How to … stop a panic attack

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A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense anxiety, panic or fear, often in response to a stressful situation. Up to five in every 100 Australians will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives. A person having a panic attack will experience both emotional and physical symptoms. While an episode will come on in just 30 seconds, it can take up to half an hour to subside.

Symptoms may include:

    • feeling detached
    • feeling faint or dizzy
    • trembling or shaking
    • excessive sweating
    • pounding heart
    • difficulty breathing
    • fear of impending doom
    • chest pain.

Someone experiencing an anxiety attack may find it hard to breathe. It can feel as though their throat is closing over and they are unable to draw in air. A tightness in the chest and a detachment from reality has led some people experiencing a panic attack to feel as though they are having a heart attack or stroke. If you or someone you know feels they may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke, always call 000.

While someone experiencing an anxiety attack will likely feel overwhelmed and out of control, steps can be taken to ease the symptoms.

Acknowledge that you are having a panic attack
Knowing that these are symptoms of an anxiety attack can help to calm you down. Don’t try to tell yourself to ‘stop panicking!’ as this can exacerbate feeling out of control. Instead, know that this experience will pass and that while these symptoms are uncomfortable, they are not life threatening.

Deep and focused breathing can be one of the most effective ways to ease a panic attack. Focus on taking deep breaths, feeling air pull into your stomach and being released. Try to breathe in for four beats, hold, and breathe out for four beats.

Turn your focus outwards
It can help to focus your senses on an object or task outside yourself. For example, some people may find it helpful to choose a colour and count how many objects of that colour they can see around them. Others will try to recall the lyrics to a favourite song or repeat a calming mantra.

Soothing and stress-relieving lavender essential oils, tea or flowers can help to calm you down. Carrying some with you can help to prevent or ease an attack. recommends putting some oil on your forearms and breathing in the smell.

Go to your happy place
We all have a ‘happy place’. Whether it’s on a favourite beach or a backyard, imagine being there. Try to recall as many details as possible – what it feels like, smells like and sounds like.

Muscle relaxation
This can help you to control and connect to your body during a panic attack, and ease the symptoms. Focus on one muscle at a time, allow it to tense for three seconds, then consciously relax it, releasing the tension. It can help to begin with small muscles such as your fingers or toes and then work your way up.

Lifestyle changes
Long-term lifestyle adaptations can also help to reduce the likelihood of anxiety attacks. Practising yoga can reduce stress hormones in the body. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and limiting your consumption of caffeine and alcohol can help to reduce the likelihood of an anxiety attack.

Learning to manage your own anxiety can be a gradual but rewarding process. You may want to reach out to a friend or family member for support and contact your GP for medical advice if this is a recurring problem.

For more information on anxiety visit Beyond Blue, SANE or call Lifeline Australia  on 13 11 14 for crisis support.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.


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Written by Liv Gardiner


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