Panic attacks – the symptoms and how to deal with them

By | February 12, 2013

The last few days have really tested me, it’s not something I’ve mentioned in my diary blogs as they are predominantly to raise awareness of parenting children on the autistic spectrum.

We both feel like we are turning a corner/light at the end of the tunnel/whatever cliche is appropriate but I wouldn’t want to repeat the last six days and I hope we never have to.

Last night I had a panic attack. I didn’t realise what was happening until I was a couple of minutes into it and my first (and Hubbie’s) reaction was of panic – which sort of made it worse. I’m not looking for sympathy – I’m not like that – but I wanted to share the research I did following it, which details the symptoms and how to deal with one. Life is stressful at times, too stressful and I hope the following articles will be read and assist someone in the future.

The main things I remembered from reading something previously was to focus on your breathing (a bit like during childbirth), breathing into cupped hands and to realise that it’s not going to last forever (it doesn’t, but at the time, the feeling of not being in control is never-ending).

This is taken from the NHS website:

The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening and distressing. Symptoms tend to occur very suddenly, without warning and often for no apparent reason.

As well as overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can also cause the following symptoms:

a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
hot flushes
shortness of breath
a choking sensation
chest pain
feeling faint
numbness, or pins and needles
dry mouth
a need to go to the toilet
ringing in your ears
a feeling of dread, or a fear of dying
a churning stomach
a tingling sensation in fingers

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and they can also be accompanied by thoughts of fear and terror. For this reason, people with panic disorder start to fear the next attack, which creates a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’ and adds to the sense of panic.

Sometimes, the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense they can make you feel like you are having a heart attack.

However, it is important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, or shortness of breath, will not result in you having a heart attack. Also, although a panic attack can often be frightening, it will not cause you any physical harm. People who have had panic disorder for some time usually learn to recognise this ‘heart attack sensation’, and become more aware of how to control their symptoms.

The symptoms of a panic attack usually peak within 10 minutes, with most attacks lasting for between 5 and 20 minutes. Some panic attacks have been reported to have lasted up to an hour. However, it is likely that the reason for this is due to one attack occurring straight after another, or high levels of anxiety being felt after the first attack.

Recurrent panic attacks

People with panic disorder have panic attacks on a recurring basis. Some people have panic attacks once or twice a month, while others have attacks several times a week.

People with panic disorder also tend to have ongoing and constant feelings of worry and anxiety. The panic attacks that are associated with panic disorder can be very unpredictable. If you have panic disorder, you may feel stressed and worried about when your next attack will be.


During a panic attack your symptoms can feel so intense and out of your control that you may feel detached from the situation, your body and your surroundings. It can almost feel as if you are an observer, making the situation seem very unreal.

This sense of detachment is known as depersonalisation. Being detached from the situation does not provide any relief, or make a panic attack less frightening. Instead, it often makes the experience more confusing and disorientating.

And some tips from an article in the Mail newspaper on how to deal with a panic attack:

10 tips for coping with panic attacks

One: If you feel a panic attack coming on and find you are breathing rapidly, breathe slowly in and out of a brown paper bag or cupped hands.
Although you may feel you can’t catch your breath, you are probably over breathing and taking in too much oxygen – making you feel giddy. A paper bag will help your oxygen levels return to normal.

Two: Change your lifestyle. Take regular exercise – this helps to burn off excessive adrenaline. Avoid cigarettes and alcohol. Eat regular meals and avoid processed foods and drinks, to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Three: Don’t attempt to fight your way out of a panic attack – this will simply increase the adrenaline. Instead accept the feelings will come and go and allow the symptoms to play their tricks as they will. Practise imagining yourself floating over them. Eventually the panic will subside.

Four: Don’t bottle up your emotions. Find someone to confide in, such as a family member, friend or counsellor.

Five: Focus outside of yourself during an attack. Listen to some music or do a pleasurable task while waiting for the panic to subside.

Six: Learn a relaxation technique. First close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Locate any areas of tension and imagine them disappearing. Then, relax each part of the body, bit by bit, from the feet upwards. Think of warmth and heaviness. After 20 minutes of doing this, take some deep breaths and stretch.

Seven: Firmly tell yourself that your symptoms are nothing more than an over-sensitised nervous system. They are temporary feelings and are not medically harmful or dangerous.

Eight: Reduce your exposure to unnecessary stress. Be prepared to express your needs to others and assert yourself.

Nine: Look into cognitive behaviour therapy or other “talking treatments”. You can find a list of practitioners on the website for the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (

10: Join a self-help group. You can find details through the No Panic charity freephone helpline on 0808 8080545. Also check the Mind charity website ( and the NHS Best Treatments website for further help. Also visit for more information on anxiety disorders.

Facebook Comments


Donna Hession on 12th February 2013 at 11:14 am.

I can really relate to this it’s hard going glad you are coming out the other side I’ve suffered for 10 years and this year alone I have 3-6 panic attacks aday here if you need a chat and glad you are showing everyone what it’s like x Donna


AspieKid on 12th February 2013 at 11:34 am.

I have had panic attack before, and they are terrible. I started having them in my forties. I’ve only had a few of them and hope I never have one again.


AutismMumma on 16th February 2013 at 11:31 am.

Thank you Donna, that must be very draining for you. Thanks very much for the offer xx


AutismMumma on 16th February 2013 at 11:32 am.

Thanks, it was a scary time but made less scary by the fact I remembered a couple of tips. Hopefully you’ll stay free of them.


Identifying and Coping with Panic Attacks | Tots 100 on 18th February 2013 at 12:06 pm.

[…] [Shared by Autism Mumma] […]


redpeffer on 18th February 2013 at 8:58 pm.

They are very scary when they happen-I started having them in my 20’s but it took me years to realise what they were-I just thought I was ‘weird’! I don’t have them very often now and when I do I find the breathing works brilliantly for me and they now go away as quickly and suddenly as they came. I remember a medical professional telling me that one of the things that’s so scary is that they can often occur sometime after the stressful event which caused it. Somehow this helped me work it out. They’re very draining as I’m sure you know, so if you get the chance to rest after one I really hope you can take it. Take care and all the best. If I can ever be of any help, please do let me know.


A bit of a mish-mash « Autism Mumma (Jeannette) on 21st February 2013 at 9:30 am.

[…] this combined with immense external stresses. Something had to give and last week i had my first panic attack, followed by a smaller one this week. I had the best night’s sleep in weeks on Tuesday and […]


AutismMumma on 21st February 2013 at 11:32 am.

Thank you so much, I had another one on Tuesday but recognised it was on its way so it was manageable. Managing and focussing on breathing seems to be key. X


redpeffer on 21st February 2013 at 8:05 pm.

I found that focussing on the breathing is really helpful in two ways-it restores the oxygen flow through your body which calms down the excessive adrenaline that causes the panic attack but it also gives you something else to focus on, which is crucial. Hope you’re OK.


AutismMumma on 3rd March 2013 at 2:18 pm.

I’m good thanks, one minor one last weekend but breathed through it. How about you?


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