Panic attacks: Signs and coping techniques

Panic attacks: Signs and coping techniques

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 Ame

Reviewed by:
Sophia Monsour, DO
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January 4, 2024
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Key takeaways

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. 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, stress 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.

Here's more on how to help a someone with anxiety.

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 national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. 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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Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

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Even if your insurer isn't on the list, we might still accept it. Use the insurance eligibility checker in our online assessment to learn more.

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Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

Sophia Monsour, DO

Dr. Sophia Monsour holds the position of Chief Psychiatrist for Pennsylvania at Talkiatry. After completing residency in 2013 at Albany Medical Center, she has spent the past 9 years fulfilling her passion for integrated and specialty care for adults suffering from mental illness. Her years of experience has included working as an integrated care Psychiatrist at a community health center, a medical director of a Partial Hospital and Intensive Outpatient Program (PHP/IOP), and also working for an Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACT) specializing in the Serious Mentally Ill (SMI) population.

Most recently, she has been serving our veterans as the Outpatient Section Chief, Primary/Mental Health Integration Medical Director and Resident/Medical Student Coordinator at VA Pittsburgh. Dr. Monsour has an approachable style when treating individuals who suffer from various diagnoses, especially those with prior trauma. She provides supportive psychotherapy and at times uses psychodynamic therapy skills to address her patient’s current stressors and to identify the root cause of their ailment. She believes in a holistic approach and utilizes mindfulness as a technique along with medication management.

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