A panic attack is an intense period of heightened anxiety. Recognising and understanding panic attacks can help you feel less overwhelmed by them.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is an intense period of heightened anxiety.
You might experience them suddenly and without warning, or you might feel them gradually building.
They can be very distressing. You might feel terrified and as if you're losing control. It's common to feel sick, dizzy, weak, and to hyperventilate. Your panic attack could last minutes or hours, but it will pass.
Although panic attacks are frightening they are not usually dangerous.
What can help during a panic attack?
Recognising a panic attack and understanding what it is can help you feel less overwhelmed by it. Understanding panic as a symptom of the 'fight or flight' response can help you recognise and make sense of your body's reactions.
When you're having a panic attack:
- Tell yourself you're having a panic attack, that the feeling will pass and that you're not in danger.
- Do whatever makes you feel safer and more comfortable. This might be curling up in bed, wrapping yourself in a blanket or, if in public, finding somewhere private like a bathroom.
- Take slow and deep breaths from the belly. Put your hand on your stomach and breath deeply, expanding your stomach, pushing your hand out. Then slowly exhale and repeat.
Learning to ground yourself can also help you manage panic attacks by focussing on the present.
Find out more about 'grounding'.
What can help after a panic attack?
Panic attacks can be scary. Try to take it easy and look after yourself after experiencing one.
Do something comforting and relaxing. You might want to be around people or prefer to sit quietly for a while.
See our section on self-care to learn more about looking after yourself.
Telling someone you spend a lot of time with about your panic attacks can be helpful. You can tell them what they are like and how you cope with them so that they can recognise when you are experiencing one and help you. For example, if there's a phrase you use to ground yourself they could repeat this to you.