(Originally seen in Bustle) October 2017 | CAROLYN STEBER
While some panic attacks come on quickly and without warning — especially if you've never had one before — it's often possible to recognize the signs you're about to have a panic attack, and thus do something about it. For many people, these early symptoms include a bizarre sense of impending doom, unexplained sweatiness, tingling hands, and even depersonalization. "If you are able to label what you are starting to feel as the start of a panic attack, you can start to use coping skills and calm yourself down before you go into a full blown panic attack," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells Bustle.
Since panic attacks are all thanks to a misfiring fight-or-flight response, one ways to cope with them is by going somewhere quiet and practicing deep breathing. "The more you can actively slow down your physiological response (reduce your heart rate, muscle tension, slow your breathing, get oxygen to your body, etc.) the shorter and less severe the experience will be," says clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow.
If you have panic disorder and suffer from this issue all the time, you'll definitely want to chat with a therapist to learn about treatment options. But until then, it can help to be aware of the signs you're about to panic — all in the name of calming yourself down as quickly as possible.
1. You Have That "Out Of Body" Feeling
For some people, right before a panic attack strikes, they get an odd sense of depersonalization. "Basically, it feels like you are losing connection with your body," says Klapow. "It's the feeling that you are outside your body, almost 'watching' the attack."
2. It Feels Like Nothing's Real
Similarly, you might experience an episode of derealization. As Klapow says, this is "the feeling that 'none of this is happening,' almost a dream-like state." It can be an incredibly odd sensation, and one that might continue throughout the duration of your panic attack.
3. You Suddenly Feel "Off"
Another subtle way to tell if you're about to have a panic attack? You'll suddenly feel off your game, and maybe even a bit agitated. As psychotherapist Daniel S. Sokal, LCSW tells me, you might be "frustrated, thrown off guard by an interaction, or thrown off guard by a stressful or continuously stressful day." If this keeps happening, take it as a sign that you need to duck a way for awhile, and calm down.
4. Your Pulse Is Pounding
There are several physical symptoms that will set in before a panic attack. And the most common, as psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells me, are a racing pulse or a pounding heart. You might even think you're about to have a heart attack (even though you aren't).
5. Your Hands And Feet Are Numb
Adding to the heart attack fears, Klapow tells me you might notice pins and needles, or a numbing sensations in your face, arms, or feet. It can be a scary symptom, but it will stop soon. And reminding yourself of that can help. "If you know it is a panic attack and have had it before, remind yourself as strong as you can that a) you are not going to die and b) this is a panic attack and it will pass."
6. It Feels Like Something Bad Is About To Happen
This is a strange one, but the best way to explain this feeling is a "sense of impending doom." While nothing bad is actually going to happen to you, Martinez tells me it's fairly common for people to feel a sense of dread before a panic attack beings. You might be sitting at your desk, minding your own business, and then — out of nowhere — it feels like the world is ending.
7. Your Thoughts Are Racing
Panic attacks can kick up intrusive thoughts, and Martinez tells me it might even feel like your brain is going a mile a minute. When this feeling strikes, the best course of action is to retreat to the bathroom (or somewhere quiet) and try those deep breathing techniques until the feelings pass.
8. You're Suddenly Sweaty
As Martinez tells me, another physical symptom to watch out for is a sudden case of sweatiness. Maybe your armpits are wet, and it's not even hot outside. Or your forehead has a slick film to it. Take these as signs something's up, so you can nip your panic in the bud.
9. There's A Pit In Your Stomach
While stomachaches can happen for a variety of reasons, feeling like there's a "pit" in your stomach can be a sign of impending panic. As Dr. Michele Barton, director of clinical health at Psychology Life Well says, "You might experience temperature changes, or a growing pit in your stomach, caused by the change in blood flow to prepare your body for the panic."
10. You Feel Like You're About To "Go Crazy"
As I said above, a panic attack can really mess with your head. So be on the lookout for sudden thoughts that don't really make sense. "You will think things like you are going crazy and/or that you might die," Dr. Danielle Forshee, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. "You might also think you are having a heart attack, or that you are feeling closed in."
11. You Just Don't Feel Well
Depending on how your body reacts to panic, it's possible to experience a whole range of scary physical symptoms. Or, you might just feel sick. As Forshee tells me, panic can make you feel shaky, nauseous, and even lightheaded.
If you notice these signs and are someone who struggles with panic disorder, take them as little signals you're about to have an attack. While it'll be over soon, either way, you can lessen the severity of your symptoms by attacking back, and doing whatever you can to self soothe.