Panic 101: what to do during a panic attack – and how to prevent them

A sudden episode of intense fear leaves sufferers feeling debilitated and out of control. Practical steps can help to regain calm and avoid future attacks

Panic is like a runaway train. A form of acute anxiety that quickly spirals out of control. As a psychiatrist, I try to help prevent anxiety from escalating into panic in the first place. There is so much we can do – from getting plenty of sleep to daily breathing exercises, to keeping blood sugar stable – to decrease overall anxiety and eliminate unnecessary stress responses that might otherwise drop us into a state of panic. But sometimes our anxiety passes the point of no return and we find ourselves in a full-blown panic attack – a sudden episode of intense fear, accompanied by physical reactions such as rapid heart rate and shortness of breath.

A panic attack is essentially a discrete stress response in the body with no real danger or apparent cause. In a survey of over 3,000 urban residents across the UK, more than half stated that they’d had at least one panic attack in their life, with 14% experiencing them at least once a month.

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