Healthy Mind

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are sudden fleeting periods of intense anxiety. In small doses anxetity is both useful and normal. Anxiety only becomes a problem when our feelings are out of proportion with normality and this is often refered to as a panic attack. About 1 in 10 peple experience a panic attack at some point in their lives.

What are the Effects of a Panic Attack?

The effects of a panic attack vary from person to person. Some effects may include:

  • Sweating
  • Feeling short of breath, like you can't get enough air
  • Pounding heart
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling unsteady
  • Feeling like you're choking
  • Dry mouth
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Tingling
  • Feeling faint
  • Trembling
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Feeling like you're losing control or you can't escape.

Although panic attacks are frightening they don't cause physical harm.

How Can I Manage Panic Attacks?

Self-Talk – Remind yourself that this is only an uncomfortable feeling and it will pass. To help it do so try and distract yourself by thinking about something different, like counting backwards in threes from 100 or sing the line of your favourite song, or see if you can concentrate on your breathing, so you have to focus your attention on something else.

Diet – Be aware that stimulants, like coffee, coke, anything else with caffeine in it (for example, energy drinks), drugs, alcohol, and smoking can all act as triggers for a panic attack.

Exercise – When you start panicking, a lot of hormones start pumping like adrenaline. They keep you feeling panicky. A way to help get rid of those hormones is to exercise, especially doing something that raises your heart rate. Regular exercise can help lessen panic attacks.

Relaxation – Relaxation techniques are a really good idea. If you are having a lot of panic attacks, it can help to get a relaxation CD or download a podcast, and listen to it for half an hour (or however long you like) every day. This can help to reduce your overall stress. Other forms of relaxation are also useful, such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, swimming, and going for a walk.

Slow Breathing – This is something you can practise while you're not having an attack, and when you get good at it, try to use it while panicking to slow your breathing down:

  • Hold your breath and count to 10 then breathe out.
  • Breathe in through your nose for the count of 3 then out through your mouth for the count of 3. Continue this for one minute.
  • Hold your breath again for the count of 10.
  • Do this for about 20 minutes a day (and you could break it up, like doing 4 5-minute sessions), and any time you're feeling panicky.

Seek Help – If you are having a lot of attacks, or if they are getting in the way of your lifestyle, it is possible that you are suffering from a panic disorder. It can help to see a psychologist or counsellor. Contact your Students? Union or Student Services in your college to help point you in the right direction.

For Further Information