The Physical Signs And Symptoms Of A Panic Attack

The Physical Signs And Symptoms Of A Panic Attack

Signs of a panic attack.

What’s wrong with me?

I would like, in this post, to share the signs and symptoms of a panic attack.

Now, a number of you may need no explanation of the manifestations of panic and anxiety, but there are people out there who succumb to panic attacks but don’t know what they are experiencing.

Difficult to believe I know, but if you haven’t been told what the symptoms mean or even that they are symptoms of a chronic condition then like as not you aren’t going to have a clue what’s going on.

 

The physical symptoms of a panic attack and the role of the nervous systems.

Panic / anxiety is a response to a perceived danger or threat. The objective of the emotion is to prepare the body for either  fight or flight. Its singular purpose is to protect you from harm.

However, when the emotional response is triggered by non threatening events and when it remains past the conclusion of those events, that’s when we have a problem.

Woman experiencing a panic attack.

Aaarghh…

In prehistoric times our ability to survive and pass on our genes depended on this fight or flight response also known as the acute stress response.

Today, however, it is only needed on those thankfully rare occasions when an immediate response is required in order to protect us. Roles and situations in which this might be required are military aircraft pilots, soldiers, police officers, street muggings, fires etc.

When presented with a threat, the brain sends signals to the autonomous nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system then signals the adrenal glands telling them to release the hormone adrenaline which prepares the body for action.

Once a panic attack is underway, it it cannot be stopped as easily as it started. This situation is what ultimately leads to a full blown panic attack.

In time the parasympathetic nervous system begins to work, its job is to return the body to a balanced state, but only once the danger is gone. This built in system will always kick in as the body cannot continue in an ever-increasing spiral of anxiety – no matter what our mind tells us. Given time the body will return to a calm state even without the minds help.

 

The panic cycle

The panic cycle

During the time the fight or flight response is engaged, resources such as blood, oxygen etc are moved to where they are needed most, this has a noticable effect on the other bodily systems and it is these effects that cause the symptoms we feel during a panic attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack

 

Each bodily system is affected by the fight or flight response in a different way.:

The cardiovascular system – Moves blood from the least needed areas such as the skin, hands stomach etc to the areas which will be needed if the threat becomes real. This results in:

 

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Numbness in the arms and fingers
  • Tingling in the arms, fingers and so on
  • Tingling in the stomach

 

Respiratory system – Heavier breathing allows more oxygen to prepare for action. The result of this however is also less oxygen to the head. The increased breathing, but less oxygen to the head results in the following:

 

  • Breathlessness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sensations of choking and smothering
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Dizziness ( and sometimes extreme dizziness)
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Sense of unreality
  • Hot flushes

 

Muscles – Increased oxygen and adrenaline to the muscles cause the following symptoms:

 

  • Feelings of tension
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Trembling and shaking

 

Digestive system – As seen above resources are moved to the body systems that require more, leaving the digestive system with less. This could lead to:

  • Dry mouth as less saliva is produced.
  • Nausea
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Constipation and other digestive concerns

 

 

Overall – The flight or fight response results in an activation of the overall body metabolism. This can leave a person hot and flushed and ultimately drained and tired.

When these symptoms and sensations occur and people do not understand why, they feel and worry that they have contracted an illness, or a serious mental condition. The threat of losing complete control seems very real and naturally very terrifying. This often starts the vicious circle of a fear of fear…

 

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2 Responses to “The Physical Signs And Symptoms Of A Panic Attack”

  1. Pter says:

    The fight or flight mechanism is very strong in most people and takes a lot of effort to overcome.

    That said, panic attacks are beatable and this is one of the best sites I have seen helping people to do just that.

    • Petra says:

      Pter,

      It’s true that the fight or flight reflex is strong but with the right techniques it is, as you say, beatable.

      Thanks for the kind comments about the site.

      We are trying to get great articles out there to help our fellow sufferers.

      John.

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