What exactly are panic attacks?

Everyone responds to fear, danger, excitement and stress. It’s a perfectly normal response and actually helps to keep us safe. However, when our response becomes exaggerated it can lead to physical symptoms that result in a panic attack.

Symptoms might include feeling faint or dizzy, sweating, a racing heartbeat, stomach or chest pain, shortness of breath, shaky legs or feeling sick, among others, and it can be quite a scary experience.

Panic attacks can happen at any time of day or even night. They can happen regularly or just as a one-off and usually come on quickly and last between 5 and 20 minutes. Sometimes people notice that a particular place, activity or situation triggers them.

There are things we can do to help though. During a panic attack we can concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five, focusing on one of our senses by touching something soft or textured, or tasting a strong flavour like mint. Even stamping on the spot might help to control breathing.

When the panic attack has passed – and it will – it helps to think about what we might need in terms of a rest or something to eat or drink and it’s important to tell someone if possible.
Try to remember that even though panic attacks are scary, they’re not actually dangerous and if they become a recurring problem then help is available.

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