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What are the key signs to know what you are having a panic attack rather than just feeling nervous?

20 Answers
Last Updated: 05/04/2020 at 11:01pm
1 Tip to Feel Better
Moderated by

Paola Giordani, Psychoanalyst

Licensed Psychoanalyst

I have helped and am helping people cope with loss, divorce, anguish and parenting. Depression is also a major issue that comes up.

Top Rated Answers
April 25th, 2015 1:24am
It's different for everyone, but from what I know, a panic attack is way more intense than regular nervousness/anxiousness and the physical feelings are more present. When I'm nervous, I simply feel on edge, and sometimes I'll feel it in my tense muscles, or sick stomach. During a panic attack, the nervousness turns into full-blown panic. I shiver, my teeth chatter, I sweat, my heart beats ridiculously fast, and my breathing quickens. The most important qualifier is the increase from nervousness to intense and immediate panic, though. It's different for everyone, though, and that's important to remember.
January 15th, 2015 12:47pm
A key sign is that you start to hyperventilate (feeling like you are trouble breathing enough). Another is that you feel like running from the situation. In most case, if you don't calm yourself down, your heart starts palpitating and hands begin to shake.
September 8th, 2015 10:43am
A panic attack is when all those nervous feelings reach an unbearably high level. Feeling nervous is natural but with panic attacks it escalates to a point where you can feel like you are about to die (even though you won't die) you can have symptoms like a racing heavy thudding heart rate, chest pains, tingling or numbness, dizziness, feel like you are losing control, feel like things aren't real, there are many many things you can feel and they all feel serious. Some people experience this extremely intensely while others may experience panic attacks more mildly But panic is temporary and always passes. Panic attacks can be very scary and unbearable where as feeling nervous may just be butterflies in your stomach or other bearable symptoms.
January 15th, 2015 5:58am
If you fear that you are dying, that is usually a key sign that you are having a panic attack. You may also fear going crazy, feel heart palpations, chest pain, trembling and shaking, and/or stomach discomfort. A panic attack often comes on seemingly out of nowhere, while nervousness is associated with excess worry. In general, nervousness feels much less intense.
December 14th, 2015 9:16pm
when i have a panic attack, i sweat and i start to feel extremely nauseas and sometimes i even vomit. i shake and i can't think even close to straight. but everyone is different when it comes to these things
February 8th, 2015 5:06am
I've struggled with a panic disorder for a long time, so panic attacks are no stranger to me. Some of the most common signs of panic attacks are a racing heart, sweating, nausea, feeling faint, having difficulty breathing, or even feeling as though you are going to die. A lot of these symptoms might also be experienced if you are nervous (ie. increased heart rate); however, nerves are usually less intense and you are usually still able to function. Panic attacks tend to be more debilitating because of the intensity of the symptoms.
May 1st, 2015 6:29am
For one, you may begin to feel that something is just very wrong, or not quite right. Following this, you may begin to notice/experience physical changes, such as a racing heart, shakey hands, shallow breathing, cold sweats, etc. As for mentality, the most common symptom is that you may feel some sense of impending doom or heightened panic that may actually increase your chances of having a full-blown panic attack.
August 31st, 2015 7:39am
I can't speak to the experiences of others, but my panic attacks always start with tension in my chest, as though my ribs were being drawn together, or someone were pressing on my breastbone. This is followed by an inability to catch my breath, which leads to the standard feelings of being trapped, feeling out of control, and feeling as though I'm about to die. Not a fun experience, to be sure, but I'm getting better at recognising when it's happening.
November 3rd, 2015 8:31pm
When I have a panic attack, it feels like I can't breath, like something's choking me. Sometimes I pace, sometimes I burst into tears. It can be different for different people.
February 1st, 2016 1:13am
Your heart will start racing, feeling faint or dizzy, you could get hot or cold and your breathing gets quick and shallow. When you have a panic attack, you can kind of tell that's it's more severe. Plus a panic attack always comes down
October 18th, 2016 8:01pm
When I had my panic attacks, I could always tell I was going to get one because I would get hot flashes - super cold one minute and then hot the next. It told me to go get my crayons and colored pencils and calm music to try and work through the attack.
September 8th, 2015 3:10pm
Physical responses such as accelerated heart rate, sweating, shaking, or chest pain, people often describe a panic attack as feeling like they're having a heart attack. It's extreme in every sense. When I have panic attacks, my arms even start to go numb and during my most severe attack, I couldn't stand or walk on my own. (Of course, this doesn't apply to everyone, but it's an example of how physically pervasive they can be.) Mental/emotional responses are severe as well. Thoughts are irrational and extreme, and the person having the attack likely can't think of a reason for being so anxious. This then heightens the anxiety and comes with thoughts like, "Why am I feeling this way? Am I dying? What if this never stops? What if I'm having a heart attack?" Again these are just examples. I would say the key signs of a panic attack are the physical responses. Also, a panic attack will reach it's peak within ten minutes and then the anxiety will decrease. If you're just feeling nervous, that nervousness can last a lot longer.
September 29th, 2015 3:32pm
For me, my heart will begin racing, my thoughts will be racing, and I will have the urge to flee, to hide, and will be struggling to fight back tears. I will feel more frantic then I do when feeling just nervous.
November 10th, 2015 8:56am
expecially when i can stand close to no one, i start to run away from everyone, kinda closing myself
December 22nd, 2015 4:39am
Hmm, when I had my panic attack, I thought that I was getting a heart attack. My heart was beating incredibly fast; my breathing quickened and I felt incredibly dizzy. If you've experienced an adrenaline rush before, a panic attack is something like that, only several times more intense. So, you should be able to tell the difference between a panic attack and just feeling nervous :)
August 2nd, 2016 5:53am
During a panic attack you tend to feel like you have no control and can't take the situation anymore and you would rather prefer to leave quicker and your breathing gets heavier, on the other hand,when your nervous your afraid to try new thingies and hold back and won't take a risk and go from there.
April 10th, 2018 8:15am
Sometimes your heart starts racing and you feel as though you cant breath.. You just feel a mix of emotions and its all so overwhelming, like everything is closing in on you..
May 7th, 2018 7:18pm
I start feeling hot and dizzy. I start feeling like I’m loosing control and start hyperventilating. Confusion and uncertainty start to kick in and you start to feel like you are absolutely dying. It’s hard to speak and get the right words out. To others it doesnt make sense.
April 21st, 2020 4:19pm
My first panic attack was 35 years ago. I was home from college, by myself because my father had a new girlfriend miles away and my sister was with her boyfriend all the time. I just came out of an awful relationship, I was supposed to study abroad the following semester, and made a lot of other campus commitments as well. I felt overwhelmed by my situation and incredibly alone. The first thing I noticed was that I was having trouble breathing a lot. I found it hard to catch my breath. My thoughts were full of worry and started spiraling out of control. I felt like couldn't stop my mind from racing and I felt shaky and nauseous. For a week, I couldn't eat or go outside. I thought I was losing my mind. My summer job as a camp counselor started and I remember going to work feeling like I was in someone else's body. The breathing problems and confusion continued over days, kind of freaking out my co-counselor, but luckily she was the perfect match for me because she got me out at night, and made me laugh during the day, and after a couple of weeks I was back to normal.
May 4th, 2020 11:01pm
A panic attack is much more intense than ordinary feelings of nervousness. You may feel like you are totally about to lose control, as if you will have a heart attack, and may even pass out. Your breathing will likely become fast and shallow making you dizzy, along with shaking, sweating, an unbearable feeling of intense fear or dread, and a disconnect from reality. During a panic attack you won't be able to focus on what it is you are meant to be doing, and may find you need to escape outside or to a bathroom etc. After one panic attack, it is common to feel a fear of repeated attacks. In summary, if you have a panic attack there will almost be no doubt in your mind that you had one as opposed to just feeling nervous.