Having a Panic Attack?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million U.S. adults suffer from a form of anxiety disorder. While a panic attack can present different symptoms in different people, one thing is true: They’re terrifying and can even be debilitating. In fact, I had trouble leaving the house for months after my first panic attack.
Help — and Hope — Are Within Reach
So what can you do if you ever experience a panic attack? “The important thing to be aware of is that panic attacks are not dangerous. They feel very uncomfortable but are not harmful,” says William Marchand, MD. “Recognize that it isn’t dangerous and simply let it pass. Trying to suppress the feelings will typically make them worse.”
And even though the exact cause of panic attacks is unknown, professional treatment — typically in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy — can help. “Meditation and mindfulness exercises are also often taught to a person in order to teach them appropriate coping skills,” says Dr. Kate Cummins, licensed clinical psychologist.
As for me, my panic attacks have ebbed with therapy. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as getting enough shuteye and channeling anxious energy into being active and working out, also helps tremendously.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you experienced a panic attack before? How did you pull through it? What are some ways you cope with panic attacks or any form of anxiety?