Snowflake 2.4They say that no two snowflakes are alike.

Perhaps this is true; perhaps it isn’t. But can’t they at least be classified into snowflake types?

Some have a round edge; some are scalloped. Some resemble flowers; others look like tiny spider webs. So many different types.

Close-up photos of snowflakes are beautiful to look at.  But, you’re reading a blog about anxiety — not weather or photography — so we’re not going to examine snowflake structure in depth here.  (If that bums you out, see if this makes you feel any better.)

Instead, we’ll look at panic.  Panic attacks aren’t quite as thrilling to examine under a microscope as snowflakes.  But if you suffer from them, some close investigation can provide you with new insights about the way your body and mind work (and work together).

Maybe you’re familiar with panic attacks in which your heartbeat is the most noticeable symptoms — tachycardia, palpitations, and all that fun stuff.  But then again, maybe you also get panic attacks where shaking or shivering is the primary distressing component.  Or, maybe you tend to get nausea-based panic attacks when you’re in the car or in the hot sun.

They’re all unique, but they’re all panic attacks.

So, how do you classify your own panic attacks?  How do you label them?  Do you label them by the most prominent symptom or in some other way?

To me, a panic attack varies in intensity (from minor to major) and in its impact on my sense of self (from low to high).

Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean:

Minor panic: Adrenaline rushes, increased heart rate, lightheadedness. Uncomfortable, but gone within a minute or two.

Major panic: All of the above symptoms plus nausea, tingling fingers and toes, and a sense of unreality. Lasts for ten excruciatingly long minutes during which I convince myself I’m going to die.

Low impact: Doesn’t really affect my sense of self-worth or self-esteem. The panic attack doesn’t interrupt how I feel about myself as a person with panic disorder.

High impact: Negatively changes the way I feel about myself as a panic sufferer.  Makes me feel like a failure.  Alters the relationship between myself and my disorder.

These are musings, of course, and not a scientific way to classify my panic attacks.  But it is a useful way to look at them.  For clarity’s sake, here’s a quick little visual I whipped up in (the stellar awesomeness of) Microsoft Paint:

If I’m going to have a panic attack, I’d like to stay in the minor panic/low impact quadrant.  But a major panic/low impact attack is also a marker of success — you’ve suffered through a panic attack, but it hasn’t damaged your sense of self.

Alternatively, an attack that falls in the minor panic/high impact quadrant would perhaps mean that I should focus my energy that week not on trying to desensitize myself from panic, but rather on accepting panic as something that might come around & hang out once in awhile.  Especially minor panic.  I should focus my energy on bolstering my sense of self-worth and reminding myself that panic doesn’t have to chip away at it.

And, of course, that major panic/high impact quadrant — well, it’s no surprise that a really bad panic attack might put a few dings in the exterior of my self-esteem.  If the symptoms are worse, then I might feel like I have less control.  And if I have less control, then I feel worse about myself.  Like many other panickers, my sense of control and my sense of self-esteem are, well, a bit entangled.

Have you ever tried to organize your panic in categories? How about using a rubric? Do you rate their intensity from 1 to 10?

And most importantly, how has your method of organizing your panic attacks changed the way you view them?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stephen Begin