February 11th, 2016

Understanding Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can feel a bit like drowning with no water. They are common, and they are normal. You can deal with them! These tips won’t mean you never have a panic attack, they are just to help with how best to deal with and understand what they are.

Remember that if you have a panic attack, you must go to your GP. It is essential you have panic attacks diagnosed, only your GP can give you the right treatment.

First of all. If you’re reading this for a pal you want to help and understand, go you!


Wait, what is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an experience of sudden and intense anxiety. Panic attacks can have physical symptoms, including feeling unable to breath, shaking, feeling confused or disorientated, rapid heartbeats, dry mouth, sweating, dizziness and chest pain. The symptoms of a panic attack normally peak within 10 minutes. Most panic attacks will last for between five minutes and half an hour.

Understand and identify the symptoms


Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re having a panic attack, or a coughing fit, or dying. Identifying a panic attack can help, you may have 1 or more of these symptoms:

  • a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly
  • sweating  
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath
  • a choking sensation
  • chest pain  
  • feeling sick

Remember you can’t die from a panic attack

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It will pass, no one has ever died from a panic attack.

Walk away from the source of the panic attack


Don’t try and deal with what you’re anxious about during the panic attack, for now walk away from it. You can leave the room, you can walk away from a conversation.

Don’t be embarrassed


Panic attacks are normal. You don’t have to feel embarrassed if you’re having one in front of someone.

Panic attacks are more common than you think


At least 1 in 10 people in the UK experience the occasional panic attack. John Mayer, Lena Dunham, Caitlyn Jenner, Oprah Winfrey, Emma Stone, Ellie Goulding are celebrities who have experience panic attacks, to name but a few.

It’s OK to be a bit rude


You’re having a panic attack, now is not the time to apologise, or feel like you have to talk.

The Fear


Professor Paul Salkovskis, a psychologist at King’s College London, says “It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.” Don’t let the fear of having a panic attack stop you from doing anything in your life.

Breathing Exercises


Breath deeply. Easier said than done right? Try breathing in really slowly, imagine filling your lungs with air, breathing out as slowly as you can. Click here for more info on breathing techniques. 

If it’s still getting you down, don’t hesitate to talk to your GP or call NHS 111.

Always talk to someone about how you’re feeling, someone you trust or a helpline, such as Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, for confidential, non-judgmental emotional support. Or ChildLine 0800 1111 to get help and advice about a wide range of issues, talk to a counsellor online, send ChildLine an email or post on their message boards.