I had my first panic attack in 2011. I was in nursing school at Emory University, a place where anxiety is cultivated. I was taking a pharmacology exam in a large lecture hall when all of a sudden my whole body started to tingle. I looked down at my hands and they looked foreign. I broke into a sweat and my vision became blurry. My heart was pounding so hard that I was convinced the professor could hear it from 15 feet away. I circled random answers on the exam and got out of there as quickly as possible. Congratulations, Sara! You have earned yourself a panic attack! Welcome to the lonely club of high-achieving, anxious, perfectionists!
I immediately pulled myself together, put on some yoga pants, and trotted over to the student health center. As the astute nursing student I was, I calmly informed the nurse that I was dying and needed a chest x-ray to rule out a thoracic aneurysm. That’s logical, right? Welp.
A panic attack can often sneak up after years of chronic stress and a lack of proper self-care. Many people go to the emergency room after the first attack because it can mimic a heart attack. After a month of similar experiences, the student health center nurse told me that I was suffering from panic attacks. I was a 4.0 student at a prestigious university with a budding social life and perfect life! I was not having panic attacks! I did not have time to fit panicking into my schedule! I was not even stressed! Right? Oh, wait. I get it now.
I believe a panic attack is our body’s way of saying, “Hey you…slow down and listen to me. I need you to breathe. I need you to relax. I need you to sit the eff down and watch Netflix.” After about 5 years of this journey, I am finally learning to listen to my body and chip away the chokehold of perfection.
My brain was churning out gunk left and right during my first panic attack. The thoughts “I’m dying”, “I’m going crazy” were quite loud in my chaotic hippocampus.