What is a Panic Attack

A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety or fear, our heart pounds and you can’t breath. It may even feel like your dying and some people feel like they are having a heart attack.  Although it is important to rule out medical causes the possibility of a panic attack should then be considered. The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and reach their peak within 10 minutes. The symptoms of a panic attack include a combination of the following:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Racing heart or heart palpitations
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
  • Sweating
  • Choking sensation
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Fear of dying, losing control or going crazy
  • Chest pain or discomfort


Although a panic attack can be an isolated event that can typically occur in times of high stress or significant change left untreated re-current panic attacks can develop into panic disorder (defined as: frequent and re-current attacks, worry alot about having another panic attack and behavioural avoidance of places where you have panicked). This disorder reflects the emotional toll that panic attacks can have; the memory of the intense fear one has felt impairs people’s confidence and disrupts daily functioning.

A vicious cycle then develops of anticipation of the panic attack and behavioural avoidance of situations where one perceives a panic attack will occur. It can be a debilitating condition and one where it impacts on the quality of life of the individual. Clients with panic disorder are then susceptible to developing a secondary mood condition; another important reason why its essential to seek professional assistance before this occurs.


Quick tips to help yourself


  • Learn about panic – this can help to normalise your symptoms where you understand that your not going crazy; not reacting to the symptoms is beneficial to the treatment of panic
  • Be a good observer – watch and monitor your feelings of anxiety and panic, this will help to change them
  • Learn breathing skills – learn to control your breathing so you can calm yourself down
  • Act as normally as possible – go about doing what you intend to do despite feeling anxious
  • Do regular relaxing activities – yoga, meditation and other relaxing activities help to strengthen the body’s relaxation response, promote wellbeing and increase happiness.
  • Practice an optimistic attitude – expect the best not the worst; positive thinking feeds on positive thinking so bring this forward consciously