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Why does it feel like I'm dying whenever a panic attack hits?

18 Answers
Last Updated: 07/06/2021 at 7:52am
1 Tip to Feel Better
United States
Moderated by

Tracy-Kate Teleke, M.A., LMFT

Marriage & Family Therapist

I assist adults and couples in CA experiencing relationship challenges and interpersonal struggles including anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other life challenges.

Top Rated Answers
April 7th, 2015 8:13am
There are a lot of things to say about this topic, but I’ll try to keep it short. It can be helpful to understand the basic physiology of the fear response in order to understand what sets them apart from Panic Attacks, and why they feel the way they do. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) takes care of your involuntary bodily functions (e.g., breathing, heart rate, pupil dilation etc.) by communicating signals from your brain to the rest of your body. Within the ANS, there are two major systems at play: the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which controls your body when you're calm, and the Sympathetic Nervous System, which takes over when you're excited or stimulated. When we experience a fear reaction, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear. It tells your body to produce adrenaline, your heart rate increases, you start to sweat, your muscles get tense. In a dangerous situation, all the adrenaline and hyper-vigilance would help you to defend yourself against a threat (fight), or to escape from it (flight). The manifestations of this physiology are intense, but normally you’re focused on a threat and not on your body’s responses, and normally they don’t last much longer than the threat. Normally, after the stimulus/threat/etc. is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and the body's heightened state returns to normal. During a panic attack, this second stage does not occur. Instead, you’re in a prolonged panic response with nothing to fight or flee from, your body isn’t calming itself down, and you become overwhelmed by your body’s response. Your body and brain are reacting as though they’re in a life-or-death situation. Different people experience panic attacks differently, and different coping strategies can be very helpful to reduce the severity and duration of panic attacks.
January 24th, 2015 10:17pm
Many people experience difficulty breathing during panic attacks, which can make you feel like you are dying.
July 12th, 2016 9:46am
When I first learned about my own panic attacks the therapist had a very ominous and memorable name for the feelings that we are dying during a panic attack. They called it a "sense of impending doom." This feeling lives in how we respond to stress and panic triggers. It is both hormonal and neurological. Panic become a self sustaining state and your body believes it is in great danger. In a panic, our bodies believe themselves to be on the edge of a cliff. I had to learn I am not my body. I can watch it's reactions and choose new feelings. This came only after a great deal of practice and the help of my faithful service dog. A skillful therapist can help you find the limits of your panic. Like walking along a balance beam when we were little, we learn to skirt the edges of our fears until from the outside we appear balanced and sure. All of life is a balancing act. Remember, you are batting 1000 if you have made it through every panic attack you have ever had and that's pretty amazing. I wish you peace. ~J
January 2nd, 2018 5:23am
That might be because a panic attack is characterized by fear that feels deadly. A panic attack tends to be mortal agony and that gets worse because you start to hyperventilate. You feel like you cant breathe and you would suffocate and so you breathe faster and faster and hyperventilate but that only makes it stronger. Thats why breathing techniques are quite much the most important thing to do when you have an attack, at least thats what helps me best.
June 5th, 2015 5:38pm
you feel that way because something something or someone is triggering you. it is normal to feel that way, because i feel that way when i have a panic attack. so it is normal. all you need to do is use some coping skills. and go somewhere safe, talk to some one, and take a time out.
March 27th, 2017 8:00pm
It can be a difficult experience especially if youve never had anxiety before. Because its new and has such an effect on our bodies and minds its common to think that something is seriously wrong. Plus anxiety can cause certain thoughts which sometimes arent the most rational.
June 1st, 2015 4:32am
That is one of the symptoms of a panic attack. You just need to remember when a panic attack happens to live in the moment and remember that you okay.
August 18th, 2015 6:55am
Panic attacks can feel like many things, depending on the severity of it. Panic attacks often feel like allergic reactions or heart attacks.
December 15th, 2015 8:33am
Scientifically speaking, it's because your body is releasing adrenaline, which is making your heart beat so fast that maybe you feel like you're having a heart attack or you feel like you can't breathe. Your brain is telling you that whatever is making you anxious will harm you and that you need to "fight or flight". The problem is, sometimes your brain isn't correct on what is or isn't a threat, so your reaction to something that stresses you out might be the same reaction someone else would have to being chased by a bear. And there's nothing wrong with that! So many people experience the same thing, and I'm one of them. Remember to take deep breaths and assess the situation. Ask yourself: How much can this actually hurt me? Ten years from now, will this really matter?
July 20th, 2015 7:25pm
It's the body's autonomic nervous system going into hyper drive. It's a response that feels similar to the "fight or flight mechanism.
May 18th, 2015 7:15pm
Because it gives us to think that we cannot do anything . we just need to panic . and that panic makes us less to think for the thinks that we should have done instead of getting along with panic attack .
September 14th, 2015 3:08am
When I have a panic attack my heart beat increases significantly, I get dizzy, and my breathing pattern is abnormal. I have even fallen before. It feels that way because a heart rate that high isn't natural. It disrupts the bods natural homeostasis. This is why it feels like you're dying. It's completely normal (or at least based on my experience it's normal).
December 15th, 2015 2:32pm
It's okay, you're not alone. you can make it through a panic attack. try to focus on the good things that you have in your life.
February 13th, 2017 1:58am
Many symptoms such as the nausea, abdominal discomfort, lightheadedness, and hot and cold flashes are associated with illness, and the quickened heart rate, chest pain, choking sensations, and shortness of breath can be associated with danger.
April 10th, 2017 7:12pm
Your mind is unable to function in such a difficult situation and when you're that upset you often begin suffering from breathing problems, or so you may think, your world will slowly feel likes it's slipping away and hopelessness ensues , but it is simply mind over matter...
March 5th, 2018 3:49pm
your body is reacting to what they call flight or fight and your body does not know what to do in this situation
October 1st, 2019 12:10pm
Panic attacks can have a physical manifestation on your body, depending on the severity, scope and intensity of the situation. Sometimes you will get stomach cramps, lightheadedness, heart-attack and many more. That is why if you have persistent panic attacks, you should see a doctor right away. By the way, a panic attack triggers your flight-or-fight response - this is the part of your brain that gets activated when danger is around, eliciting hormones like cortisol which is associated to stress. With panic attacks, the danger is perceived to be everywhere so your brain and body have physically altered itself because of the panic attack! With a family physician, they can give you a referral to a clinical psychologist who can give you medication and therapy to help better deal with it. It won't go away, but it will be less severe and won't impact your current relationships.
July 6th, 2021 7:52am
As absurd as it may sound, the "purpose" of a panic attack is to scare you to the point it's impossible for you to ignore the threat. Don't think of it in a contemporary frame, but think of a panic attack as something that acted like a proper alert during our evolutionary process. Panic was there to save you from bears, wolves, calamities. Panic was triggered by something "real". This is how we're wired: nowadays the chances of getting attacked by a bear are quite low if you live in a city, but when something inside you is not balanced, your brain wants to get your attention... the most dramatic way.