Panic attacks are a type of fear response. They're an exaggeration of your body's normal response to danger, stress or excitement.
During a panic attack, physical symptoms can build up very quickly. These can include:
- a pounding or racing heartbeat
- feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- feeling very hot or very cold
- sweating, trembling or shaking
- nausea (feeling sick)
- pain in your chest or abdomen
- struggling to breathe or feeling like you're choking
- feeling like your legs are shaky or are turning to jelly
- feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings
Panic attacks can be frightening, but there are things you can do to help yourself cope. It could help to print off these tips, or write them down, and keep them somewhere easy to find.
During a panic attack
Focus on your breathing
It can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.
Stamp on the spot
Some people find this helps control their breathing.
Focus on your senses
For example, taste mint-flavoured sweets or gum, or touch or cuddle something soft. Or try focus on positive, peaceful and relaxing images.
Try grounding techniques
Grounding techniques can help you feel more in control. They're especially useful if you experience dissociation during panic attacks. See our page on self-care for dissociation for more information on grounding techniques.
After a panic attack
Think about self-care
It's important to pay attention to what your body needs after you've had a panic attack. For example, you might need to rest somewhere quietly, or eat or drink something.
Tell someone you trust
If you feel able to, it could help to let someone know you've had a panic attack. It could be particularly helpful to mention how they might notice if you're having another one, and how you'd like them to help you.
Preventing a further panic attack
It may help to:
- read a self-help book for anxiety based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Have a look at our self-help materials further below for suggestions.
- try complementary therapies such as massage and aromatherapy, or activities like yoga and pilates, to help you relax. Visit our physical health category for more.
- learn breathing techniques or join a mindfulness group to help ease symptoms
- do regular physical exercise to reduce stress and tension
- avoid sugary food and drinks, caffeine and alcohol, and stop smoking, as all they can all make attacks worse
If you're having lots of panic attacks at unpredictable times and there doesn't seem to be a particular trigger or cause, you might be given a diagnosis of panic disorder. It's common to experience panic disorder and certain types of phobia together. People who experience panic disorder may have some periods with few or no panic attacks, but have lots at other times.
Watch this short video that explains common symptoms and treatment.
Panic attacks or having panic disorder can have a big impact on your life, but support is available. It might help to speak to other people with the same condition, or to connect with a charity.
You may find the following links useful:
You can also ask your GP about support groups for panic disorder near you.
If you're not sure who to talk to, one of our Keeping Well wellbeing professionals are available to help you get the support you need. Start a live chat with us today.
Panic: an NHS self help guide
In this self-help guidebook from the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, they provide information on: What a panic attack is, how to recognise if you are having a panic attack, what causes panic attacks, what keeps panic attacks going, what techniques can help cope with and reduce panic attacks, further help, useful organisations and resources.
An easy read version is also available to download here.
Centre for Clinical Interventions worksheets
This resource has modules to work through which can be used at your own pace, information sheets including ways to improve how you feel and analysing your thinking and thought diary worksheets.
Self-help books by Overcoming
The Overcoming website has information about Agoraphobia and ways to help your self. The books use methods based on clinical practice and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), such as Overcoming Panic, How to Beat Panic Disorder One Step at a Time and How to Beat Agoraphobia One Step at a Time.
Webinar: Managing worry and fear
Watch this webinar focus on managing worry and anxiety caused by Covid-19, and take a look at helpful long term strategies for managing fear and reducing worry by Thrive LDN.