Why Do Panic Attacks Make You Feel Like You Are Hallucinating?

Panic attacks can feel scary, debilitating, and out of control. The physical effects of a panic attack, like rapid heartbeat and sweating, can make you feel like you can't breathe or are having a heart attack, according to Healthline. And sometimes you can even feel like you're hallucinating. So what's going on?

A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense anxiety symptoms, usually lasting for 5-20 minutes (via Medical News Today). They typically can include chest pain, heart palpitations, numbness, chills, feeling like you're removed from reality, nausea, and trouble breathing. You can also experience a fear of dying or losing control, which can make the attacks feel very alarming. Sometimes people even mistake them for other medical conditions, like a heart attack, and rush to the emergency room. A panic attack might just happen once, or it could be a reoccurring event, which could signify a panic disorder.

Since panic attacks can produce both physiological and emotional symptoms, they can feel confusing (via Self). During an attack, your brain can trick you into feeling things you're not actually experiencing, like your chest getting tight or your throat closing up. And hallucinations could be one of those things.

The physical effects of a panic attack can make you think you're hallucinating

Hallucinations, a form of psychosis, are rarely associated with panic attacks, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. While they're usually attributed to other disorders like schizophrenia, having a panic attack can sometimes make you feel like you're hallucinating, psychologist Dr. Michael Brustein told Self. Hallucinations are sensations, sights, and sounds that aren't actually there. Because we're in such an aroused, vigilant state during a panic attack and often feel disassociated from our bodies, we might see normal things as not so normal, leading us to think we're hallucinating when we're really not. For example, you might detect movement out of the corner of your eye and interpret it as a visual hallucination. In reality, hallucinating is usually only associated with severe panic disorders (via Journal of Clinical Psychiatry).

Although it's common for your mind to play tricks on you during a panic attack, telling yourself that you're going to be okay can help to calm your body down and prevent symptoms from getting worse (via Healthline). One strategy for treating a panic attack in the moment is to count backwards while taking deep, slow breaths. Outside of an attack, you can try to prevent it from happening again by meditating, journaling, going to therapy, and doing breathing exercises daily.