Panic Attacks

What Are They And What Can I Do?
What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build-up of overwhelming physical sensations, such as:

  • a pounding heartbeat
  • feeling faint
  • sweating
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • chest pains
  • feeling unable to breathe
  • shaky limbs, or feeling like your legs are turning to jelly
  • feeling like you’re not connected to your body.
I could feel all these physical symptoms building inside me, literally filling every part of my body until I felt completely light-headed and disembodied. I felt like I couldn't breathe, I just wanted to get out, go somewhere else, but I couldn't because I was on a train.

During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that:

  • you’re losing control
  • you’re going to faint
  • you’re having a heart attack
  • you’re going to die.
My teeth would chatter uncontrollably and my whole body would tremble, I’d hyperventilate and cry with panic as the feeling that I was going to fall unconscious was so convincing.
What Can I Do About Panic Attacks?

Talk to someone you trust

Talking to someone you trust about what's making you anxious can help. You may find that they have encountered a similar problem and can talk you through it. It may be that just having someone listen to you and showing they care can help in itself.

Getting it off my chest seems to help relieve some of the pressure.

Try a breathing exercise

You may find a breathing exercise helps you to manage anxiety and feel calmer.

Breathe… always remember to breathe. Take time to inhale.

It’s the simplest thing, but is forgotten in panic attacks.

Gently breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping the pace slow and regular. Slowly tense then relax all the muscles in your body, starting at your toes and working up to your head. Afterwards just take some time to be still and focus on how your body feels.

Try shifting your focus

You may find it helpful to shift your focus or distract yourself from the anxiety you are feeling. Look at a flower, a picture or something that you find interesting or comforting. Really notice the details, the colours and any smells or sounds.

I have fiddle toys like little puzzles, stress ball etc. to keep my hands … and mind busy.

Listen to music

Listening to music you find peaceful or you enjoy can help you to feel calmer.

I made upbeat playlists… put my headphones on, lie on my bed and close my eyes – lose myself in the music.

Try reassuring yourself

You may find it helpful to tell yourself that the symptoms you experience are actually caused by anxiety – it is not really dangerous, and it will pass. This can help you feel calmer and less fearful of future attacks.

Physical exercise

You may find that physical exercise can help you manage anxiety and panic attacks. Going for a walk or a run can help you get some time to yourself to think things over, away from everyday stresses.

I find going for a walk great, even if I can’t go far. I walk around the garden and eat my lunch outside.

If you're not able to do physical activities outdoors, or have limited mobility, try to think about what kinds of physical activities you can do indoors, such as exercising individual parts of your body at a time.

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