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Panic attack

⇥ Go to – I am having a panic attack

Your heart is pounding in your throat and you’re sweating. Your breathing is rapid and uncontrolled. You are afraid you will go crazy, pass out or even have a heart attack: you are suffering from a panic attack. What is a panic attack, how can you recognize the signs and how can you prevent a panic attack?


I am having a panic attack: what can I do?

Are you or someone next to you currently experiencing a panic attack? Seven tips you can apply immediately:

1. Reassure yourself or the other person in this moment.
Are the symptoms recognizable because a panic attack has also occurred before? Keep in mind that these are feelings of panic that will also pass.


2. Realize that these are feelings of panic.
You are not really having a heart attack and you won’t faint.


3. Try to breathe calmly.
Breathing into a paper or plastic bag won’t help. What you can do is slow down your breathing: breathe in for 3 seconds and out for 6 seconds. If that doesn’t work right away, try again. You will slowly notice that breathing improves.


4. Take a sip of water.


5. Distract the thoughts using the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise:


    1. Describe for yourself 5 things you see in the room;
    2. Name 4 things you can feel right now. For example, think of your feet touching the floor or the air you feel flowing up your nose;
    3. Name 3 things you can hear now. Maybe you hear traffic outside or you hear the dishwasher running;
    4. Name 2 things you can smell right now or 2 smells you find pleasant;
    5. Name 1 thing you can taste.


6. Talk to someone.

Is there no one with you? Call someone you trust and know well;


7. Go outside.
Take a walk or bike for a bit. Getting some fresh air and exercise helps you release the feelings of panic. Getting movement into your body helps finish the anxiety cycle so your body feels “safe” again.


What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an intense feeling of fear and tension. Often panic feelings are accompanied by several psychological and physical symptoms.


A panic attack often begins with experiencing a physical sensation. This may include, for example, pain or a dizzy feeling. You interpret this physical sensation as something catastrophic: you are having thoughts such as, “I’m going to faint” or “I’m going to have a heart attack”. As a result of these anxious thoughts, you experience tension and restlessness. As a result, you focus yourself even more on the physical feelings, which only increases them. As a result, the anxiety and restlessness also increase: you end up in a vicious circle.


Did I have a panic attack? Symptoms of a panic attack

A panic attack involves several symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you experience them all. Officially, a panic attack is a sudden wave of anxiety accompanied by 4 symptoms or more at the same time. How a panic attack manifests itself varies from person to person.


Common symptoms are:


  • Accelerated breathing;
  • An increased heart rate and palpitations;
  • Sudden heavy sweating;
  • Dizziness;
  • Fear of death;
  • A feeling of suffocation;
  • An oppressive feeling in your chest;
  • Tingling and/or cramping in your hands or feet;
  • Tremors;
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain;
  • Losing control of reality and yourself: you feel like you are going crazy;


Symptoms after a panic attack

After the fiercest feelings of anxiety, you often need to recover from the panic for a while. It is not strange if you then have to cry, tremble or feel tired. These are all logical reactions to a panic attack.


Multiple panic attacks

Have you experienced multiple panic attacks? Then the fear of having another panic attack often grows. Completely preventing a panic attack is not possible. What does help is being less afraid of a panic attack. This is because when that fear decreases, you are less likely to actually have another attack.


It is advisable to keep the general stress and anxiety feelings in your body at an acceptable level as much as possible and let the feelings be there when they occur.


What can you do to reduce the risk of panic attacks?

The following tips can help reduce the likelihood of new panic attacks;


  1. Take time for yourself when you feel tired or stressed.
    Take good care of yourself and allow both your body, and your head to truly relax when needed.
  2. Reduce or stop using alcohol and drugs.
    Also, don’t drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
  3. Talk to your friends or family about your fears.
    It is nice if those around you know what you are going through. This helps you coping with anxiety. Keeping the anxiety to yourself, increases your anxiety.
  4. Write down your thoughts.
    This helps you clear your mind of anxiety thoughts for a while.
  5. Exercise sufficiently and regularly.
    Exercise is an effective way to reduce stress and bring calmness back to your body.
  6. Find distractions the moment you feel the tension and anxiety growing in your body.
    Do you feel a panic attack coming? Focus on your surroundings or count to 100 in your head. Going outside and walking also helps well in many cases.


Panic attacks & panic disorder

If you suffer from panic attacks more frequently and notice that they make you behave differently, it can lead to a panic disorder. In the case of a panic disorder, you also sometimes have panic attacks without knowing what triggers them. Moreover, you are often afraid of having new panic attacks. You have become afraid of the fear. This affects your life.


Help with panic attacks

Do you have questions about anxiety treatment or how to better cope with anxiety? Or are you unsure about when to see a psychologist?

publish-icon Published - 19 Feb 2024
Irene has a lot of experience in treating a variety of mental health symptoms, including anxiety, panic, trauma, as well as symptoms related to personal character traits. When Irene treats anxiety, she looks at who you are as a person and your characteristics, not just the underlying causes.
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