What It’s Like to Have a Panic Attack

Below is a detailed depiction of my experiences with panic attacks. Please use caution when reading this post and ensure you have a safe person around if it may trigger you.

I thought hard about what I wanted to write this week. It wasn’t until I was on the verge of a panic attack last night that I realized I wanted to give people some insight into what it is like to have a panic attack. I understand this is a hard topic for some people to read, and I respect that. However, I believe this is important for educating people and giving them insight into how to help.

I want to show people how to write it also, give them perspective and depth into one man’s panic attacks. That leads me to a key point: Panic attacks are unique to an individual. Just like our bodies react differently to everything in the world, so does our mind to stress or panic.

For me, a panic attack starts with this tightening feeling in my chest. Slowly, the rope pulls around my heart and suffocates it. A black hole is left in its place, sucking away all my emotions. It takes away all the happiness and joy I could muster.

Then my muscles tense up like I’m being jolted with electricity. I dig my nails into my palms as the feeling tightens my body. I slowly curl up into a ball as my muscles pull at me. My teeth clench together and grind against one another as I struggle to breathe.

Then I forget. I forget how to move, to breathe, to talk, to live. I take in deep gulps of breath, but forget how to release it. I gasp, taking in more and more air. More air than my lungs can hold. My nails dig deeper into my palms, but the pain has disappeared along with my other senses. I want to breathe. I want to release the air into the atmosphere. I beg my brain to remember as I continue to gasp, until…

Finally, I exhale. My eyes stay closed as my body recovers. I don’t move for ten minutes, just laying there in a ball. I wait for my muscles to slowly relax and my breathing to return to normal. Then I open my eyes, and as always, my wife is there, stroking my hair. Waiting for me, like she always does. Opening my eyes to see someone, anyone, being by your side helps so much.

Now, you may ask what some control techniques are when you feel a panic attack coming on. For me, there are a few things that normally work. I turn to my senses before I lose them. What can I smell around me? I’ll use wax warmers or diffusers to help bring me a pleasant smell.

I cuddle with my dogs, relying on my sense of touch and comfort to bring me back down. My head laid on the soft side of Dutch is one of the best feelings. I’ll close my eyes and try to force myself into a happy memory or thought to counter the negativity trying to invade my mind.

Music will often transform me too. Nice, soft music is typically what I turn to. The piano or an acoustic guitar are some of the most soothing sounds for my crazy mind.

Those are things that work for me, so that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Maybe it will help someone, though. If I’ve helped one person, I’ve done something worth doing.

Stay strong.


Published by Tyler Wittkofsky

Tyler Wittkofsky is a multi-genre author, blogger, award-winning marketing and communications professional, and fierce mental health advocate from the southern coast of North Carolina. Tyler has been writing short stories for as long as he can remember. Growing up the grandson of an English teacher, Tyler had a constant fuel to his creative fire in his grandmother. He started writing poetry in 2012 to cope with his mental health struggles with anxiety, bipolar, and depression. Using poetry as an escape, he developed a unique style of poetry that has left readers saying, “Tyler’s voice is compassionate, even while suffering, and I felt the despair and loneliness seeping out through his words.” His first poetry collection, composed of poems written from 2012 to 2016, was published in March 2020. He began his first novel in 2019. The novel, (Not) Alone, was a story based on true events surrounding the struggles of living with mental illness. Described by readers as “An Intimate Closure with Mental Illness,” this began Tyler’s revitalized passion for mental health. He decided that his writing would have a focus on mental health. His next novel, The Seeds of Love: Sunflower Kisses Book One, was his debut romance novel and debut series. Described as “a great job of relaying the realistic emotions of young love and emotional drama that is particularly difficult for young adults…”, his debut romance novel was met with much success. In 2021, Tyler began writing short stories. He was accepted into several anthologies in mid-2021, expected for publication in early 2022. He also writes supernatural horror and historical fantasy for the online magazines In the Pantheon and In the Crescent. He has work published through Five Minute Affairs as well. He built his website www.TeaButWithCoffee.com in 2021. On this site, he started his blogging journey. He began writing book reviews, interviewing indie authors, and writing on mental health. This passion sparked a new desire to connect with more people. Tyler is currently in the beginning stages of two podcasts that he hopes to be live by the end of 2021. Tyler currently lives in Leland, North Carolina with his wife, Grace, and dogs, Dutch and Belle. You can find him and his works here: https://linktr.ee/wittkofsky

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