Many people visiting this site have submitted questions describing their experience as an “anxiety panic attack.” They then go on to state that their greatest fear is passing out, so I think this question warrants some further exploration.
To begin, The American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., states that one of the symptoms of panic attacks is lightheadedness or dizziness. Consequently it would not be unexpected that you might worry about passing out from panic attacks or passing out from anxiety.
However I want to look at a question/comment from a visitor to the website because it helps to shed some light on the matter:
“I always feel as if I have lost control when having one, but truly am able to get hold of myself typically. However, my largest fear is that of passing out and not being able to control my body when I do. I have heard you cannot pass out when you are having a panic attack. Is this true? ”
While again you might be concerned about passing out from anxiety or passing out from panic attacks, it is important to note that it is not typical to pass out from a panic attack. Fortunately it is possible to demonstrate that your thoughts about passing out to be just fear.
One suggestion is to look at your thoughts and test them. You can use your mind to imagine the actual scenario of passing out, i.e. what would happen. You mentioned losing control of your body but if you think about it, every night when you lay down and go to sleep, the same thing happens. That is, you have no conscious control over your body as you sleep. So it is true that you lose conscious control when you go to sleep.
However when you awake in the morning all is well. If you think about this entire scenario then you ’ll probably realize that you have nothing to fear.
Perhaps you worry about passing out from your anxiety and hitting your head when you fall to the ground. However the next time you are having a panic attack or become anxious, you can simply sit or lay down. That way you don ’t have the worry of hurting yourself in this way.
Another thing you can do (with a therapist you trust), is actually try passing out from your anxiety or panic. In other words, do your best at passing out when you are in a session with your therapist.
Now you might be dubious, but it is actually a technique that many therapists use to show their anxious patients that they have nothing to worry about. This technique is called the Experimental Technique and I was introduced to it through the work of Dr. David Burns, M.D.
The Experimental Technique works because you can conduct the experiment yourself and test the belief that you are passing out. The real lesson here is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot bring yourself to pass out from anxiety or pass out from panic attacks. Again this is obviously something to try while in the presence of your therapist.
Before you go…. I would like to share with you more techniques for agoraphobia and panic attacks. Please sign up for my newsletter directly below.
References (Anxiety Panic Attack: Worried About Passing Out?)
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision” 2000 Washington, DC: Author.
Burns, D. D. (2006) When Panic Attacks: The new drug – free anxiety therapy that can change your life. (pp. 76- 90) New York, NY: Broadway Books.