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What to do when you feel the signs of a panic attack coming on

Panic attacks can be incredibly frightening. The intense feeling of anxiety can happen very quickly, and the physical symptoms of panic attacks can be so powerful that many people who experience them believe that they are having a heart attack, collapsing or even dying.  

When you feel the signs of a panic attack coming on, it is important to know what you should do in the moment.  Here, we provide recommendations on what to do when one does start.

If you regularly have panic attacks, it’s also important to recognise that there is support and treatment that can help you to control them and prevent them from happening in the future. In this article, we will also outline the support and treatment that is available at our Priory hospitals and wellbeing centres to help you to address your challenges and resume the fulfilling life you deserve.

Stay still and control your breathing

It is important to stay where you are when you feel a panic attack coming on, but only if it is safe to do so. As it is common to hyperventilate during a panic attack, take deep breaths to stop you from feeling dizzy and experiencing any chest pains.

Close your eyes to help you focus on your breathing. Breathe in for three seconds, hold the breath for two seconds and then breathe out again for three seconds. Make sure your stomach expands as you breathe in to guarantee that you are breathing deeply enough.

Use positive mantras

Prepare positive mantras that you can use when you feel a panic attack coming on. These may be phrases such as: “this panic attack isn’t dangerous, “this is just my anxiety” or “this won’t last forever” which you can repeat to prevent further panic cycles.

Distract yourself from your thoughts

During a panic attack, try to refocus away from your negative thoughts by concentrating on your surroundings. You may want to focus your attention on a particular object in the room like a clock, a plant or an ornament. When doing so, focus all you attention on it, thinking carefully about its shape, colour, texture and size.

You can also choose to visualise a relaxing place or scenario, and focus on that instead. Try to have a visualisation prepared so that you can quickly go there to distract yourself during a panic attack, so practise this technique in order to be able to use it when you feel one coming on.

Address and challenge your thoughts

When you’re having a panic attack, your thoughts may feel destructive and out of control. Focus on what you are thinking and remind yourself that they are just thoughts and not facts. For example, you may think: “I can’t breathe, I’m going to collapse”. Try to challenge this thought - remind yourself that this is just your mind and body reacting to your thoughts and anxiety - it is not a heart attack and you aren’t going to collapse or die.

Professional support for panic attacks  

There is treatment available for those who suffer from panic attacks, which can help you to manage them and also prevent panic attacks from happening in the future.

At Priory, we make use of tried and tested therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you address any dysfunctional thoughts that are contributing to your panic. We can also recommend and prescribe medication if it is needed, in conjunction with therapies. 

The treatments that we will provide will always fit around your needs and requirements, so that you are able to get the most effective support in the best possible manner.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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