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Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are very frightening, and can seem to happen for no reason - but they are actually fear of fear. The panic is an exaggerated reaction to physical sensations in the body, that occur when you are afraid, stressed, or excited.

  • One in three people can expect to have a panic attack at some stage. It's common for healthy, young adults to have occasional panic attacks.
  • Attacks may be unpredictable and frightening, but they are not harmful or dangerous.
  • An attack come on quickly and usually last for between 5 and 20 minutes, although this may vary.
  • You may be more prone to panic attacks if you have depression or anxiety, asthma or diabetes, are taking stimulants (such as amphetamine or caffeine) or withdrawing from tranquillisers.

What happens during a panic attack?

How your body may react

  • breathlessness or breathing fast
  • very rapid heartbeat
  • pains in the chest
  • irregular heartbeat
  • ringing in the ears
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • tingling or numbness
  • hot or cold flushes
  • feeling sick
  • needing to use the toilet
  • perspiring
  • choking feeling
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How you may feel

  • absolutely terrified
  • that the world is going to end
  • that you are going to die 
  • 'unreal' or cut off from the world
  • that you are going mad
  • a sense of impending doom

First aid for panic attacks

Rapid, shallow breathing can make you breathe out too much carbon dioxide, which may cause, or worsen, your symptoms. If so:

  • Breathe in and out with a brown paper bag over your nose and mouth (or use your cupped hands) until you feel better.
  • Don't breathe in too deeply.
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Ten tips to prevent panic

  • Reduce your exposure to unnecessary stress. Find ways to express your needs and assert yourself more successfully.
  • Change your lifestyle. Take regular exercise. Avoid stimulants, such as cigarettes and alcohol. Eat regular meals and avoid processed foods and drinks, to keep blood sugar levels stable.
  • Don't bottle up your emotions. Find someone to confide in, such as a family member, friend or counsellor.
  • Develop coping strategies. Look into cognitive behaviour therapy, or other talking treatments; consult self-help books; ask about anxiety management courses.
  • Join a support group. This allows you to share feelings and discuss strategies.
  • Learn to breathe from your diaphragm. With hands on stomach, slowly breathe in through your nose while counting to four. Your stomach should rise (not your chest). Breathe out, to a count of four, and your stomach should collapse. Repeat four times.
  • Learn a relaxation technique. First close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Locate any areas of tension and imagine the tension disappearing. Then, relax each part of the body, bit by bit, from the feet upwards. Think of warmth and heaviness. After 20 minutes, take some deep breaths and stretch.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your life. If you feel an attack coming on, try to distract yourself with a pleasurable task.
  • Don't depend on others for reassurance. Tell yourself you're not dying or going mad. It's better to rely on yourself and your own coping strategies.
  • Accept and face your feelings during an attack. They will become less intense.
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*Content source: Mind.org.uk