Panic attacks can have a major impact on the mental health and well-being of those who experience them. Did you know that panic attacks can be a one-off? Someone may have a panic attack once and never again, or they could develop recurrent panic attacks.

If this is the case it increases the odds of subsequently developing any mental disorder and of worsening the course of existing mental disorders.

Panic attacks are brief periods of overwhelming fear or anxiety. The intensity of a panic attack goes beyond what would be normal feelings of anxiety. 

You can help!

A timely response to someone experiencing a panic attack can increase the chance of a person receiving appropriate professional support. Getting help early could decrease the likelihood of them developing a mental health problem or experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem

So what do you look out for?

Some signs and symptoms of a panic attack can develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes.

Panic attacks can include a number of physical symptoms. Sometimes during panic attacks, people may fear that they are having a heart attack, they cannot breathe, or they are dying.  

*Note: A panic attack does not need to include all of the symptoms listed below. 

  • Breathing difficulties 
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Chills or feeling of heat 
  • Choking sensation 
  • Fear of “going crazy” 
  • Fear of dying 
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • A feeling of being detached from oneself
  • A feeling of being detached from reality 
  • Nausea 
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pounding or racing heart 
  • Sense of terror, impending doom, or death
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking 


5 Things not to say if someone is having a panic attack.

  1. It’s just for attention
  2. Just focus on your breathing
  3. Breathe into a paper bag
  4. Don’t use phrases such as “calm down,” “don’t worry,” and “try to relax”
  5. Don’t minimise the person’s experience.

What can you do when someone is having a panic attack?

Try these suggestions 

While helping the person to talk is important, phrases such as “calm down,” “don’t worry,” and “try to relax” could make the symptoms worse. Remain patient to help a person deal with a panic attack and do not belittle or ignore their experience. 

Ask them, what do you need right now? If they don’t know, that’s ok. Let them take the time to focus and work on what they need, however long it takes the symptoms to pass.

Let them talk about the things that may have led to the panic attack.

Panic Attack Myth and facts

Only “Crazy” or “Weak” People Have Panic Attacks. 

MYTH: Anyone can have a panic attack, even people who seem like they have it all together, or seem really tough.

It’s kind of like how anyone can develop a physical illness. People do not have panic attacks due to some character or personal flaw. Panic attacks can happen for a number of reasons such as when people are overwhelmed, face sudden stress or not properly dealing with stressors o in their lives. 

A panic attack is different from a panic disorder

TRUE: A panic disorder is the occurrence of recurrent and unexpected panic attacks with at least one of the attacks having been followed by a month or more of:

  • persistent concern about having another panic attacks
  • feelings of worry about the implications of the attack or its consequences, for example, losing control, having a heart attack, or going crazy
  • changes in behaviour related to the attacks

Panic attacks may feel scary, but they don’t actually cause physical harm. The most common fears associated with panic attacks (having a heart attack or fainting) are not actually a threat. 

Panic attacks are usually brief but intense. The symptoms of panic typically peak within 10  minutes and end within 30 minutes. However, some lingering symptoms can last over an hour. 

There are many different ways to treat panic attacks, usually focusing on underlying problems should be treated

Some of these include 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure Therapy 
  • Medication
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • EMDR Therapy 

If you have regular panic attacks it’s important to see a mental health professional.