Panic Attacks

"... I walked into the restaurant and then I felt short of breath, a great sense of fear came over me and I worried about what I might do. I wanted to excuse myself and leave but it was an important function. I ended up running into the toilet and thought I would be sick ..."
- South Auckland Psychology client

A panic attack is an onset of intense apprehension and fear that seems sudden. It typically occurs for a discrete period. There are emotional, physiological/physical, and mental or cognitive aspects to it. It can be related to a particular event or object of can seem to be 'out of the blue'.

You may recognise you are experiencing a panic attack by the following signs:

  • Emotional – fear, sense of unreality, depersonalisation
  • Physical – trouble breathing, dizziness, increased heart rate, chest pain, sweating, shaking
  • Thoughts – "what's happening to me, this is terrible, I am losing control, people are looking at me, I will have a heart attack"

Panic attacks are often a symptom of a build-up of stress, which is then followed by some specific worrying thoughts about a particular event or concern. The response to the panic symptoms can become more of a problem than the stress that originally caused the symptoms. That is, you panic about your stress.

How to Manage

1. Awareness and Self-Talk
Beware of what your thoughts are in response to the situation or event that leads you to feel panic. Remind yourself that current feelings are exaggerated response to a normal reaction. Also tell yourself that no harm will come to you and nothing worse will happen.

2. Breathing and Relaxing
Beware of what's happening to your body, look to slow things down by breathing; say to yourself, relax. Let any anxiety run through your body, it will soon go down. Always stay focused on the present and refocus on the task at hand as panic feelings reduce.

3. Face the Fear
Don;t flee or avoid the situation or moment that you fear, this will make things worst next time. Even though avoidance is in some ways a natural reaction, it creates further anxiety around the event next time around and can lead to the development of phobias. By staying in a situation, your anxiety will go up initially, but will plateau and then go down. With each time you face a feared event or thing the less severe the increase in anxiety will be, and the quicker the reduction in anxiety will occur.

4. Get professional help
" ... Through our sessions I have learnt strategies to better manage my feelings and thoughts. I am more confident that I can control panic from happening ..."
– South Auckland Psychology client.