Social Question

Mariah's avatar

Is there any such thing as a "mild" panic attack?

Asked by Mariah (25863points) November 13th, 2014

Not seeking medical advice; this has been going on for years and years and I don’t think it’s any threat to me.

I’ve heard about what it’s like to have a panic attack and that you feel like you’re dying and your breathing is completely out of control, etc. I’ve never experienced that.

However, since I was about 13 I have periodically had an issue with feeling that my lungs aren’t filling to capacity. I’m still getting enough air but it doesn’t feel satisfying. It feels like the air isn’t getting down into the bottom of my lungs or something; I tend to yawn a lot to try and compensate.

It has been going on for ages and has never been a big problem, so I’m not worried, but I’m still curious what it could be. I’ve read a bit about mild asthma and it sounds possible. Other suggestions say it could be related to anxiety, though, which is something I do know I have a problem with.

Is there any kind of milder form of the classic panic attack you usually hear about?

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11 Answers

janbb's avatar

It sounds like it could be anxiety attacks which I see as less severe than full blown panic attacks.

Mariah's avatar

I wasn’t aware there was a difference. Thanks, I’ll look it up.

hominid's avatar

@Mariah: “I have periodically had an issue with feeling that my lungs aren’t filling to capacity. I’m still getting enough air but it doesn’t feel satisfying. It feels like the air isn’t getting down into the bottom of my lungs or something; I tend to yawn a lot to try and compensate.”

Yes. This is anxiety-related. Your specific problem is that you are not fully exhaling. Your lungs, which are not empty, then try to take a full breath in, and you are met with that feeling. The yawn then comes in to correct this. You are slightly hyperventilating.

While this could be related to asthma or other lung conditions, this is fairly common and can become a habit – even when the physiological cause has been removed.

You can experiment right now with doing the basic breathing technique to see if you feel some immediate relief….
– inhale as deeply as you can
– hold this breath almost as long as you can
– exhale slowly (I repeat, slowly) through pursed lips
– pause
– inhale deeply and from your abdomen. make sure you’re not just chest breathing. You want your stomach to expand.
– hold this breath almost as long as you can
– exhale slowly (I repeat, slowly) through pursed lips

The goal here is to make sure you’re not hyperventilating. You are taking a full breath in, allowing sufficient carbon dioxide into the blood stream. And by fully exhaling, you should start to feel that satisfying feeling of the full breath. When you breathe in after not fully exhaling, there is an uncomfortable feeling that can result in an exhalation that is too soon, increasing the respiratory rate. The yawn is an attempt to correct this.

Anyway, this is something you can fix. PM me if you have any questions.

longgone's avatar

I have the same problem and @hominid‘s solution works wonderfully.

hominid's avatar

correction: Whenever I mention “inhale deeply” above, I forgot to mention that you should slowly inhale (no rush) through your nose. The slow, full exhalation through pursed lips in the most critical here, but I find that inhalation through the nose encourages deep abdominal breathing more than rapid mouth inhalation does.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Mariah Have your Doctors ruled out allergies? I had two similar situations. The second one worse than the first, were I had to tell my body to breathe. We were able to rule out panic attacks because they took a long time to develop and there was no feeling of panic. Then there was the evil insect. All of them progressed over time and I knew something was happening.

Mariah's avatar

@hominid Thanks so much for that detailed instruction, I will try it next time.

@Adirondackwannabe Haven’t spoken to a doctor about this ever. I also don’t always have a feeling a panic when this happens and it will sometimes last for days.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Mariah I think that’s your body telling you it doesn’t like something. Ask them if it could be allergies.

Mariah's avatar

@hominid Should it feel really, really bad at first when I try that? Holding my breath is the last thing I feel like doing right now.

@Adirondackwannabe Definitely possible since I’m hyper-vigilant immune but more likely, if it’s not anxiety, it’s just my body being allergic to itself again….

hominid's avatar

@Mariah: “Should it feel really, really bad at first when I try that? Holding my breath is the last thing I feel like doing right now.”

Yes – for the first breath most likely. This really confirms to me that it may be anxiety-related.

But once you do a full cycle of this, it should feel really good, as in complete. Try this…

Before you do a holding of your breath, make sure you do a full exhale.
– breathe in normally
– exhale slowly, through pursed lips, fully. When you think you are done exhaling, exhale more. And more.
– Now that your lungs are empty, take a full, deep breath in (abdominal breath) through your nose.
– Hold this breath almost as long as you can.

The reason you are likely unable to hold that breath in is because a large amount of the air in your lungs was already old, since you’re likely not fully exhaling. But filling your lungs with fresh air should allow you to hold that breath for a long time and then start slowly exhaling through pursed lips.

After a few slow cycles of full breaths (this includes those all-important full exhalations), you should feel decidedly better. The fact that holding your breath is the most non-intuitive thing to do considering how you feel leads me to believe that you this does have to do with anxiety-related breathing difficulties and the lack of full exhalation (resulting in mild hyperventilation).

Note: My experience with this was insane. It started with allergy-induced asthma, kicked off a panic disorder, and led me to spend a good 3 years of research into breathing difficulties, bad habits, and anxiety disorders. I’m not a doctor, however, so you should definitely get yourself checked out if you think you have any health conditions.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Yes.

Not that they suck any less.

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