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What To Do When You’re Having A Panic Attack

A panic attack can be debilitating. It can be frightening and overwhelming and generally unpleasant. Knowing what to do when you experiene one can make the situation a lot more manageable. So whether you’re experiencing a panic attack for the first time or the fiftieth, the 4 tips below can help get the situation under control as quickly and safely as possible.

Panic Attack - What To Do

I had my first panic attack in August 2011 and, in subsequent weeks, had several more. I had just moved in with my now-husband and, though things were going well, the move itself had been a bit too chaotic for this self-confessed control freak. Renting a moving van seemed absurd for the “small” amount of stuff I had [ahahahahahahahahaha — skip forward 4 years and I’m arse-deep in the KonMari Method], so I was moving things in dribs and drabs, sometimes using Sam’s car, and sometimes just schlepping bags of stuff on the bus.

And it was while walking to the bus stop one day that the first panic attack hit me. All of a sudden, I burst into tears. I knew where I was going, but I felt completely lost at the same time. I felt like I had nothing “solid” in my life — that everything was just rapidly shifting and changing, and I had no foothold. I felt like I had nothing to anchor me, and so I started to drift… and to panic. I cried the whole way back on the bus, having absolutely no idea why or what was wrong with me, and trying to get to grips with the fact that my mind and heart were racing. Once I got through the front door I began to feel somewhat “safe” again, but still very unsettled by what had happened.

I thought it was just a once-off so did nothing about it… until a few days later I was clutching at the kitchen door, hyperventilating and collapsing in a heap. After that, they became frequent occurrences, and I became concerned enough to make an appointment with my doctor. Which is absolutely what you should do too, so you can get to the root cause and avoid reoccurrence. In the meantime, there are some things you can do when a panic attack hits.

REMEMBER: pain can sometimes be a symptom of a panic attack, but if you feel consistent pressure on your chest and the pain begins to spread down your abdomen or left arm, you should immediately seek emergency medical attention.

4 things to do when having a panic attack:

Panic Attack Tip - Breathe

This is the number one thing that will get you through this. During a panic attack, your breath becomes shallow and you can find yourself gasping for air, which only serves to fuel the panic. Focus on slowing your breath down which, in turn, will calm your body and mind and slow your heart rate back to normal. Counting your breaths can be really helpful here — try breathing in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 6. This is also helpful because it provides a great…

Panic Attack Tip - Distraction


The panic attack has been brought on by some fear, rarely rational and often subconscious. Thinking about what’s making you panic will only fuel it, so you need to distract yourself. Counting your breaths is a good way to do this, but also focusing on physical things around you. Look at something, such as a chair or door, and start to describe it in your mind. Say what colour it is, what shape, size, texture… Where did it come from? What is it made of? What is it used for? Does it make noise? Focusing on solid, concrete things provides a welcome distraction, and can “anchor” you in the here and now so that your fears can float away.

Panic Attack Tip - Safe Place

For me, I felt a lot more comfortable and in control when I was at home and surrounded by familiar things. If you’re in a busy street and all the movement and hustle and bustle is making things difficult for you, step into a shop or public restroom. If you’re alone, try reach a trusted friend or family member. Find an environment in which you feel safe, and focus on things that are familiar to you and that you have control over, even if it’s just your phone.

Panic Attack Tip - This Too Shall Pass

This is especially important if you’ve had no previous experience of a panic attack. The initial onset will often leave you with no idea what’s going on or how long it will last, and this can fuel the fear. Instead, remember that a panic attack is generally quite fleeting, lasting only a few minutes. Know that it will all be over very soon.

 

Obviously, I’m not a doctor, which is why I recommend you consult one, but these have helped me, so I hope they can help you too.

If you have any tips to add, I’d absolutely love to hear them in the comments below.

Have you ever suffered from a panic attack? What was your first experience like?

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Panic Attack - What To Do

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7 Responses

  1. I had my first panic attack on 5th July 2015. I’d been on anxiety meds a few months. I’d had a really lovely day with my family and was chilling watching tv with my partner having put our 2 year old to bed. It started off as my face feeling like it was tightening and then when I put my hands up to touch it and told my partner I was feeling strange, my arms seemed to be stuck in their position with my hands up by my chest. Then my breathing got shallow and my body and legs started twitching…imagine an epileptic seizure. I could barely speak.
    My partner dialled 999 and an ambulance came. Then my parents. The medics did tests and told me to breathe and I slowly came back to myself.
    My partner told them what meds I’m on. They said it seemed like an anxiety attack.
    Saw a doc the next day and had it confirmed following blood tests which came back clear for any other causes.
    A few weeks later I had another attack. Same breathlessness but I sort of collapsed on the floor this time. Thank goodness my partner was home with me and looked after me.
    None since, thank god.
    Seeking counselling now. Hopefully CBT will help.

    Thanks for listening.

    Jen 🙂

    1. CBT has been recommended to me too. I think it’s so great you’re being proactive about it, and I hope you get them under control as soon as possible. Speak to your local health service because there are often free CBT sessions available, and ask them to recommend some online resources too. Thanks so much for sharing your story, and good luck. x

  2. I had panic attacks during a difficult period of time when I was recovering from an eating disorder. Unless you’ve had one, you can’t imagine what they feel like. For the first one, which happened as I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep, I literally felt like I was dying. The room closed in on me and I couldn’t breathe or speak. I was terrified. It upsets me even now to think about it. The second one I knew what was happening and that it would pass, but still so horrible. Then after you’ve had one you spend months feeling nervous that they might happen again. Luckily I only had a couple and none since.

    1. It’s certainly a scary experience, particularly if it’s your first. It’s been a few years since I had one, thankfully. Hoping they never return!

  3. I had my first panic attack in march 2016 one month after I stopped drinking alcohol ( I am a recovering alcoholic and have been sober for these past 14months). I had no idea what was happenong to me and ended up twice in casualty thinking I was havong a jeart attack. It really was tje most terrifyimg experience of my whole life. I still get occasional ones but nowhere near as severe

    1. First off, HUGE congrats on your sobriety. I can only imagine how difficult that is, so you have my utmost respect.
      Second, yes, they’re usually linked to periods of great change in your life, so it would make sense that you started getting them at a time when you were, essentially, facing into the unknown and taking on a huge challenge. I’m sure you still have your bad days, which is possibly why they haven’t yet gone away completely, but know that you’re getting stronger every day and, as you embrace your new life more and more and learn to do new things, the attacks should hopefully completely fade away.
      Wishing you lots of luck and health. x

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