colleen hurll counselling

Tips for Overcoming a Panic Attack

Tips for overcoming anxietyA panic attack can present in many forms. It may be the impending sense of doom that you feel. The breathlessness or the racing heart beat that makes you rush to the nearest hospital. It may even present as uncomfortable muscle spasms or nausea that may result in late night phone calls to your doctor.

The only way to fight a panic attack is to educate yourself. Once you are aware, you begin to regain control over the situation.

Let me guide you through the process of dealing with a panic attack

Be Aware, Be Prepared

It is important that you familiarise yourself with the symptoms of a panic attack so that you are more controlled when it happens. The symptoms of a panic attack normally peak in ten minutes. They can last from between five minutes to around half an hour. Although the symptoms differ from person to person a few of the common ones are:

  • Racing or irregular heart beat
  • Breathlessness or feeling short of air
  • Dizziness/ light-headedness
  • Choking sensations/nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle spasm
  • Hot flashes/ sudden chills
  • Tingling sensation
  • Fear of death or being seriously ill
  • Fear of going crazy


Professor Paul Salkovskis, a psychologist at King’s College London said, “Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening. It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.”

The first step on the path to recovery should be acceptance. Once you learn to acknowledge and accept the true nature of your anxiety, you will not have to live in the constant fear of a panic attack.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor and get a full physical exam performed. This will help you focus on the certainty that your fears of death and doom can be attributed to this condition. Moreover, it will help you accept your condition and this will alleviate anxiety.

For example once you are sure that your breathlessness and chest pain is due to a panic attack and not because of an allergic reaction, heart attack or some serious ailment, you will automatically feel at ease.

Understand your body

A panic attack is usually an irrational reaction to conscious or unconscious fear. What you experience physically is also a result of this fear. The catalysts may be one of the following:

  • Anticipatory anxiety: This is a result of stressful events in the past. Photographs, conversations or anything that triggers a bad memory can serve as a catalyst
  • Self-defeating visualisation: Here not only will you picture yourself in a similar traumatising event but you will also fear losing control in the circumstances. This might be because as you perceive the situation as potentially dangerous, your body pumps adrenaline to combat it resulting in a panic attack.

Once you seem to understand how your body and mind works during such episodes, you can develop a healthy response to combat them.

Relax Your Body

Simple breathing exercises can do wonders when trying to relax your muscles and relieve breathlessness. When you are anticipating an attack there exercises can help you feel more in control. Or simply practising them twice for ten minutes may even reduce the frequency of your panic attacks.

Here are the steps that you may follow:

  • Put one hand over the upper chest and the other hand over the diaphragm.
  •  Take slow deep breaths through your nose and count to five
  • Release your breath slowly through the nose while counting to five again
  • Sit comfortably and relax your muscles
  • Close your eyes and concentrate on different parts of your body. Squeeze your toes first and count to five with the breaths. Then contract foot muscles and move on to different muscle groups like calves, thighs, buttocks, chest, shoulder, neck, arms, hands and fingers.

Indulge in Exercise

Although a panic attack may seem to tire you, use a few simple exercises to refresh your body. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise may help reduce stress levels, rejuvenate your body, improve mood and boost confidence.

A few healthy exercises that may help include:

  • Walking
  • Yoga/stretching
  • Use peripheral vision. Breathe deeply and let your jaw muscles relax

Face Your Fear

Salkovskis says don’t look for distractions.”Ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible, don’t leave the situation until the anxiety has subsided.”

“Confront your fear. If you don’t run away from it you’re giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing’s going to happen.”

While awareness may help build up enough strength in you to prepare for a fear, eventually you will have to face it inevitably. Writing a journal before and after a panic attack may help. When you feel better, reading it will help you come to terms with your fear and make you more equipped for the next attack. This may help trigger a similar panic attack but this time you will be ready to fight back.

Ask For Help

Talking to a friend, loved one, therapist or a support group may help considerably in alleviating the anxiety due to a panic attack. As a part of a support group, knowing that you are not alone in this problem can be reassuring.

Antidepressant and cognitive behaviour therapy are two recommended treatment modalities for panic disorders. CBT aims to identify and modify the negative thought patterns that might be fuelling your panic attack.

So if you cannot deal with panic attack by yourself, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

If you’re wanting help with anxiety or panic attacks, please contact me on 0413 181 320 for a FREE 15-minute phone consultation on how I can help you.


Colleen Hurll, Counsellor and Psychotherapist

  • Sydney Health Connections,
    Level 3, Suite 304,
    12 Century Circuit,
    Norwest NSW 2153
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