The term panic attack describes a period of intense physical and psychological discomfort, usually occurring in sufferers of certain anxiety disorders. Although panic attacks feel incredibly intense, they can be effectively managed with some simple first aid techniques.

For those currently experiencing the onset of panic, the important thing to remember is that these feelings, despite being very uncomfortable, are not harmful. The section on First Aid offers some techniques for immediate relief from symptoms of panic.

More About Panic Attacks

Panic attacks present with a sudden onset and include an overwhelming sense of fear, usually lasting between 5 and 30 minutes. They may occur as part of panic disorder but other conditions, such as phobias, can also present with panic attacks. For more information on symptoms, causes and treatments, see the useful links highlighted throughout this article.

First Aid for Panic Attacks

  • Sufferers may feel dreadful but are not in danger. Panic attacks do not cause heart attacks and the experience, although very intense, does pass.
  • Breathing into a paper bag really can help - this is a fact, not a trick or myth! Sufferers can also cup their hands over their nose and mouth, and breathe in and out. It is better not to aim for really deep breaths - just slower breaths. Sufferers should keep doing this until the discomfort passes. (Fact: when people breathe rapidly, they breathe out too much carbon dioxide, which can precipitate symptoms and/or make them feel worse. Breathing into a bag or cupped hands puts the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood back into balance.)
  • Sufferers may find benefit in trying to accept what they're feeling. Although this may sound odd, facing feelings may reduce the intensity.
  • It is not uncommon to feel unreal, like an outside observer. Some people also feel as though they are losing their sanity or dying of panic. These are common symptoms, and like the other symptoms of panic, they are not harmful.
  • For a sufferer feeling an attack coming on, trying to distract themselves with pleasurable thoughts or tasks may be helpful. For example, they may think about the aspects of their life they consider positive, or distract themselves by listening to their favorite music.

Other Techniques for Panic Attacks

There are some other areas that sufferers can work on:

  • Sufferers may be able to reduce stress by changing their lifestyle. Cutting out caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes may be helpful. Healthy diet and regular exercise can also make a difference.
  • Some sufferers may find benefit in talking to others. Friends, family members and counselors may all be helpful. There may also be a local support groups for sufferers.
  • Relaxation techniques, in particular breathing exercises, may be useful interventions for sufferers.

Read Symptoms of Fight or Flight for more information about the symptoms experienced during panic attacks. For those experiencing panic attacks, a doctor may be able to advise further. Sufferers can asked to be referred to a practitioner who specializes in treating anxiety disorders


Panic Disorder and Self States: Clinical and Research Illustrations: Clinical Social Work Journal, accessed 1st April 2008, authors - Mahoney, D.M

How to Cope with Panic Attacks: Mind, accessed 1st April 2008, no author specified

The copyright of the article First Aid for Panic Attacks in Panic Disorder is owned by Barbara Melville.