How to cope with a panic attack

21 Apr 2017
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

Most of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our lives. For some of us, it's on those sleepless nights before a big exam, whereas for others it's a more frequent experience.

If anxiety builds up, it can result in a panic attack. This rarely lasts longer than 10 minutes and leaves no lasting physical damage, but can be frightening and can make you feel anxious about it happening again.

Mind, the mental health charity, offer some useful advice about panic attacks, and what you can do if you suffer from them…

So what exactly is a panic attack?

It's basically an exaggerated version of your body's normal response to fear, stress or excitement. This produces both a psychological and physical reaction.

What does it feel like?

You may feel like you're not in control and experience a few of the following symptoms: 

  • A pounding heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Feeling sick
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling disconnected from your body
  • Feeling unable to breathe

Panic attack triggers 

Triggers are specific to the individual but most people are advised to avoid stimulants such as alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. During an attack, it's best not to question 'why' and just to focus on reassuring yourself that it will pass and you're ok. 

How to deal with a panic attack 

No one should feel embarrassed to admit they've been suffering from anxiety, and there are lots of things you can do to help you cope.

Talk to someone you trust

Just getting problems off your chest can be a huge help. Speak to a friend, relative or your university's student support.

Reassuring thoughts

Acknowledging that you feel anxious and that it will pass. Tell yourself it will be ok and don't worry about the reactions of those around you.

Keep a diary

Keeping a note of things which calm you down and make it worse, can help you understand your own personal triggers and treatments.

Breathing exercises and complementary therapies

Learning how to breathe calmly and deeply can give you a sense of control and prevent you from hyperventilating.

Join a support group

Being around other people who are going through similar experiences can be really reassuring.

During the panic attack

Here are a few useful tips on how to overcome a panic attack...

  • Focus on breathing. It's common for breathing to become quick and shallow, so try breathe calmly in through the nose and out through the mouth
  • You may feel faint or like your heart is racing, so try and find somewhere quiet to sit down and remember that your body can't sustain this panic response for long, and it will pass.
  • Try saying to yourself either aloud or in your head 'I'm ok. This will pass'
  • Observe the sensations you're feeling but don't try to fight them. Understand that this is a panic response and although it's frightening, it will soon be over.

For more helpful techniques and advice, visit Mind or contact the student support team at your university.

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Staff writer at The Common Room