Panic Attacks

What is a panic attack?

August 3, 2016


What is a panic attack?

Everyone knows what panic feels like and it is normal to feel panicky from time to time.

For instance, when you have forgotten to do something important or you discover your bag/wallet has been stolen.

A panic attack is a bit like your body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement, but much bigger.

The feelings may come out of the blue or be related to a specific place, person or experience.

If you have a panic attack you may experience some of the following:

  • Nausea (feeling sick).
  • Chest pains, heart racing.
  • Feeling unable to breathe properly.
  •  Shaky limbs, or feeling like your legs are turning to jelly.
  • Feeling like you’re not connected to your body.
  • Sweating and dry mouth.

During a panic attack you might feel afraid that:

  • You’re losing control
  • You’re going to faint
  • You’re having a heart attack
  • You’re going to die

Although very frightening, nothing awful will happen as panic attacks are not dangerous they always pass.


When do panic attacks happen?

It’s different for different people.

  • You might have a good understanding about likely situations or places that can trigger an attack for you.
  • Or it may be that your attacks come without warning and happen at random.

Night time panic attacks

  • Panic attacks can also come in the night while you’re asleep, and wake you up. This can happen if your brain is very alert (due to anxiety), and interprets small changes in your body as a sign of danger.
  • Experiencing a panic attack during the night can be particularly frightening, as you may feel confused about what’s happening, and are helpless to do anything to spot it coming.

How long do panic attacks last?

  • Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes. They can come on very quickly, and your symptoms will usually peak within 10 minutes.
  • Sometimes you might experience symptoms of a panic attack which last for up to an hour.
  • If this happens you are probably experiencing one attack after another or a high level of anxiety after the initial panic attack.

How often might I have panic attacks?

Again, it’s different for different people.

  • You may have one panic attack and never experience another, or you might have attacks once a month or even several times each week.

How do I deal with panic attacks?

Try to breathe slowly.

  • Practice this when you are relaxed so that you become familiar with the technique.  Breathe in slowly through the nose and out of your mouth.
  • Another technique is breathing in for 3 seconds, then breathing out for 6 seconds. This will lower the adrenaline in your blood.

Try closing your eyes and focus on your breathing.

  • Remember even if you cannot control your breathing , nothing awful will happen.

Try not to focus on your body if possible.

  • If you start to feel panicky perhaps play some music that you enjoy listening to and have easily to hand maybe on your phone.
  • If possible challenge your frightening thoughts, perhaps write down when not panicked some of the thoughts alongside a more realistic thought.
  • If you have experienced a panic attack before remind yourself you have panicked before and nothing awful happened.
  • When not panicking talk over any concerns or worries with a counsellor, friend or family member. Try not to bottle up your feelings and troubles. 

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