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Panic attacks: Signs and coping techniques

Panic attacks: Signs and coping techniques
Reviewed by:
Authored by:
Yanina Brayman, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
July 23, 2019
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Panic attacks can be very frightening. During a panic attack you may feel as though you are having a heart attack or that you are going to collapse or even die. Panic attacks affect over 4 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. These attacks are one of the hallmarks of Panic disorder. Panic disorder is one of the 5 major types of anxiety disorders, which we previously discussed. However, it is important to note that panic attacks  are also often linked to other mood and anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, PTSD, OCD, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Most panic attacks last somewhere between 5 and 30 minutes. The good news is that there are ways to handle panic attacks that can help you get through them easier. There are also ways to prevent panic attacks that we will discuss below.

The signs of a panic attack

You may feel sudden and intense anxiety. This feeling can be coupled with physical symptoms that include shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid heartbeats, dry mouth, sweating, or dizziness. Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack are not in proportion to the true situation. These feelings may also be unrelated to what is happening around them. If you have previously had a panic attack you are at higher risk of having another than a person who has never had one.

How to stop panic attacks

There are many ways to cope with a panic attack. However, we will describe some common ones. Breathing exercises can help ease some symptoms of a panic attack. If you control your breathing you are less likely to hyperventilate, which can make other symptoms worse. Recognizing that you are having a panic attack may also help. By doing this, you can remind yourself that the attack is temporary, it will pass, and that you will be OK. Some panic attacks are caused by triggers that overwhelm you. If these triggers are visual and you are in a fast-paced or busy environment, try closing your eyes. Finding a focus object is another good technique for dealing with panic attacks. Some people find it helpful to focus all of their attention on a certain object and consciously note everything about it possible.

How to help someone else having a panic attack

Watching a friend or family member experience a panic attack may be frightening. Thankfully, there are things that you can do to help aid in the situation.

  • Don't panic
  • Stay with the person and keep calm
  • Don't make assumptions about what they need, ask
  • Speak in short, simple sentences
  • Be predictable and avoid surprises
  • Help the person's breathing by breathing with them or by slowly counting to 10

Encouraging words can also be helpful to someone who has or is experiencing a panic attack. Ongoing help during recovery can also be very helpful.

How to prevent panic attacks

There are several ways to address panic attacks. Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy can help to identify and change negative thought patterns feeding the attacks. Panic support groups can help you learn how others are managing their attacks. Even knowing that other people experience the same feelings can be reassuring. Regularly doing breathing exercises and aerobic exercise can help you manage stress levels and potentially improve your mood and release tension. Also, eating regular meals to stabilize blood sugar and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and smoking, which can make panic attacks worse, is helpful.

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a local, accessible and complete mental healthcare solution that accepts insurance. We close the gap for individuals who want to get better, but feel that mental health care has been challenging to navigate up until this point and want a more convenient way to take the first step. Talkiatry takes the traditional local mental health visit and combines it with technology, scale, efficiency, and design to provide the best possible environment for healing.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Dr. Yanina Brayman is double board-certified in adult and forensic psychiatry.  She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Pennsylvania and her medical training at New York Medical College. She completed her psychiatry residency training at the New York University School of Medicine and then completed a fellowship in Forensic Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dr. Brayman has worked in various inpatient and outpatient medical settings, including hospitals, private practice, and community mental health organizations, where she held leadership roles and taught medical students, residents, and fellows. Additionally, she collaborated with primary care providers as a consulting psychiatrist to help them treat various mental health problems.

Dr. Brayman has extensive experience treating a wide range of patients. She emphasizes a collaborative approach tailored to the individual needs of her patients to help them achieve their goals and realize their potential. She uses a holistic approach with a mix of medication management, cognitive behavioral, and supportive psychotherapy along with coaching techniques and lifestyle modifications to help patients achieve, maintain, and optimize wellness.

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