person having a panic attack

How to Deal With Panic Attacks

Date

May 9, 2023

According to Bupa Health, 1 in 3 people in the UK experience panic attacks. Panic attacks are a common symptom associated with other mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety in particular. However, according to the NHS, if you’re experiencing regular panic attacks without reason, as well as stress and anxiety, you may have a panic disorder. You might be wondering, how do you know if you are having a panic attack and what do you do?

This help guide will go through everything you need to know about panic attacks and how to deal with them in the present and the future.

What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is often associated with intense anxiety and manifests as an episode of severe fear.

It can feel like a sudden rush of rapid thoughts as well as physical symptoms. These physical symptoms stem from your body going through the ‘fight or flight’ response mode.

During the primitive times, humans had life threatening experiences where our bodies would adapt to fight any dangers e.g., a lion charging at you. Our bodies would react physically e.g., releasing adrenaline which would increase our heart rate to enable us to fight the dangers.

Through time, this has changed and the dangers we feel may not be as life threatening as being chased as food, however we are still sensitive to situations we deem as dangerous where we can feel frightened.  As a result, our bodies still react in the same way.

What is the difference between a panic attack vs anxiety attack?

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks can share some similarities. They both result in both emotional and physical symptoms.

However, the difference is through the cause of the attacks:

  • Panic attacks are sudden, out of the blue and may not necessarily have a cause. The physical symptoms are more intense and can feel life threatening even though they are not.
  • Anxiety attacks can range from being mild to severe and can turn into a panic attack. They are usually caused by stressors (e.g., stressful situations like a meeting at work) and what you deem as a threat. Usually, these attacks can take a while to build up in comparison panic attacks which come on instantaneously.

What are the symptoms of panic attacks?

Some of the physical symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations or rapid/ irregular heartbeats
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Pressure or pain or tightness on your chest
  • Hot flushes or chills
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Feeling faint
  • Feeling agitated
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness

However, everyone can experience a mix of symptoms with panic attacks usually lasting from around 5-20 minutes.

How to stop panic attacks

In the moment dealing with a panic attack can be confusing, frightening and you just want the feelings to stop. However, it is important you work through the panic attack and face it head on. You will feel the majority of the benefit after facing it.

During a panic attack

If you’re in the midst of a panic attack, there are methods you can take to help work through it.

Positively Affirm

It is important to know panic attacks are not dangerous but can feel as though they are. However, it will pass, and the panic will end.

Recalling positive affirmations can ground yourself and ensure you make yourself aware you are having a panic attack. You could tell yourself:

  • “I am having a panic attack, and I will get through this”.
  • “The panic will pass”.
  • “These symptoms I am feeling will pass”.
  • “I have control of these symptoms; I am in control of the panic”.

Breathe

Slow breathing can help ease some of the physical symptoms you experience. Let’s go through it:

Step 1: Relax your shoulders and arms.

Step 2: Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 5.

Step 3: Slowly breathe back out for 5 seconds through your mouth.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you feel a lot calmer. Put your focus on the way your heart beats, the sensations you feel through your body as you breathe. Clear your mind of any thoughts other than the sensations your feel from this exercise.

What to do after a panic attack

After you have a panic attack it is important you relax. Ways of doing this could include:

  • Sitting somewhere quiet where you can rest.
  • Having something to eat or drink.
  • Doing something you enjoy, for example, reading a book, watching a tv show or movie, self-care [e.g., a warm bath/shower].

You should also ensure you let your loved ones aware of this episode as if you experience another panic attack, they’ll be aware of what is happening and can provide extra support.

Preventing future panic attacks

Since panic attacks are associated with anxiety, it is essential to work towards finding ways to cope with anxiety itself. Below are a few methods to help prevent future panic attacks through helping to manage and cope with anxiety as well as panic disorder:

 Exercise

Exercising releases endorphins which are ‘feel-good’ hormones which reduce stress. In essence, they lift your mood and reduce anxiety. Reducing anxiety, therefore preventing potential panic attacks in the future.

An additional benefit of exercising is that it acts as a distracting mechanism. When you exercise, your attention moves from your racing thoughts to the motion and physical impact your body is going through.

Diet

Your diet can have an impact on your anxiety and depression. Certain foods, drinks and eating habits may be worth considering.

  • Sugary foods are one to avoid. These are added sugars resulting in your blood sugar levels to spike. When this occurs, your energy spikes and then spirals down. This significant change in energy when your blood sugar crashes, results in your mood plummeting. As a result, this can trigger your anxiety and potentially trigger another panic attack.
  • Alcohol is a depressant, and so may you feel calm at first, however it impacts the function of the neurotransmitters in your brain. It alters the chemicals in your brain thus preventing your neurotransmitters from working properly which negatively affects your ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Reducing and limiting alcohol consumption can help to avoid this.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant. This means it can also trigger your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. As a result, you are more likely to trigger panic attacks and feel on edge and anxious. Avoiding or limiting caffeine could help control and reduce your chances of having a panic attack.
  • Food rich in vitamin B. According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin B acts as a regulator for serotonin (happiness and well-being hormone) and dopamine (pleasure, satisfaction and motivation hormone) neurotransmitters. Eating foods rich in vitamin B such as vegetables like leafy greens e.g., spinach and spring onions, fruit, eggs, poultry and more could help regulate your mood. This could therefore help to relieve symptoms of anxiety, therefore helping to prevent another panic attack.

Professional Support – Talking therapy

According to the NHS, talking therapies are one of the main treatments for panic disorder.

CBT is a recommended treatment and one of the services we offer here at Head Agenda. With CBT, it aims to reduce the number of panic attacks you experience.

We can help you tackle panic attacks head on and provide you with the support and techniques you need to prevent them from happening in the future.

We also provide a range of other support options.

For more information, please see our anxiety page and depression page as well as our anxiety help guide and depression help guide.

Alternatively, if you wish to get support through CBT for panic disorders, anxiety, and depression, please contact us via:

Or fill in our enquiry form and book and appointment today:

Disclaimer: This article has been designed for entertainment and informational purposes; it is not personalised medical advice. This guide may be a useful read to generate some ideas, however, please take advice from a medical professional.

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