A single bead of sweat drips down your face. You gulp for air, but for some reason you just can't breathe. It's all happening at once. Your heart is racing, your chest is tightening, and the overwhelming feeling of fear is quickly eating you alive. The anxiety is setting in. You feel it spread through your body, almost as if it's taking over every inch of you. Your heart pounds loudly in your ears and the shaking feels almost impossible to stop. The intensity and lack of control are overwhelming . . . the faintness slowly begins to set in.
You're having a panic attack.
So, how do you stop it?
Panic attacks have been described as “an abrupt surge of intense discomfort or fear”. Although it is a psychological event, there are several physiological symptoms that may accompany it. Well known symptoms include:
Panic attacks often occur without warning and can range from a few times a day to a few times a year. They often feel sudden, and have no trigger, which can be disarming for those who suffer from them.
A recent study has explored the technique of incorporating “mental footnotes” when a panic attack strikes. By saying “this isn't going to happen” the false reality that is being constructed during a panic attack can be altered. Other coping skills can include riding out the attack and confronting the fear, as well as practicing deep, slow breathing techniques. Although panic attacks appear without warning, there are a few methods that may help to reduce their frequency. Regular exercise, eating regular meals, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and smoking. If your panic attacks are frequent, you may also try reaching out to a therapist.
Cackovic C, Nazir S, Marwaha R. Panic Disorder. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; June 21, 2022.
Tornero JLV. Effectiveness of mental footnotes in the cognitive therapy for panic attack: two case-studies. Res Psychother. 2019;22(1):337. Published 2019 Apr 19. doi:10.4081/ripppo.2019.337
How to deal with panic attacks. NHS inform. https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/mental-wellbeing/anxiety-and-panic/how-to-deal-with-panic-attacks. Published May 17, 2022. Accessed October 14, 2022.