Are You Having a Panic Attack? What Can You Do?

– Posted in: Panic Attacks

Your heart is pounding, you are trembling, and you feel that you’re going to die!

Are you having a panic attack? How do you know?

And what can you do to reduce the symptoms like choking or nausea?

There’s a lot of confusion over what the symptoms a panic attack actually are. Much of this confusion can be attributed to the media’s misrepresentations of panic attacks and the lack of real knowledge by the general public. This leads to clinomorphisms in which a person will exaggerate their symptoms and call it a panic attack, when all it is is a moment of great surprise or unpleasantness.

The “real” symptoms of a panic attack are detailed in this post, along with a list of suggestions for ways to deal with it while it’s happening. They are excerpted from my full article on panic attacks found under the resources in the right sidebar.

The real, “official,” definition of a panic attack

The DSM-IV is used worldwide

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association is the “official” manual for diagnosing mental illnesses. It is used all over the world. This is the same resource your psychiatrist uses. It details the following criteria for a panic attack as:

A discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which 4 (or more) of the following symptoms developed abruptly and reached a peak within 10 minutes:

1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate

2. Sweating

3. Trembling or shaking

4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering

5. Feeling of choking

6. Chest pain or discomfort

7. Nausea or abdominal distress

8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint

9. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)

10. Fear of losing control or going crazy

11. Fear of dying

12. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)

13. Chills or hot flushes

Panic attacks reach a peak within 10 minutes and typically last 15 minutes. However, they may recur rapidly. Once the symptoms are reduced, a severely anxious state may not go away for several hours.

Or maybe you’re having a Limited-Symptom Attack

A Limited-Symptom Attack has 3 or fewer symptoms

A Limited-Symptom Attack is a panic attack that meets all criteria for a “full-blown” panic attack, but has fewer than 4 of the listed symptoms. These are very common in people with Panic Disorder, though they can happen to a person without any diagnosed Anxiety Disorder. People with other Anxiety Disorders may be prone to Limited-Symptom Attacks, particularly those with Social Phobia.

What can I do if I’m having a panic attack?

Relax. Reassure. Breathe.

There are many sources for advice out there that can help you deal with a panic attack as you are having it. Some are genuinely strange. But the better ones mostly boil down to three words: Relax, Reassure, Breathe. 

Here is a short summary of many sources of suggestions for taking care of yourself when you’re having a panic attack. They have worked for me; I hope they work for you:

  • Gently reassure yourself that you are not dying or going crazy. Take deep breaths and repeat this to yourself mantra-like. 
  • Learn and recall the symptoms of panic attacks and one-by-one identify each one you are having, all the while reassuring yourself that the attack will only last a short while.
  • If you are concerned about not being able to breathe or you are choking, tell yourself that if you can talk, you can breathe. Relax your muscles and slow down your breathing. Take deep breaths, hold them and let them out slowly as if blowing out a candle.
  • For trembling and shaking, or numbness and tingling sensations, try shaking the arms and/or legs to help relax the muscles. Tell yourself that the tingling and numbness are caused by the body’s “fight or flight” reaction, which redirects blood to the lungs, brain and large muscles.
  • If you are nauseated or feeling dizzy and faint, try to find a quiet place to sit down and put your head between your knees. Lacking that, seek something that you can steady yourself on, breathe deeply and relax your muscles.
  • Relax your muscles, particularly in the shoulders and neck. Become conscious of any tension that you may be feeling in your muscles. Then progressively tense and relax all the large muscle groups. For example, tighten the muscles in your left leg with a deep breath in, hold it, then release the muscles. Proceed with the right leg, then move up the body, one muscle group at a time.
  • If you are hyperventilating or over-breathing, hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can to prevent the dissipation of carbon dioxide. If you hold your breath for a period of between 10 and 15 seconds and repeat this a few times, it will be sufficient to calm hyperventilation quickly. Alternatively, breathe in and out of a paper bag, which causes you to inhale the carbon dioxide you exhaled. This may not be possible under some situations.
  • Slow down your breathing. This may be done by blowing out each breath through pursed lips as if blowing out a candle. Also, place your hands on your stomach to feel the rapidity of your breathing. 

Don’t just suffer! Get help!

There’s no need to suffer

It cannot be emphasized enough that if you are having panic attacks, you need to seek the help of a mental health care professional as soon as possible. Panic attack treatment has one of the highest success rates of all mental health treatments. However, if left untreated, panic attacks can rapidly escalate into Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia, and a quickly deteriorating quality of life.

What do you think?

I have not had a “full-blown” panic attack in quite some time. More often I have 2 or 3 symptoms that I am able to control by using the suggestions listed above. But it’s taken years to get to this place. Do not do as I did — go it alone — with your panic attacks; get help now!  (Note that this article is excerpted from the full article on panic attacks found under Resources in the right column of this blog. )

  • Have you had panic attacks in the past or are you having them now?
  • Were you able to control them, and if so, how?
  • What advice could you give to others who are having panic attacks?

As always, your comments are welcome!

If you have enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to this blog, either via RSS or email at the top of your screen. It’s free! I would also appreciate your sharing it using your favorite social media, such as StumbleUpon or Digg. Just click the little green “ShareThis” button at the bottom of this post.

Resources used in this post:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association. 1994.

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20 comments… add one
Northern Virginia SEO Services July 18, 2009, 1:07 pm

A lof of people are suffering from panic and anxiety attacks. These things were not normal 20 or 30 years ago and happen more and more often as time goes on. Television and broadcasting depict images of right and wrongs way to live, look, and react. People need to realize that medication is not the true route to happiness, you need to find it within yourself.

scott January 24, 2010, 9:17 pm

There some things you can do at home to ease an attack or the symptoms once they are upon you. Just google panic herbs and you will find them Here is what truly causes all panic, anxiety, and depression symptoms and what cured me forever.

The Amygdala, a small organ in the brain which stores and perpetuates all of your anxiety and panic disorders, as well as many other phobias, has been identified by The National Institute Of Mental Health as the main reason for panic attack disorders as well as many other mental disorders and phobias. weird but true. I was a long time panic attack sufferer until a friend turned me on to this online program called The Linden Method which has cured thousands, and it cured me 100%.

I put up a webpage dedicated to trying to help people through their Symptoms. The link is below as well as direct link to what cured me 100%.

good luck,’
.-= scott´s last blog ..Panic Attack Symptoms? Get All Your Info And The Best Cure H =-.

Kristin November 10, 2010, 6:14 pm

Jesus will help you. My fear was of dying and after I realized and believed that I’d only be experiencing a physical death and that my spirit would live on, Jesus gave me peace and no more panic attack. :) It’s true!

Me January 21, 2014, 5:58 pm

What if you’re an atheist?

Eleni December 19, 2010, 2:16 pm

I find that creative imagery works wonders during a panic attack. Try to visualize yourself in a place you love and feel safe in. It could be your favorite spot on the beach, your childhood garden, your fireplace at home during Christmas, anything you chose. Try to be as detailed as possible. You must really see yourself in your mind’s eye, as if you were looking at a picture. Try to conjure the full atmosphere of safety and peace, try to really feel the feelings this place rouses in you. Practice this whenever you feel relaxed, NOT in the middle of a panic attack, it won’t work! Next time you feel the first symptoms of a panic attack, try to immediately go to this exact place in your mind. It works every time for me.

lisbeth December 4, 2011, 5:00 pm

Thank you guys for the great advice i am on 18 yrs old and i been suffering with panic attacks since i was 15 and it has been very hard because at first i didn’t really know what i have but after a while i got used to what to do and even though i been going through this for a while the advice’s always help. Thank you guys :)

Kelly Cook January 31, 2012, 4:27 pm

So nice and comforting to read people’s thoughts who are experiencing the same thing I am. I am 33 and experienced my first panic attack about 6 months ago. I have had to drive myself to the emergency room once while shopping with my 3 young daughters, because I had a panic attack inside Walmart. I thought I was dying and having a heart attack. Then last week I had to call 911 from home because I was having my most severe panic attack ever. The symptoms seemed to last longer and more intensely then all the others I’ve had before. I also had intense chest pressure and pain in my neck and shoulder that screamed HEARTATTACK in my mind! No one understands how scary they are unless they have experienced one themselves. I have been able to stave off a full blown attack. Once I feel 2 or 3 of the symptoms, I try to call myself and breath slowly while saying “I’ve had enough! I’m not having a panic attack”. It has helped stop several attacks. I have great faith in the Lord, and through His help I know I can make it through this. I in my flesh am weak, but I know with Him, I am strong! :)

Sara October 27, 2012, 3:01 am

Im having some shaky feeling in my body heaft is racing feeling sweaty n tingling feeling in my body n feel weak. The soctor did aome nlood work n a ekf they both come back fine so wat could it be anxiety stress or wat can someone plz help i would appreciate it

Bryan November 15, 2012, 7:49 pm

Relaxing during a panic attack has never helped me through it. In fact it just made it worse. Trying to relax makes me focus more on the anxiety. During a panic attack your analytical mind is no longer in control of your thoughts. Your scared out of your mind and can’t think straight. What you need is something simple that will help you through it. How do you stop your current train of thoughts while in a state of panic; just like in the movies, what you need is a slap in the face. To snap out of it. Distraction is the key. Something else to occupy your mind. I.E. Strike up a conversation, call someone, talk to your dog, play a game, etc. Develop one for your special circumstance and have it ready.

Nicola Quinn January 24, 2013, 10:54 am

I used to get tired of being told just to “man up” and not be scared of the panic attacks. If I was that brave I wouldn’t have been afraid of them in the first place. It wasn’t until I learned a way to stop them in an instant (that didn’t involve letting the panic sweep through me without flinching which I had been told was the only way to get over them) that I got the confidence to out again.

john March 4, 2013, 12:11 pm

sara I m going threw the same thing as you to a t and it is very scary did you ever find out if it is panic atacets or not plz let me know

Sarah March 22, 2013, 4:32 pm

I have been getting them at the same time every night. Sometimes I will get really cold or have chills before one and then my heart just races like crazy. It is driving me nuts!

Sabrina April 23, 2013, 2:04 am

I just wanted to thank you for this article. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. I found it while in the midst of one of my first severe panic attacks, and even just concentrating enough to read the suggestions helped me to follow through on some of them, including slowing my breathing down. I know it won’t work for everybody, but I just wanted to say thank you, and that it really helped me.

Amiya Foster September 19, 2013, 2:32 am


Yes! during a panic attack our body going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Many people don’t know how to handle this attack, so this article is very useful for those people, who is going to this attack.

Marko December 29, 2013, 8:02 am

Hello! I’ve been following your web site for some time now and finally got the courage
to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx!

Just wanted to tell you keep up the good job!

Kendrik January 4, 2014, 11:21 am

i have been reading the symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety attacks i think i am getting anxiety attacks. during one of these episodes i feel very nauseated to the point of throwing up some times, i get the shakes, sweating excessively, difficulty breathing, and the weirdest thing is that i feel like my skin is detached from my body. i feel pressure on my skin but no other sensation. do you guys think im getting anxiety attacks

webpage January 10, 2014, 3:14 am

Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful article.
Тhanks for supplying thesе details.

Beverly July 7, 2015, 12:04 am

I guess, I overcome that fear, anxiety, panic or whatsoever psychological disorder is that. I am so thankful that there’s a post related to my experience. It ain’t fitting on my shoe, trying to understand how I managed it for a long time. I trembled, I was shaking and worst, I barely breathe, for no reason. Fortunately, l-theanine 200mg is helping me because it has calming effects. Another, important to note is, an intelligent diet and removing as much ‘toxicity’ from your diet as you can, is guaranteed to improve anyone’s health and mental well-being. Especially in an age when most people have been led down the path of refined sugars and processed foods, which are simply ‘poor’ choices for anyone truly concerned about their health. A great post, indeed. Thanks!

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