What Are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are sudden intense feelings of fear, panic, or anxiety. They can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. It is also possible to have another panic attack right after the first one. Common causes are chronic stress, phobias, big life changes, caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. Panic attacks are common, and therefore it is important and helpful to educate yourself on them.
Symptoms of panic attacks can be physical or emotional. These symptoms may include:
- Pounding or racing heart
- Having trouble breathing
- Chills or heat flashes
- Feeling disconnected from reality (i.e. feeling disconnected from your mind, body, or your surroundings)
- Feeling like you are in danger
During a panic attack, some people may think they are having a heart attack or a stroke. It is important to know that the symptoms of panic attacks are not life-threatening but can feel very scary and overwhelming to experience.
How Can You Prevent Panic Attacks?
Although it is not always possible to prevent panic attacks, the following tips may be able to help:
- Do daily breathing exercises.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid caffeine, smoking, and alcohol.
- Eat regular healthy meals to help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
How Can You Help Yourself or Others While Experiencing Them?
Knowing what to do during a panic attack can be very helpful. You can use these techniques to help yourself or someone else experiencing a panic attack.
- Do breathing exercises. Start off by slowly and deeply breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing. You may want to count to five with each inhale and exhale.
- Find a distraction. Try counting back from 100. This will help distract you from overthinking your symptoms which can worsen and lengthen your panic attack.
- Focus on your senses. Focus on each of your senses one at a time. Think about what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. This will help keep you grounded and feel in control.
- Reassure yourself or others. Remind yourself or the other person that panic attacks can be scary but nothing bad is going to happen. It will all be okay.
After having a panic attack, it is important to pay attention to your body’s needs. You may feel tired, thirsty, or hungry. It might also be best to talk to someone you trust. If you’re comfortable, you could share what happened with them and talk about it. This could help them look out for you and learn how they might be able to help you in case you ever have another panic attack in the future.
If you find yourself or someone you know having panic attacks often, or panic attacks that last for long durations, it is best to see a doctor or a psychologist.
Better Health Channel. “Panic attack.” https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/panic-attack.
Healthline. “12 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack.” https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-stop-a-panic-attack#what-is-a-panic-attack.
Mind. “What is a panic attack?” https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/panic-attacks/.
NHS Inform. “How to deal with panic attacks.” https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/mental-wellbeing/anxiety-and-panic/how-to-deal-with-panic-attacks.
Priory. “Causes of Panic Attacks.” https://www.priorygroup.com/mental-health/panic-attack-treatment/causes-of-panic-attacks.