What are Panic Attacks?
About 1 in 10 people experience a panic attack at some stage in their lives. Panic attacks are often triggered by recent stress in your life. They are an extreme form of anxiety but occur at unexpected times, often leaving sufferers afraid of venturing into public places ( in case of an attack). One minute you're feeling fine, the next you're struggling for breath and feeling sick and dizzy. The symptoms are intensely physical - and sufferers experience overwhelming terror. Often people worry they may be having a heart attack, a stroke, or losing their mind.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations (rapid or irregular heartbeat)
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating or flushing
  • Choking feelings
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Numbness or tingling in hands, arms or legs
  • Dizziness or unsteadiness
  • Feeling of detachment, or feeling out of touch with yourself
  • Hot flushes or chills
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy or out of control

What Can I Do When an Attack Occurs?
Although panic attacks are frightening they do not cause you physical harm. Reminid yourself the symptoms mean you are having a panic attack - not that you are about to die.

Panic attacks generally reach their peak at about four minutes, and have usually lost their intensity by ten minutes. Remind yourself it will soon be over.

Try to distract yourself. Concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and steady. Try to breathe in slowly through your nose and out even more slowly through your mouth. Put your hand on your abdomen and feel the air push it out. Feel your abdomen go down as you slowly breathe out. When your abdomen moves in response to your breath, rather than your chest, you are achieving the right effect. Take three of these breaths at a time, with ordinary breathing in between. If you breathe this deeply for too long at one time you may feel a bit light-headed. This is because you are taking in more oxygen than usual. A few 'normal' breaths will correct the situation.

Don't try to fight your feelings, give them time to pass.

You can discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who may suggest you visit a counsellor or psychologist.

At the Student Counselling Service we have counsellors who can help you manage panic attacks. They will also help you explore the reasons why the attacks may have started and develop strategies for dealing with stress.

The National University of Ireland, Galway Student Counselling Service wishes to thank Student Counselling and Development in University College Cork for granting permission to reproduce this fact sheet.