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Panic attack: symptoms and what to do if you have one

A panic attack is a sudden intense wave of fear that hits you unexpectedly, causing physical reactions even when there's no apparent danger. You may feel like you are losing control, that you are having a heart attack, or even that you are going to die.

While most people only encounter one or two panic attacks in their lives, typically resolving as the stressful situation is addressed, recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, along with a persistent fear of another, often point to a condition called "panic disorder."

While panic attacks themselves are not life-threatening, they can instill a lot of fear and significantly affect your quality of life. However, it's important to remember that there are coping mechanisms that can help you navigate through these challenging moments.

Some panic attack symptoms

  • Frequent feelings of despair or intense fear.
  • A sensation of shortness of breath or suffocation.
  • Feeling of losing control or being out of control.
  • Palpitation or tachycardia.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Tremors and/or shaking.
  • Hyperventilation.
  • Unsafety.
  • Dizziness or other "vertigo" sensation.
  • Disorientation, confusion, delirium.
  • Chest pain.
  • Nausea or abdominal discomfort.
  • Instability in the legs.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy.
  • Afraid to die.
  • Blurred vision or diplopia.
  • Muscular stiffness.
  • Intrusion of recurring thoughts.
  • A feeling of unreality or strangeness.

What to do when faced with a panic attack?

When helping someone experiencing a panic attack, it's best to avoid overwhelming them with complex questions. Instead, communicate simply and directly to show support, affirm their actions, and reassure them that they will soon overcome it.

Specialists emphasize the importance of patients realizing that the perceived danger of death during a panic attack is not real. While appropriate therapy can address this over time, there are also relaxation techniques that can be applied during the crisis.

Some simple steps you can follow to control a panic attack:

  • Try to focus on your breathing. Try breathing deeply and slowly to relax.
  • Use self-distraction by trying to direct your mind to something else.
  • Get together with friends or family to feel accompanied.
  • Place yourself in a quiet place and relax your muscles by breathing gently.
  • Try to relax especially when thoughts and sensations begin to increase.
  • Allow your thoughts to pass through your mind without being judged.
  • Set realistic goals and keep your life in order.
  • Seek professional help if attacks are frequent.


Dealing with panic attacks takes patience, self-compassion, and continuous effort. Use these tips to build coping mechanisms, face tough moments with calm control, and remember, seeking help is a brave choice that shows your strength—you're never alone in your recovery journey.

  1. The American Psychological Association (APA) provides its website visitors with a wide range of information and resources related to psychology, including research, publications, educational materials, and information about the organization itself.
  2. The Mayo Clinic: This website serves as a valuable resource for health information, offering a wide range of content, including articles, videos, and tools related to various medical conditions, treatments, and general health and wellness.
  3. NIMH: On the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website, you can find a wealth of information related to mental health, research findings, treatment options, and resources for individuals, families, and healthcare professionals.


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