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Naming Types of Panic Attacks

I have panic attacks so frequently that the term “panic attack” never seems descriptive enough. I have so many types of panic attacks. They all seem to fit the DSM description but they vary. Do these types resonate with other people? These are some types I experience. Maybe others can list more.

The Classic: The classic panic attack. Something triggers me, and suddenly I feel overwhelmed. My heart races. I can’t breathe; it feels like someone is standing on my chest and I am unable to take a deep breath.

The world doesn’t behave normally. It feels too close and then too far away. I’m gasping for air as everything spins. I feel light-headed and dizzy.

I feel frozen for a minute, then stagger off, trying to find a safe space I can find relief. I step outside to get fresh air. I collapse in a chair. I close my eyes. I practice breathing. Those 10 minutes feel like an eternity, but finally they end and I begin to recover.

The Surprise: A form of the classic. It comes suddenly. It happens so quickly I often don’t know what the trigger is. Often it ends quickly too. It doesn’t take me as long to recover. It hits me and knocks the wind out of me, but then it disappears.

The Slow Onset: I can feel myself starting to panic. I keep trying to breathe deeply, to escape it. I try to calm myself with positive self-talk. I remove myself from a trigger if possible. But the panic attack slowly begins. I have all the classic symptoms. It takes me longer to recover than from the Surprise.

The Sequence: Several panic attacks in a row. I’m in a situation (like maybe at work) where I’m unable to take the time and space to recover from the first panic attack. So I’m easily triggered to have a second panic attack. And even a third. Each seems worse and takes longer to recover.

The Mini: I have all the classic panic attack symptoms, but to a lesser degree. Everything is just milder. It’s less stressful, I recover more quickly.

But sometimes I have mini panic attacks in a sequence. I often ignore the mini attacks, so then I don’t recover and I keep having them. After having a sequence of mini panic attacks, I may have a Slow Onset panic attack at the end. So I need to take the mini’s seriously somehow.

The Almost: I start to have all the panic attack symptoms, but I remove myself from the triggers, practice self-care, and the panic attack ends quickly. I call it an almost-panic attack.

The Darkening: These are maybe the worst. I have them the least frequently. It happens very slowly. Often I don’t recognize it as a panic attack.

I am in a difficult situation full of triggers that I feel unable to escape from. I feel myself turning to steel, fiercely determined to endure the situation. But the triggers surround me.

Everything starts to slowly go dark. I hear voices surrounding me, at the edge of my consciousness. Whispers become laughs. Small sounds become excruciating. Sounds and shapes circle me, all seeming to taunt me.

I see strange images in front of my eyes. Sometimes I see bright colors or hear high-pitched sounds ringing in my ears. Everything becomes darker and darker. I feel pressure in my chest and am unable to breathe. I feel trapped in one spot as the world swirls around me, laughing at me, closing in on me.

The room keeps darkening. I feel unable to move or speak, like I am a spectator in a strange circus, or a foreign object in a land that doesn’t make sense. Finally I force my leaden feet to take me out of the space so I can recover. These panic attacks take the longest to recover from.

I wonder what types of panic attacks people experience. Do these types resonate with you? Is there a type I missed?

Naming Types of Panic Attacks

Anna Lente

I am currently getting my master's in clinical mental health counseling. I have bipolar disorder, a dissociative disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I am a writer, poet, and artist. I like to write online about my experience of mental illness in order to raise awareness and break stigma.


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APA Reference
Lente, A. (2018). Naming Types of Panic Attacks. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/counseling-confidential/2018/05/naming-types-of-panic-attacks/

 

Last updated: 3 May 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 May 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.