You knew your anxiety was increasing, but then one day things go over the top…and you have your first panic attack. Your heart is racing and beating out of your chest, it is hard to breathe, and you’re sweating and wanting to flee. You’re scared you are having a heart attack or are afraid you’ll somehow lose control and act in an irrational or embarrassing way. You want to either go to the ER or flee the situation immediately.
Eventually the episode comes to and end, but the experience has been so awful that you start to live in fear that it will happen again. You live either with panic attacks or fear of having another one, or both.
You’re thinking, Hmm, the last one of these happened at the grocery store, so I’d better avoid going there! Or, I had an attack while, driving, so I’d better stay close to home! You avoid settings that remind you of previous panic attacks, or come to rely on the presence of others, having your cell phone with you, or medication in your pocket to help you remain calm when you’re out and about.
The problem is, you find that these strategies don’t work and are holding you back. You wish you could be free of them. Meanwhile, while you’re putting in all this effort, you realize that your panic attacks are not only continuing but increasing in frequency. Despite all the work you’re doing, your world keeps getting smaller, your sense of independence is going down, you are increasingly upset with yourself, and you’re tired of fearing the next episode. You’ve given up having fun and are just trying to survive and cope with panic.