Getting through a panic attack


Panic attacks can strike out of the blue and can be a very frightening experience. While anyone can experience a panic attack, people who have them tend to suffer from them multiple times, and it is rarely a one-off event. In this blog, we are going to look at what a panic attack really is, and what you should do when one hits.

What Is It?

A panic attack occurs when your body suddenly releases large amounts of adrenaline into your bloodstream. Adrenaline is usually associated with either sports or fear, and this goes back millions of years into our evolutionary history. It is the hormone associated with what is commonly referred to as our ‘fight or flight’ response. Panic attacks occur when we are afraid of something, such as a deadline, big presentation, or social events. This fear can trigger our primal response, which is intended to protect us from immediate bodily harm. But as there is no physical danger to a person suffering a panic attack, we have nothing to fight or flee from.

The 3 Minute Rule

It takes 3 minutes for the adrenaline released by our adrenal glands to take effect. When a panic attack strikes, taking the right steps immediately means you could address the issue within three minutes by stopping the release of further adrenaline. The key to achieving this is to convince your mind that it is not in danger.


Identify - The first step in putting a stop to a panic attack is to identify it when it occurs. Laboured breathing, a racing heart, weakness or difficulty standing, and a barrage of negative thoughts are the clearest indicators that you are having a panic attack. Once you know you are having a panic attack, you can begin to persuade your mind that everything is okay.

Breathe - Irregular breathing is only going to keep your heart beating fast and your mind muddled, so the first thing to focus on is your breathing. Breathing in through your nose, filling your lungs with air, and exhaling through the mouth is one of the best techniques for a panic attack. Not only will this regulate your breathing and oxygenate the brain, it will also serve as a distraction from whatever is on your mind. To make this even more effective, try to visualise the air your breathe as a moving swirl making its way through your body.

Persuade - As important as the first two steps are, a panic attack will only really end when your mind is convinced that it doesn’t need to be afraid. Tell yourself that it is just a panic attack, that the fear you are feeling is simply a result of your body releasing too much adrenaline, and that you are not actually in any danger. You may be nervous about something, but you are not going to be physically or irreparably harmed. It is just a basic human instinct that has been triggered at the wrong moment. Understanding these facts will not only distract your mind and interrupt the loop of negative thinking, it will also remind and convince you that there is no major threat posed to your health or life, which is what your body really fears.

Panic attacks can be very overwhelming, and it’s hard to feel in control when they occur. But remembering the facts and steps above will make dealing with a panic attack far more effective than simply letting it run its course. Each time you do this, you will become better and more effective at it, until it reaches a point where you feel fully in control when you can feel an attack coming.

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David Clarke