The Physical nature of Panic Attacks

This happened last night, during the wonderful Bardic Finals. I did not include it in my earlier account: The post was meant to be supportive and celebratory, and I did not feel that my momentary lapse into anxiety merited a mention.

As many of you will be aware, I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. The latter can be extremely frightening and debilitating.


Panic is not the same as slight worry, or fretting. It is very physical, extremely scary and, because the symptoms often ape those of more serious ailments, not always easy to diagnose.

I am very easily panicked by threats of violence, and loud shouted anger, particularly when such ‘explosions’ come from men. Male fury I find extremely intimidating – and have a long history of palpable physical responses, usually centred on my tummy or gullet, to its expression.

There was some barracking amongst the audience last night. I am not convinced it was in any way harmful or intrinsically scary – but, without my consciously realising this, my muscles tightened in classic Fight or Flight mode.

Then, a guy got up, and hurling imprecations at the performance then happening, staggered out. The response in my body was immediate and severe. I did not have time to think, ‘Oh, this is a threat…’ (whether it actually was or not, my system responded as if it were); I went straight into a panic attack: Intense pain, terror that it would get worse, fear of being trapped, over-breathing – the whole nine yards.

I will confess now that what I wanted most was to run away and hide. But I made myself calm the breathing down, tried to calm the reaction of pain (always severe in me), pressed my left hand to my ribs (which were hurting the most) and blinked back tears.

From past experience, I am pretty confident that NONE of this showed on the surface; I rarely cry out at such times – and most people are unaware that I am mid panic-attack unless I tell them.

My shoulders, I realised afterwards, had instinctively hunched up around my ears, to protect me from harm I guess – and this, of course, is why I very often get nasty muscle spasms in chest and ribs and back.

I am vulnerable to attack, be it verbal or physical. There is no denying this truth. The fact that this ‘attack’ was not in any way directed at me made no difference; it was the threat of extreme male rage that set me off.

But I decided when I moved here that I was not willing to abstain from all social interactions (the way I had for so long in my previous abode) just in case I might come across scary men. My feeling is that I need to face such things, such people, and learn that I can survive panic, that I am capable of coming out the other side.

It is bloody hard at times, though, and my Flight setting still comes to the fore all too easily.


17 thoughts on “The Physical nature of Panic Attacks

  1. panicattackawareness

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s not only informative about panic attacks but also really brave of your describing your own panic attack!

    JT – Panic Attack Awareness

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali, you coped remarkably.
    Even after all this time, I still get panic attacks, but try to talk myself out of them before they take hold.
    I had my first in the street when I was 17 and passersby thought I was drunk and left me in a heap on the pavement. I dragged myself home wall by gate by wall and fell into my Dad’s arms through the front door. I was off work for five weeks.
    I had another in the middle of the supermarket in the 90s when I couldn’t get out having not bought anything. The checkouts were packed solid and I couldn’t get to the door.
    Now, I avoid crowds, and make sure I can see the exit if I’m in a strange place. Hubby knows the signs when I’m anxious and will take my hand to get me out. I was on medication for depression/anxiety in the late 80s (before I knew him) due to an arsehole who wore me down to something you’d scrape off your shoe. NEVER will I let a man diminish my sense of worth as he did. I can recognise the signs and do something I know will relax me. It’s not easy, but luckily they are few and far between now.
    Good luck. I’m here for you too if you want a sounding board.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. the20somethingexistentialcrisis

    Thanks for posting this. Panic and anxiety attacks are the worst!

    I take an SSRI to help. But I still have moments. I cant be around people fighting; my folks fought a lot when they were going through their meth head adventure in my teens. It was pretty scarring.

    Since then I will have a panic attack when folks fight. My freshman year in uni, my roommate and her live in lesbian lover would fight all the time (one time intentionally lighting our apartment on fire). It was then I realized people fighting was a “trigger” for me. And I hate using that word because its been so misconstrued and misappropriated.

    Did therapy and I had removed folks like that from my life. I thought I was over it, until last year two friends got into a drunken fist fight over politics and the election.

    I noped out of there so fast.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So sorry to hear that you, too, suffer from this. I think panic attacks are often down-played by those who have them and misunderstood by those who don’t. Yesterday’s was horrid – but I have had far less in the past five months. Prior to that, i was getting them most days and some would last all day in vile waves of pain and fear. x

      Liked by 2 people

      1. the20somethingexistentialcrisis

        Sorry to hear that. With panic attacks, especially bad ones, it feels like you need a recovery period. Like getting better from a bad cold.

        If in the future, you need someone to talk to, feel free to message or email me :-). Hope the restof your weekend tets better. Take some “you” time — get a pedi or mani, take yourself out to a movie, or just a nice hot bath with a glass of wine.


  4. dagreenway

    Oh, Ali……I remember the rude comment as he exited. Hardly gave it a second thought. You his your distress, so well. Should the like of that happen again at any public gathering, please do not hesitate to hold my arm/hand or request a protective arm around your shoulders. I had no idea this had such an effect on you……. Happy to help my dear friend. xx

    Liked by 2 people

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