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My Experience: What It's Like Inside of a Panic Attack Tornado

Lorin has 10 years of experience in the medical field and is currently working in pediatrics at a nationally recognized children's hospital.


It comes out of nowhere. You're on the sofa laughing as your teacup chihuahua is biting the ears of your 20-pound American bobtail cat.

How the next minute plays out is very different. Your stomach starts feeling queasy, similar to dropping hundreds of feet on a roller coaster ride. Your heart starts racing, palms are sweaty, and you're on the verge of regurgitation. You choose to ignore it because this can't be happening.

Denial seems as if it'll force it to disappear. It doesn't. You can't decide whether you're going to faint or if you might actually be dying. It certainly feels like death, so it must be. Should you call 911 or your mom? You choose mom. She is your safe person, your anchor. As you reach for the phone, your hands are tingling numb, you begin to dial.

You're really sweating now. Suffocating. Choking. The chest pain starts. You've reached the conclusion that every inch self control has vanished. It feels like you're drowning. No one can see you but they can all hear you. It's being in the driver's seat of a car you know is about to wreck but the seat belt is stuck. Suddenly, you're in the eye of this tornado panic attack with no escape.

You fully engage in the breathing techniques that should "help," but they don't. This particular state of being is comparable to being in a room full of people and having a social phobia. You wonder if you're going crazy because this certainly isn't normal.

After what feels like hours have passed, you hear the sound of your door unlocking. At last, you imagine a breath of fresh air may be approaching. She doesn't need to do anything, just be there. Hold you. Then somehow despite having just faced death, you realize it's over. Yet again. You survived the storm. Now the waves are crawling gently to the shore dribbling cool, salty water onto the sand. Cylinders of light are skating peacefully across the water.

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Now, paused in perplexity, you can't help but wonder when the next dark cloud will appear.

Facts About Panic Attacks

Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack.

  • Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep.
  • Panic attacks or panic disorder affects 6 million (2.7%) of the U.S. Population.
  • Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
  • The disorder often occurs with other mental and physical disorders, including other anxiety disorders, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, or substance abuse.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying


What Did You Learn?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. A panic attack is the same thing as an anxiety attack.
    • True
    • False
  2. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.
    • True
    • False
  3. Women are twice as likely to be affected by panic disorder as men.
    • True
    • False
  4. Panic disorder affects 6 million, 2.7% of the U.S. population.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. True
  3. True
  4. True

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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