You might even have kept the whole experience to yourself because you feared that you were different or strange.
You may have worried that you were "going crazy.
" Such is the power of a panic or anxiety attack.
For those of us who have suffered, it would be a great relief to know what to do for a panic attack when it strikes.
Having an understanding of what causes anxiety attacks or panic attacks, on a physiological level can be reassuring.
In other words, what can feel like a heart attack or some other impending catastrophic health condition, is really the result of our anxious thoughts and our body's escalating fearful response to those thoughts.
Equally reassuring, perhaps, is the fact that panic attacks are quite common.
In truth, you are not of weak character or mentally ill, nor are you alone.
Around 1 out of every 75 people experience these kinds of attacks.
We find it hard to believe that these dreaded panic symptoms are the result of the body's normal response to a real or perceived threat to our lives.
Once we were cave dwellers living in a naturally dangerous environment, prey to the saber-toothed tiger: We needed all the speed and strength we could muster in order to survive.
What we now label an "anxiety" or "panic attack" is our physical readiness for "fight or flight.
" Our fearful thoughts stimulate our bodies to continue to release stress hormones.
In response to these physiological changes our fearful thoughts escalate.
Like a tropical storm that becomes a hurricane, our physical sensations and our terrifying thoughts chase one another in an upward spiral becoming what we call a panic attack.
During a panic attack you may experience an increased heart rate, with corresponding increased blood pressure, a feeling of not being able to catch a full breath, the sense that your chest and throat are constricted, and a tingling, "pins and needles" sensation in your body.
You may find that you cannot get rid of your anxious thoughts, thereby triggering more fear.
You may also have a sense of being disconnected from your surroundings.
Traditionally, in response to the question of what to do for a panic attack, anti-anxiety medications have been prescribed to help alleviate these symptoms.
While medication can be helpful initially in a treatment approach which aims to transition to the use of self-help techniques, these medications can also have a high potential for addiction.
Fortunately, there are now a variety of alternative treatments.
Learning how to catch your mind's catastrophic messages, recognize them as false, and replace them with more rational thoughts is the central theme of cognitive behavioral therapies.
Various relaxation skills, especially the management of one's breathing, are often combined with cognitive behavioral skills.
These two treatment modalities address the double whammy of a panic attack; the physical sensations and the fearful thinking which combine to produce the dreaded attack.
While quite useful, these strategies are usually taught in an individual or group therapy setting and require time and practice.
More recent medication-free solutions seek to answer the question of what to do for a panic attack before it takes hold.
These interventions employ various simple and quick, cognitive techniques to address the anticipatory FEAR of the next attack.
It is the anticipatory fear of an attack that stimulates the body's anxious and escalating response.
These techniques are most successful in empowering the sufferer to eliminate panic attacks and quickly reduce feelings of anxiety in general.
We are advised to welcome our fearful thoughts, label them without judgement, and seek only to change our response to the thoughts.
In so doing, we will find that the thoughts themselves have lost their power over us.
Mirroring the wisdom of Eastern philosophies and other contemplative practices, it is when we embrace rather than resist our fear that we become freed from it.