Panic Attacks

For anyone who has experienced one, a panic attack is impossible to forget. Panic is unpleasant and can be associated with a range of physical sensations and a fear of dying, going insane or losing control.

Panic attacks are a form of anxiety. Symptoms include dizziness, sweating, pounding heart, faintness, rapid pulse and difficulty breathing. Many people believe they have heart problems or are going to die, but panic is the cause. After the panic subsides, people feel weak, nauseous and exhausted.

Often there is no identifiable cause for the onset of panic attacks, although they can start during stressful periods or after illness. They may occur once, a few times, or frequently. Because panic attacks are so frightening, people live in fear of another attack. In an attempt to feel in control, people develop theories about causes of the panic, and might start to avoid situations that might trigger the panic, thereby cutting off normal daily activities.

Although professional help is needed to overcome an established pattern of panic attacks (psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist who is experienced in this field), in less severe cases, simple strategies can make a difference:

  • Exercise strenuously – it helps you feel more positive, and burns off chemicals that feed the panic.
  • Practise breathing more slowly, starting with a deep breath out (anxiety leads to fast, shallow breathing).
  • In stressful situations, slow your breathing; counting to 3 as you breathe in, hold for 3, and breathe out for 3. As you breathe out, relax your body.
  • Eat healthy food regularly, avoiding high sugar or highly processed foods.
  • Avoid caffeine (in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate).
  • Cease use of all recreational drugs – all are unhelpful, and some can trigger panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Put things in perspective – ask ‘What’s the worst that could happen? Is this really likely?’
  • Practice tai chi, yoga or a martial art regularly, or dance to music to release tension.
  • Thoughts can feed anxiety, so cut off unhelpful thoughts as soon as they start.
  • Devise a coping statement – something like, ‘I might feel bad, but I’ll get through this, like I have other situations in the past.’
  • Don’t dwell on bad feelings. Let them go and distract yourself.
  • Every day make time for activities you enjoy, including creative and spiritual activities.
  • Retain your sense of humour.
  • Don’t allow fear to stop you doing what you want.
Dr Kate Alessia

Clinical Psychologist & Social Worker

Tel: 0400 444 040

1A Station Place
Hindmarsh SA 5007

PO Box 106, North Adelaide 5006


Copyright 2004 - 2018 Kate Alessia