Panic Attacks

A panic attack can be a frightening and unsettling experience. Remember that you are not alone and there is help available.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense anxiety or fear together with a surge of frightening physical sensations and thoughts. They can occur frequently and unexpectedly and are not necessarily related to any external threat.

Panic attacks are usually brief but may be very scary while they last. They can often seem to come “out of the blue”, which makes them even scarier. While panic sensations are a natural response to danger, panic attacks are usually out of proportion to any actual danger the person may be facing at the time. They seem to have a life of their own.

Below are some suggestions on how to cope during a panic attack.

  1. Try not to fight what you are feeling. Often fighting the feelings or pushing them away can actually increase your fear of panic. Try to accept your experience and remind yourself that you are experiencing extreme anxiety that is most likely out of proportion to any actual danger.
  2. Practice relaxation techniques such as breathing control (for example slow breathing) if these have been helpful for you in the past.
  3. Reassure yourself that this will pass and if you have experienced a panic attack before, remind yourself of how you got through it.
  4. Give yourself time. Try not to rush through the panic attack. Some people find it helpful to think of panic as similar to ‘surfing a wave’ – it builds up, peaks, and then washes up on the beach. When you are ready, simply go back to what you were doing.

Panic Attacks – Toolkit

It is important not to let a few panic attacks become a bigger, long-term problem.

Some key points to remember are:

  1. Don’t avoid usual activities or situations – this is the best way to learn that your panic does not need to prevent you from your usual activities and that you can get through it.
  2. Avoid ‘self-medicating – Alcohol will not help feelings of panic and in the long term will make them worse. Be aware that some medications for anxiety can be addictive as well – always get medical advice about any medications
  3. Avoid developing unhelpful habits – Some people with panic attacks begin to use lots of superstitious behaviours to protect themselves. If you find these habits creeping into your life, try to reverse them.

Seeing your doctor is a good first step if you feel that you may be experiencing panic attacks. 


They can assess whether you are experiencing panic attacks and can rule out any other physical causes for your symptoms. If you are experiencing panic attacks, your doctor may provide you with a referral to see another health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Lifeline volunteers are available 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.


There are two main types of treatment that have been shown to work. These are: 

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is usually delivered by a clinical psychologist and teaches you practical skills to help manage your panic attacks. 
  • Medications: There are some specific medications that have been shown to reduce panic attacks. These usually need to be taken over a significant period of time and must be prescribed. 

Panic Attacks – Toolkit

For Crisis Support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (available 24/7), chat online at (12pm – 6am AEDT) or text 0477 13 11 14 (12pm – 6am AEDT).

Warning signs

Physical sensations can include: 

  • Pounding heart
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains or discomfort 
  • Numbness/tingling 
  • Sweating, shaking 
  • Nausea

Thoughts can include feeling like: 

  • Out of physical and/or emotional control 
  • Dying 
  • Having a heart attack/stroke 
  • Passing out 
  • Going crazy

For 24-hour telephone crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14

If life is in danger, call 000

Lifeline South Coast would like to acknowledge the lives that have been lost to suicide. We are committed to supporting those with a lived experience of suicide and aim to reduce the stigma around seeking help for poor mental health and suicidal crisis.