Panic attacks come out differently for everyone.
For some, panic might seep outward, coming out as uncontrollable crying or hyperventilating. For others, panic might cause them to go inward as they experience intense depersonalization. Everyone’s experience with panic attacks is valid, and those who know how scary panic attacks can be deserve our support and understanding — no matter how their panic attacks appear.
To get a glimpse at the different ways panic attacks manifest, we asked our mental health community to share photos that show what a panic attack can look like. If you see yourself in any of these photos, you’re not alone.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “My dog alerting that I’m about to have a PTSD-induced panic attack. He will stand like this unless I start trying to harm myself. He will then lie across my chest almost pinning my arms down. After the first wave slows down and I start calming down a little, he brings me my meds.” — Courtney H.
2. “I love my birthday! Unfortunately, this is how I ended my 30th birthday. Under two heavy blankets and a pillow to try to calm my body during a mild panic attack. Turning 30 felt so daunting and scary. Now that I’m 31, I love my 30s, and feel silly that my body felt the need for a panic attack about it.” — Amanda E.
3. “Both of my thumbs are like this. When I have panic attacks caused by my panic disorder and irrational panic attacks, this is my body’s coping mechanism. Everyday I wrap my thumbs in Band-Aids or tape. They are forever scarred. I have to come up with a ‘cool’ story as to why my thumbs look the way they are to relax the flock of people who always ask what’s wrong with my thumbs. It’s not as easy to say ‘anxiety‘ because most don’t understand, and it looks gross. My husband makes sure I keep them wrapped though, and can usually tell if I’ve had a bad day or attacks if he notices my thumbs are raw and bloody.” — Hayley K.
4. “So this is my panic attack. Real, raw, unfiltered. I took this picture hoping one day it would help someone else not feel so alone. To let them know we all go through it. This is right after I did my makeup, was ready to take on the day. When all of the sudden, I sunk like a ship taking on water — it happened so fast. I feel like the worst person in the universe, every little thing I’ve ever done ‘wrong’ comes rushing through my mind all at once. I was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia when I was 15. I’m 26 now and it has been a roller coaster to say the least.” — Cheyenne K.
5. “After the initial outward panic attack, my panic turns completely inward, my thoughts racing with self-loathing, defeatism and suicidal ideation. I’m unable to move or respond; I’m just frozen, furious with myself, hating who I am.” — Matt S.
6. “Five minutes before I was ushered out of an exam room. I was sweating and confused, but saying nothing.” — Jackson J.
7. “Puffy eyes saturated with desperation, doing everything I can to hang on just a little longer to get to the other side of it.” — Alyssa K.
8. “My service dog doing deep pressure therapy.” — Krystal D.
9. “Panic creeps up on me and have to I lock myself in the bathroom and cry until I get it all out of my system.” — Yael G.
10. “Literally seconds before taking this picture I was having a panic attack. As part and parcel of my PTSD symptoms I experience what I call ‘rolling panic attacks’ which are basically panic attacks and dissociation vacillating between one another very quickly. Additionally, as is also relevant here, if someone (or something — in this case my camera) looks at me while I’m panicking I immediately lose my ability to show emotion (sometimes called a ‘lack of affect’). Panic attacks are many things for me (and everyone!), and sometimes they happen without anyone else being able to tell.” — Brieal M.
11. “This is me after a week of panic episodes, to the point where I was throwing up and couldn’t keep down any food or liquids. I finally had to go to the ER for fluids.” — Sarah E.
12. “This was taken in a moment of high anxiety and panic. Normally, I’d try to hide and attempt to control my overwhelming emotions (crying, sobbing, suicidal ideation, etc). My medication makes me ‘numb,’ helping to control the physical and emotional symptoms of panic. However, they don’t eliminate them.. they just hide them really well. Anyone who knows me would know something isn’t quite right: I’m not smiling, I’m staring into space, I’m quiet, I’m not bubbly… But a stranger may not know the difference.” — Kaylynn C.
13. “Panic attack on the left and the day before when I was feeling well on the right. I had panic disorder and experienced panic attacks daily for about eight years. This is the only picture I managed to get during that time. Thankfully, I’m well now. I appreciate the discussion around this. I definitely would have benefitted from more understanding and empathy when I was struggling. Thanks.” — Stephanie G.
14. “Up until a week ago, panic was my only state. I had tried to go without my medicine for three months, through a lot of life changes, and this is how I looked most of the time. Tear-stained face and a feeling of full panic. I haven’t cried in a week, I started my medicine again. But now I really don’t feel anything.” — Audra B.
15. “Hiding in the bathroom at work, crying, texting your support person. Trying so hard to just not quit and walk out to cut the immediate stressor completely out.” — Mary C.
16. “Many people think that panic/anxiety attacks look like ‘surprise/fear.’ It’s true that a panic attack can cause a person to run and hide. The act of running is publicly seen, creating the idea that this is what a panic attack ‘looks like.’ In reality, my panic attacks more closely resemble depression. Once I’m in a safe place I work on calming down, controlling my breathing, and convincing myself I’m safe. While this picture is staged — it’s the closest I could come to what I look like slumped over in a corner trying desperately to regain control of my emotional faculties.” — Gabe Howard, the host of “A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast”
What do your panic attacks “look” like? Tell us in the comments below.