Updated: Jan 16, 2020
A selection of experiences from people on the Autistic Spectrum, describing what panic attacks are like for them.
" I was hyperventilating and crying and I didn't know when I was. Yes, I mean when. I didn't know when in my life I was, I felt like I was about 4 years younger, at a totally different stage in my life, but I was in my university accommodation, so I was really confused and freaking out even more. Afterwards, I was shaking like a leaf for at least an hour afterwards, and i found walking almost physically impossible. It's like my brain short-circuits and movement becomes way more difficult and physically painful." - Fireandshadows
"The worst one, which only happened once, was several months into a nervous breakdown - I'd been at home for a few months and barely left my house, let alone my bedroom - and in the middle of a panic attack in the early hours of the morning, I didn't know who or where I was, just for a couple of seconds. That was really, really scary. I didn't recognise my Mum, just for those few seconds." - Willow
"When I first had a panic attack, I didn't have a clue what was wrong but I knew SOMETHING was definitely not right but I couldn't identify it, I could just feel a feeling creeping up on me. I didn't even feel particularly anxious at the time but I hear this is often the case with panic attacks - they happen for no apparent reason. I have also had the feeling of not knowing where my body is and sort of watching myself like a movie rather than being myself." - SM
"When I have a panic attack by vision seems to mirror (so looking back on my memories everything that should be left is right and vice versa). I don't have difficulty breathing but the same amount of air doesn't do the job it normally does. I also used to bolt away from wherever I was. Often results in a shutdown which I get within 24 hours." - iggy
"First of all, there needs to be a trigger. It's usually something medical, like the thought of an infection, blood, symptoms, and bacteria. My breathing is cut of, and it feels like my chest is being crushed, I turn ghost white, and start to feel my adrenal glands kick in. After about a minute it feels like my blood is turning into poison, and it burns me from the inside. After 2 minutes I see flashing lights, and everything starts to go black. After 5 minutes I have to take my shoes off (no idea why) and curl up in the corner, or usually I'll tend to walk out of a room, and pace, hyperventilate and rub the back of my head vigorously. My breathing will become out of control, and the feeling of passing out starts to come in. At this point I really have to be careful. I can't run or hide, I just have to hope I stay conscious. Usually after 10 minutes it dies down." - Ben
"The first one was when I was on a crowded hot bus, and I suddenly started feeling dizzy and knew I had to get out of the bus. I then started to get really anxious and panicky because I didn't know when the next stop was and I was sure I would pass out. I got off. I was hyperventilating and felt dizzy and weak, but felt better when outside and started to calm down after 5 minutes.
The second was, again, in a bus. I was in the aisle in the middle and there was standing room only. A lot of people got on at once and surrounded me, pushing into me. I felt extremely uncomfortable and anxious. Then more got on. When my stop came, I was physically unable to get out and I felt extremely anxious. I missed my stop and lost control - I started to shout and push and felt desperate to get out. The feeling was overwhelming and very tense. I managed to reach the door and get out at the next stop. I was hyperventilating and needed to sit down a bit to recover. I never went on the bus again because I was afraid that this would happen again." - Nesf
"I had my first panic attack on the bus into town with my dad to go shopping - so I was happy, not anxious at all! I felt really hot, and nauseous, and my vision blurred and my hearing went fuzzy. I really felt like I was going to throw up, and I didn't want to make a mess on the bus or inconvenience anyone. I finally managed to say to my dad that I didn't feel well, and everyone was great, I think the driver opened the door so I could get some fresh air and cool down a bit, and people made sure I had enough space and didn't feel crowded. I mentioned it to my GP and she said it sounded like a panic attack, even though I wasn't at all anxious. Because the first thing I noticed was feeling hot & sick, that feeling then became my panic attack trigger. If I feel one coming on, I go and run the backs of my hands under cold water if I can, because the blood vessels are close to the skin and it's a good way to cool down quickly. I actually had one once queuing up to go into one of my GCSE exams - I love exams, so that certainly wasn't anxiety-related! I managed to hide it from everyone, my vision cleared just enough to see to walk by the time we were called into the hall, and then I spent the first 20-30 mins of the exam just sitting there calming down because I go very shaky after them - my body doesn't react well to adrenaline." - RubySeahorse
" I have a lot of panic attacks. They cause me to get really hot and even leads to self harm if I can't control it. I cry and I loose every bit of confidence I have in myself. I will pull at my hair and constantly slap/scratch myself. I feel alone and its hard for me to accept when someone is trying to help cause it's like my mind took over my body and I cant get out of the situation. Afterwords I lose all energy and don't want to do anything. The last thing I ever want to do is look at myself in the mirror." - staystrong07
"I soothe myself when I'm having a panic attack; I'll wrap my arms around my body, rock, tell myself it's going to be okay rub my arms, try to breathe properly, which is hard, if I need to cry I will, than after that's over I'll maybe use one of the grounding techniques because I get numbed out afterwards. I just accept the fact I'm having a panic attack as opposed to freaking myself out that it's happening, I hate them & try to go out of my way to avoid triggers, but if I'm alone by myself I'll try to think calmly & wait until it's all over. Thinking "it'll be okay" helps me. Just be kind to yourself as it's happening. Panic attacks in public happen to me as well, again with the shaking and I just excuse myself and go to a place that's excluded to calm myself down. Panic attacks + lots of noise + big crowd. Isn't very helpful to me, makes my thoughts rush faster into this spiralling negativity making it worse so I'll leave if I can. Also blankets help, if any of you are having a panic attack and are by yourself you could try taking a giant blanket and wrapping yourself in it. I find pressure helps, oddly, I don't like hugs from certain people as it's happening it actually can make it worse, but if you put me in a blanket I slowly start to calm down." - Panda
"I get panic attacks quite often. Often when I get them I feel like I can hardly breathe and I get dizzy. I'm reasonably good at hiding them - I've learnt to hide a lot of things over the years. However recently I've found that, as other people have mentioned previously, telling yourself in your mind that you're going to be okay is a great help. Usually I just think 'relax' to myself which really can help with muscle tension, but for me at least one of the best things I can say to myself is 'you're in control', then to slowly break down logically what's happening in my body (finding it hard to breathe, tense, dizziness caused by blood pressure increasing) and tell myself I'm in control of all that too. I'll tell myself that I'm in control of my breathing, of my muscle tension, of my blood pressure etc. and slowly, the panic attack will usually fade symptom by symptom." - null
"Many years ago I went through a spell of getting them every day, shortly after I moved in with my partner. I hadn't lived with anyone before that and I think they were caused by the stress of suddenly having to share a small space with someone else all the time. It wasn't my partners fault of course; it was just a massive change to my previously very simple and routine life. I ended up in A & E several times before finding out what was happening to me. Now that I live alone again and my house is my 'safe space' where I can retreat to be by myself, I only get them very occasionally, and at least I understand what is happening to me." - storm-petrel