What Panic Feels Like

Ad Disclosure: Some of our recommendations, including BetterHelp, are also affiliates, and as such we may receive compensation from them if you choose to purchase products or services through the links provided

During my years of struggle with anxiety, I experienced countless panic attacks. People often ask me what a panic attack feels like, so I thought I'd share with you one of my most haunting memories. This was the first time I had a panic attack while riding a crowded train in Chicago.

Running late for work one morning, I frantically raced up two flights of stairs to catch a departing train to downtown. Still catching my breath, my heart continued to beat quickly. The train was very crowded and I was shoulder to shoulder with fellow passengers. As I stood amongst the crowd I suddenly noticed that my heart hadn't slowed down. Out of nowhere, I could feel dread and panic beginning to fill my mind. “What if I can't slow my heart beat down? Oh, God! Not again!” My symptoms grew worse. My breathing became rapid and shallow, my heart pounded and my legs turned to jelly. I was in complete panic.


I tried to take my mind off the fact that I was having a breakdown in front of an entire trainload of people. Seconds were hours. I prayed under my breath. I opened my workbag, searching for a distraction. With my heart pounding through my chest, the train finally pulled up to the next stop. I assumed everyone in the train car was aware that I was extremely anxious. I wanted to get out, but then again, if I got out after one stop, wouldn't that arouse more suspicion? Wouldn't it be obvious that I was terrified and having a panic attack and was a total weirdo who didn't belong there?

As the doors slid open, even more people crammed in. I could barely move an arm, we were so tightly packed together. The loudspeaker rang once again, triggering a reaction. I bolted out the door and onto the platform, escaping the train. The doors closed and the train sped away. In a few minutes, I calmed down, but my legs were weak and my entire body was trembling. I felt worthless and rejected. What a coward I had been! I was so upset that I called in sick to work that day.

Therapists are Standing By to Treat Your Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Health Needs

Explore Your Options Today


The most devastating aspect of a panic attack is the psychological damage it can inflict. After this incident, my self-confidence dropped to an all-time low, and it would be nearly one year until I could muster up the courage to ride the train again. However, this story does have a happy ending. Using simple techniques, I systematically faced and overcame my worst fears, including riding crowded public transportation and public speaking.

Additional Resources

As advocates of mental health and wellness, we take great pride in educating our readers on the various online therapy providers available. MentalHelp has partnered with several thought leaders in the mental health and wellness space, so we can help you make informed decisions on your wellness journey. MentalHelp may receive marketing compensation from these companies should you choose to use their services.

MentalHelp may receive marketing compensation from the above-listed companies should you choose to use their services.