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Up to 40% of Australians will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives. Learn about panic disorder symptoms and about managing panic attacks.

This can help if:

  • you think you’ve experienced a panic attack
  • you want to know more about panic attack symptoms
  • you’re looking for ways to manage panic attacks
  • you want to know more about panic disorder.
Boy with hands together sitting on bed

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an intense rush of fear or anxiety that causes a person to feel like they’re in imminent danger when no danger is present. It can last from a few minutes to half an hour; however, the physical and emotional effects of the attack can last much longer.

Symptoms may include:

  • racing heart
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath or feelings of choking
  • dizziness
  • feeling numb or tingling sensations
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • queasy stomach
  • feeling detached from oneself.

Panic attacks are often made worse when a person doesn’t realise that their symptoms are due to anxiety. Someone having a panic attack gets caught in a vicious cycle: they become more and more anxious and their symptoms get worse and worse.

What is panic disorder?

Experiencing a panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean you have panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterised by repeated and unexpected panic attacks that severely disrupt your life. Suffering from a panic disorder may involve worrying about future panic attacks and changing your behaviour as a result, such as avoiding places or situations where panic attacks have previously occurred.

How to manage a panic attack

If you suffer from panic attacks, you should seek professional help. A mental health professional can help you devise a strategy for managing your attacks, usually through psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They will help you learn how to intervene in the panic cycle and control the symptoms.

What can I do now?

  • Read about relaxation techniques that can help with anxious thoughts and feelings.
  • Download ReachOut Breathe - an app that helps reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
  • Talk to your GP about a referral to a mental health professional.