Mental health disorders have become very trendy.
However, this is because most people don’t understand what actually means to have a mental health disorder. One of the most frequent misuses of mental health terms is the phrase ‘panic attack’. People are using this term casually to describe a moment of nervousness, anxiety or fear; some even use it jokingly. A panic attack is much more that that.
A panic attack is not an off-hand thing; so, if you can casually talk about how this or that gave you a panic attack, then you probably have not had a panic attack. And, if you use the terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” interchangeably, you don’t know the difference.
An anxiety attack sucks. It feels horrible, both physically and mentally. They are awful.
Your stomach may tie in knots, your heart may palpitate, your breathing might get shallow… It seems a little bit like the end of the world. Like you want to give up on whatever it is you’re doing, that it’s impossible, and the thoughts are swirling around in your head. The “what ifs” and “maybes”. Your muscles are tense. Your tongue is dry. It’s hard to think clearly. Not fun at all. They are caused by a downward spiral of thoughts that put you in this dark, dark place.
A panic attack is what puts you in the emergency room.
If you’ve experienced a panic attack, you literally think you are dying, that your body is failing you. Many people who check into the ER thinking that they are having a heart attack or some sort of organ failure are actually having a panic attack. Also, your mind is totally out of control. They are so bad because, unlike anxiety attacks which come from a downward spiral, panic attacks come quite literally out of nowhere. Panic attacks can strike at any time, usually when you least expect them. They are not the casual thing that people think they are. They’re crippling, and life-altering if you get them regularly. It’s common to be physically sore afterwards, sometimes even for a few days.
Yes, you can look up on WebMD or MayoClinic and it’ll give you some sort of clinical list of common symptoms. But that list of detached, analytical words does not do justice to the full suffering a panic attack inspires. You are totally, claustrophobically trapped inside your own body, yet the world around you is too big. Your body is in physical pain and your brain is holding you in iron shackles against the actual things you fear most, threatening that those things are going to happen. And, worst of all, your temporarily psychotic mind is telling you that this is it – you’re never going to get out of this. The rest of your life will be this pain.
It is estimated that one in ten people have gotten at least one panic attack in their life.
They are relatively common. Therefore, just because you get panic attacks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a disorder. Disorders are life-limiting. To constitute it as a disorder, you must be so afraid of getting a panic attack that you are doing everything in your power to avoid any potential trigger. For instance, if you once got a panic attack in the grocery store, no matter what the reason for it may have been, you will avoid going to any grocery store thereafter because you are so scared of getting another panic attack. Even if you have 10 panic attacks a day, you do not necessarily have a disorder, unless your fear of them becomes life-limiting. That is key.
If you get panic attacks, I am truly sorry. They are absolutely awful. I want to help educate people on the severity of the issues that people have. It bothers me when people minimize what others go through because of something they don’t understand.
Let us know if you have suffered with mental health disorders and want to talk about it. We are here for you!
For more reading on mental health, check out:
Pandora’s Box is the anonymous account at Words Between Coasts.