Fear of Fainting or  Feeling Faint as a Symptom

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Feeling faint is a relatively common anxiety symptom experienced during panic attacks. This was the symptom I used to have myself. It usually follows palpitations and sweating or clamminess.

My own symptoms used to present as an increasing ringing sound in the ears and blurring of vision. I learnt that when my vision became very blurred and the ringing in my ears was blocking everything else out, that I needed to sit down with my head between my knees because the next stage would be blackness. 

I don't recall ever actually passing out although I came quite close once or twice.

But why do we get this symptom?

The survival instinct senses danger. In the case of panic attacks, this may be simply due to the fact that it realises it is in a place or situation during which panic attacks have happened in the past. It therefore makes you aware of this and you find yourself thinking, "What if I panic?" 

That thought alone is sufficient to trigger the fight or flight response.

So your heart starts to beat faster, adrenalin builds and you start thinking you are actually having a panic attack because these are the symptoms, and you start monitoring them and waiting for the next one in the sequence and feeling more and more scared of the attack as you do so.

As your arousal keeps building in a negative direction, your brain and body work hard together with the fight or flight preparation to provide you with the means to escape from this impending danger...

But you are not doing anything with your body. It's all going on in your head!

Your body is working at full throttle to enable you to run or fight, but you are locked in your thoughts, monitoring your symptoms and building your fear, but using none of the extra energy being provided for you. You are a bit like a car being revved in gear at the traffic lights but with the brakes on at the same time. Eventually the car would stall.

So what does your body do? After a while it decides that it is being blocked in doing what it wants to do by your conscious thoughts. It is getting nowhere fast and is just becoming exhausted. In order to regain control it must get rid of your thoughts - which are maintaining the entire fear cycle.

So your body does the only thing it can to get you to stop those thoughts - it makes you faint. Having done that it can restore its own equilibrium.

diagram of the panic attack spiral

In some cases, especially with specific phobias such as injections or the sight of blood, fainting can happen fairly fast. This is usually simply because the arousal shoots up very high and very fast so the system overloads very rapidly. It happens like this most often in very specific circumstances. The survival instinct has been trained very precisely and so reacts very swiftly. Nevertheless the reasons for feeling faint or fainting are the same as described for panic attacks.

In order to overcome both specific phobias and more generalised anxiety reactions such as panic attacks, the survival instinct must be re-trained that these no longer constitute danger signals. 

What to do if panicking or a phobia makes you feel faint  or that you're going to pass out

Please note that feeling faint can also be due to various physical causes and you must always get checked out by your doctor before assuming that it is due to anxiety.

In the longer term you will need to approach the whole issue of panic attacks by first understanding exactly what's going on and then slowly unlearning those responses. (see section on how to overcome anxiety the Feelgood Way)

In the meantime the best advice I can offer is that when you find yourself in a situation in which you start to feel as if you might faint is to get the hell out of there! This is what I did for years. Once away somewhere on my own I was always able to refocus my thougts onto pleasant things and relax my body. Doing these things would give me back control.

With a panic attack, once you stop trying to stop it getting worse and think about something else, it will subside. But usually in order to be brave enough to do that we need to feel we are somewhere safe from the prying eyes of others. So escaping from the situation works as a temporary relief.

But for me, and many others, this never cured the problem of panic attacks in some situations. In my case it took a more severe episode of an acute anxiety state to finally make me confront the problem and do something about it for good.

You can read My Story and how this happened here.

For now we are just considering a very instant and temporary solution. Briefly this consists of getting out of the situation where you're fighting the panicky feelings. If you have a friend with you start talking to them about something completely different. Try and relax your body - you might use some of the techniques described elsewhere such as dead weight and breath focus.

These techniques may or may not work for you as first aid in this situation. In the long run the only way to address panic attacks is to unlearn the triggers. This is fairly straightforward to do but it does take time. But is it worth it to get your life back?

If so, go to the section on the Feelgood Way and read more about this. It worked for me and for hundreds of people I treated over the years in my work as a clinical psychologist. 

The Feelgood Way is so-called because it's pleasant to do and doesn't expect you to spend time listening to lengthy recordings, filling in thought diaries, or confronting situations that make you feel anxious. Struggle is banned.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety

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  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Anxiety Symptoms
  3. Feeling Faint