How to Manage a Panic Attack

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

Most people know that depression and anxiety are the most common of the various psychological disorders. Most people also know what depression and anxiety feel like; as we all experience these “normal” human emotions to a greater or lesser extent. 

But what many people don’t fully understand is that “anxiety” is not technically a psychological disorder; it’s many disorders all grouped together. Within this category are social anxiety (including public speaking anxiety), the range of phobias (e.g. heights, snakes, closed in spaces etc.), posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and, well, the list goes on. 

One of the more common among the anxiety disorders is what’s technically referred to as Panic Disorder (which can occur with or without Agoraphobia). 

Panic Disorder is most obviously characterised by panic attacks, which are discrete episodes of intense anxiety and physiological arousal, to such an extent that sufferers feel they’re going to faint, go crazy or even die! 

Not surprisingly, therefore, panic attacks can be extremely distressing and, in the more extreme cases, can contribute to people’s lives becoming extremely dysfunctional. Where it can become particularly problematic is when the person avoids situations in which they think they’ll have an attack and, therefore, their lives can become increasingly limited and constrained (which is the Agoraphobia part of the disorder). 

In addition, regular anxiety and panic attacks combined with a life of increasing isolation, can then lead to depression, relationship difficulties and a struggle to maintain any form of employment. 

There is, however, some good news; and that’s that despite panic attacks being very distressing and potentially very disabling, they’re also very treatable in the majority of cases. 

The most effective interventions for panic attacks are cognitive-behaviour therapy or cognitive therapy, which have been found in some studies to help up to 90% of patients (which is incredibly high in the realm of psychological therapy). 

So what are the key components of effective treatment? And what can you do to manage panic yourself? 

Try these simple, but powerful and effective anxiety management strategies and watch, with patience and perseverance, your mood and life improve: 

  1. Become more mindful of the physiological symptoms of anxiety – keep an eye out for increased heart rate, shortness of breath, butterflies in the stomach or nausea, and sweating; and take action as soon as you can with one or more of the following strategies 
  2. Notice the anxiety related thoughts that accompany these signs and symptoms
  3. As best you can, avoid catastrophizing (e.g. thoughts like “this is terrible”, “I’m going to faint”, I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going to die”) and reassure yourself that despite experiencing these symptoms before, and despite having panic attacks before, none of these terrible events have ever really happened
  4. Try not to avoid situations that create anxiety (as this will only make things worse over the longer term) and/or gradually begin to get back in to any activities you might have stopped – if necessary, design a program that slowly and gradually involves taking regular but small steps towards any and all settings and situations about which you might have some anxiety 
  5. Use other coping strategies such as relaxation or meditation to stay calm – regularly practice slowing and controlling your breathing (and note: this is a very healthy practice for anyone and everyone!) 

Evidence strongly suggests these strategies will help you reduce unpleasant emotions and anxiety and enjoy a more active, functional life. That being said, we all need to reach out sometimes so please consult your GP or a local Clinical Psychologist for more help with these and other tools for managing stress, anxiety and panic. 

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.


Kylie posted at 1:47 AM 22-Nov-2016

Great advice on how to handle a panic attack. Will be sure to keep these tips in mind next time I experience one. Thanks for the share!

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