I've started to have panic attacks in the past few years, and I've realized that explaining how a panic attack feels to someone who's never experienced one is a lot harder that it seems like it would be. Most people who don't get them don't really have any clue what they are.
How can you explain to someone that you feel like you might be dying or stuck in a panic forever without sounding completely crazy and having it make some actual sense? It's hard to know exactly what you need when you're having a panic attack, and sometimes it's hard to even accept that you're having one. So in attempt to help people understand what happens during a panic attack (although it differs from person to person), this is the best explanation I've come up with so far:
It's like being engulfed by everything around you, one at a time.
It's like one by one, each and every stimulus around you takes over your mind and body. One by one, a sound or a feeling or a visual will become so engulfing that that one stimulus becomes your entire reality. That one thing becomes every thought that goes through your mind and every physical and emotional feeling you have.
Music seeps in through your ears and gets stuck pounding inside your brain, up against your forehead and against the walls of your seemingly hollow yet incredibly weighted down body. Voices and conversations invade your thoughts and echo themselves over any other thoughts.
Every space condenses itself so small that you become paralyzed inside it. Every space becomes the wrong space to be in and every second the feeling of needing to escape but not knowing where to escape to only worsens.
You can practically see yourself being trapped there as if it's not yourself.
Shaking spreads from your fingers to your toes until your legs wobble so much you can hardly stand. Your chest pounds and your stomach knots until you think you'll either vomit or explode. Tunnels cloud your vision until you can no longer focus or see. Your head feels light, like it's going to float away or fall right off. Your lungs suddenly shrink to half the size and can barely hold enough oxygen to keep you conscious.
Thoughts of being stuck that way forever overpower any rational thought. You don't understand why or how it's happening, but you're sure that there are no possible scenarios where it ends.
You're sure that you're stuck with an insane panic in your body and in your mind forever.
With that being laid out as best as I can possibly explain, sometimes it's hard to understand that someone having a panic attack may just have the urge to flee and need to be alone, while someone else may get worse if they are left alone and need someone to stay by their side. Sometimes panic attacks are triggered by specific things and sometimes they come out of nowhere for no reason. It all varies from person to person and every attack is different.