People have a habit of brushing mental health under the carpet. However, a panic attack is as real as a fracture. There are physical symptoms to your panic attack, and then there is the fear that takes over your mind. 

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Before we dive into what actually happens to your body during a panic attack, it is important to know that every body’s anxieties look different. And so your symptoms during a panic attack may be different than those of others. 

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1. Your body goes into a state of emergency. A panic attack triggers your body’s fight or flight response and puts it on a red alert. So on the plus side, your body is working exactly as it should during an emergency. The bad news? It is a false alarm and so it leaves you confused and incoherent. 

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2. Your nervous system takes control. This is one of the main reasons why panic attacks leave you feeling tired and exhausted. Because the adrenaline levels in the body can spike by 2 1/2 times or more during a panic attack, which is why your heart is racing, your pupils are dilated and your senses are sharpened. In many cases your blood sugar also spikes. 


Physical symptoms may include four or more of these:

– Feeling unnerved or restless

– Racing or pounding heart 
– Sweating more than normal 
– Hot / cold flashes
– Trembling, shaking or shivering
– Shortness of breath 
– Chest ache 
– Nausea 
– Dizziness 
– Feeling like you aren’t in control of your body 
– A fear that you can’t explain
– Tingling or numbness in your hands, arms, feet, or legs

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3. Your body starts the changes almost 45 minutes before the panic attack. Since your body has to prepare for the ‘red alert’, research shows that the physical symptoms can begin as early as about 45 minutes before the panic attack. This including sweating, lower-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide and breathlessness. 

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4. Studies are still being conducted to find out what happens to your brain and why you have a panic attack. And while every person might have a different trigger – in regard to their fears and phobias that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response. Another reason behind panic attacks is said to be the chemicals in your brain. The condition may also be linked to an imbalance in serotonin levels, which can affect your mood. 

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5. When you have a panic attack, look for a safe space. Either stop at a spot you’re familiar with and sit down, or find someone who can help you and physically hold on to them. Focussing on your breathing is very important, breathe in and out to regain control. Rub your hands together or on your knees, or rub your head and relax your muscles. Many people say that closing their eyes helps them focus on other senses such as – touch, smell, sound and feel. But again, different things work for different people. Some find it best to not do anything at all and let the panic wash over them likes waves at a beach – and patiently wait for it to subside. 

If you or someone you know needs a professional to talk to or is struggling with panic attacks and anxiety, here is a list of professionals who are offering help during the pandemic.