What a Panic Attack Feels Like

What does a panic attack feel like? One perspective at vicki-arnold.com

You can probably guess that this isn’t a typical post around here. I started having panic attacks in October 2013 and it’s been a long journey to sort things out ever since.

One of the things that I kept looking for in the beginning was someone else’s story. I desperately needed to know I wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t find anything. At that time, I knew I would write about this someday, but it has taken almost a full year for me to be able to do that.

This post wasn’t easy to write by any stretch of the imagination. Reliving one of the worst nights of your life never can be. However, I know that God has purpose for this. For whatever reason, He has allowed these to touch my life. On this side of things, I have some ideas of why, but that is not for today nor do I pretend to have it all figured out.

Today is for sharing what it is like to have a panic attack. To help that “random” person searching on the internet for “what a panic attack feels like” to know they aren’t going crazy, because I was there not terribly long ago.

To help those who think they know how to fix people having panic attacks, but have been fortunate enough to never have experienced one, to have a glimpse of what it is actually like to go through one of these.

As a final disclaimer, I am not saying this is exactly how EVERY panic attack feels like. I can’t know that. I am simply telling you what my first regular attack felt like. So here goes nothing…and everything.

What a Panic Attack Feels Like

My eyes are closed and I am starting to drift off to sleep. Suddenly, I feel a rush of energy and my eyes literally pop open. I am suddenly frantic as adrenaline surges.

My heart starts to pound and my breathing is picking up speed, as if I’ve just ran a mile. I head to the bathroom, where I can turn on a light, the darkness is palpable.

I can’t quite figure out what I’m doing. My hands are shaking and my feet are cold. I can’t stop moving, even little movements help.

I remember that this happened once before and try to tell myself that I’m being irrational. If I can just calm myself down, I can get through this.

It’s not working.

I grab my Bible because I know the Word of God is alive and powerful. I take my waterproof copy to the shower because water has always been soothing to me. I am in the shower for less than two minutes because I can’t sit or stand still.

I feel like I should cry, but can’t. I am pacing and shaking.

I open to the book of Psalms and start reading. I want to read out loud, but my mouth doesn’t feel capable of moving at this point. I keep reading. My heart still pounds and now there is a feeling of being strangled creeping up from my chest to the base of my neck.

“Jesus, help me.” is all I can manage to mutter as I start to feel as though I am surely dying. My stomach starts to turn in knots. I’m now doubled over, but this doesn’t help my breathing so I straighten.

I can’t make my eyes focus on the words anymore so I set it down and begin to sing Revelation Song in my head.

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, Holy, Holy is He.”

Every part of my being is crying out to him. And then it starts. The whispered what ifs, they start small and I can handle them.

“What if you wake your husband up? He has to get up early…”

It’s ok, he’s sleeping soundly.

“What if this is a heart attack?”

No, I tell myself. No. But, wait. Why are my arms numb? No! We’ve been here before. This is a product of my struggling adrenal glands and the resulting hormonal mess that is my body right now.

“Did you check on the baby? What if he isn’t just sleeping soundly?”

No. He is sleeping soundly. Safely. He is fine, I will not wake him because I am a mess.

They start coming faster and more furious. I rebuke them just as quick, but the fear persists. I rebuke. I cast out. I cut off. All in Jesus name, the name above all names. I believe with all I have. I know this is nothing bigger than He. The funny thing about panic is that it is anything but rational.

Then, quietly, the next wave starts.

“Ah, ye of little faith…faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains. Just how small is your faith?”

And this attack leaves me scrambling because I don’t know how to answer. Because the truth is, the truth I know with all my heart is that I am nothing without Him. I am weak, it is only through Christ that I have any semblance of strength. It has never been more clear to me than at this moment. I control nothing.

And right now, I’m exhausted. I’ve not cried any tears, but I feel as though I’ve spent hours doing just that. My eyes want to close, but the moment my eyelids drop, my body goes into fight-or-flight mode. I bring my Bible back out and focus on Psalm 3.

“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.”

My racing heart is slowing and my breathing is steadying.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Worship His holy name.”

I am able to stop pacing, but my body is humming with energy. Step by step, I work my way to bed. I try sitting. I try laying down, but my heart and mind start to race. I get back up.

Finally, I am able to lay back in a semi-upright position, with my Bible open on my chest and allow my eyes to close off and on.

The last time I see the clock before drifting into a fitful sleep, it is a full three hours after I first got up.

“Lord, I need You. Oh, I need You. Every hour I need You. My one defense, my righteousness. Oh, God, how I need You!”

This song was what finally brought the tears…three days later.


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  1. Hi Vicki, Bless your heart I do understand about panic attacks. I had my first one in 1979 and my last one in 2007. Along the way I became agorphibic and for 5 years I never left my home. The attacks were sporadic from 1992 till 2007 when my Mom passed away. I finally sought counseling and it worked amazingly well for me.

    I didnt have the logical thinking you talked about as my flight reflex was to run to the ER. I could write a book on this subject but I wanted you and others to know you are not alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel of panic attacks..

    • Thank you! This panic attack was the first of the regular ones I was feeling. I had one or two prior to this where my reaction WAS to run to the ER. Somehow, in God’s great mercy, I was able to fight these somewhat rationally. I appreciate you taking the time to tell me I am not alone. I have been surprised by just how many women these effect as I talk about it.

  2. Hi Vicki,
    I highly recommend the book the Mood Cure by Julia Ross. It’s a really great book that walks you through the process of setting up a supplement protocol to help your specific health concerns. My husband was having similar issues, and the supplements really helped him a ton.

    What you’re describing is adrenal dysfunction, and there are alternative ways to address it that work in the short term, and also strategies to help you with long term healing. ♥

    • I’ll look into the book. I’m already on a supplement regimen to heal my adrenals. I’ve been using it for months have have seen marked improvement. I eventually plan to share what has worked for me here as well. Thank you for caring enough to share! 🙂