A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.
Panic attacks can have physical symptoms such as shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness. The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous, but can be very frightening. They can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, or that you are going to collapse or even die. Most panic attacks last somewhere from five minutes to half an hour.
How to handle a panic attack
It’s important not to let your fear of panic attacks control you. Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening. Tell yourself that the symptoms you are experiencing are caused by worry. It can be helpful to ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible don’t leave the situation until the anxiety has gone. Confront your fear. If you don’t run away from it, you’re giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing bad is going to happen. As the anxiety begins to pass, start to focus on your surroundings and continue to do what you were doing before.
If you are breathing quickly during a panic attack, concentrating on your breath can help.
- Breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose.
- Breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth.
- Count from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Ways to prevent panic attacks
- Doing breathing exercises every day will help to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening.
- Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence.
- Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking – these can make panic attacks worse.
- Try to work out what is causing your feeling of worry in your environment and if possible take steps to change it.
Is it panic disorder?
If you feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be, you may have panic disorder. People with panic disorder may avoid situations that might cause a panic attack. They may also fear and avoid public spaces (agoraphobia).
Can hypnotherapy help?
Yes. In hypnosis you are in a deeply relaxed state. Just being in this state regularly can reduce your feeling of worry. Suggestions given to you during this time help to rewire your thought patterns from negative to positive and reframe your experiences so you see them in a better light.