Panic attacks are distressing for sufferers, and when severe can have debilitating effects on their general well-being and quality of life.

The experience is characterised by sudden, unexpected bouts of acute and debilitating anxiety, often accompanied by distressing physical symptoms.

These physical symptoms can be so severe, that it is not uncommon for first time sufferers to believe that they are experiencing a heart attack or a nervous breakdown.

Priory psychotherapist Susie Garcia told FEMAIL five different ways to head off a panic attack before anxiety starts spiraling out of control. 

It is essential to learn the symptoms of panic attacks so that you can safely manage them when they do occur.   

Priory psychotherapist Susie Garcia told FEMAIL five different ways to head off a panic attack before anxiety starts spiraling out of control (stock image)

Priory psychotherapist Susie Garcia told FEMAIL five different ways to head off a panic attack before anxiety starts spiraling out of control (stock image)  

She explained: ‘Panic attacks are a surge of intense fear and discomfort that reaches a peak. 

‘There are physical and psychological symptoms and panic attacks can be both terrifying and exhausting to experience.’

Symptoms include; shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain, lightheadedness, feeling faint, shaking, sweating, tingling sensations, headaches, nausea and fear of dying. 


Panic attacks come on suddenly and involve intense and often overwhelming fear. They’re accompanied by very challenging physical symptoms, like a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or nausea.

DSM-5 recognizes panic attacks and categorizes them as unexpected or expected.

Unexpected panic attacks occur without an obvious cause. Expected panic attacks are cued by external stressors, like phobias.

Panic attacks can happen to anyone, but having more than one may be a sign of panic disorder, a mental health condition characterized by sudden and repeated panic attacks


Susie revealed that some people can experience distress in the months leading up to the panic attack. 

She said: ‘Usually they are unexpected, sudden episodes of severe and debilitating anxiety, which can be accompanied by distressing physical symptoms so acute that many first-time sufferers believe that they are experiencing a nervous breakdown, a heart attack, and some even worry that they are going to die. 

‘They can happen for no obvious reason and with no clear triggers, but some have genetic factors or short-term emotional triggers, such as bereavement or can be prompted by phobias or trauma.’

These debilitating symptoms may appear as chest pains, a shortness of breath, hyperventilating, or a pounding or racing heart.  

You might be trembling and shaking and feeling faint or dizzy, and Susie revealed that some people even go to A&E with their symptoms.

Yet, you can stop them taking hold and getting to this point by recognising these symptoms and tackling them head on. 


Susie advised focusing on breathing techniques to help head off a panic attack.

She explained: ‘As soon as you feel symptoms coming on, try to get a slower and more stable breathing rhythm by breathing in through your nose for three seconds, holding your breath for two seconds, and then breathing out through your mouth for three seconds. 

‘As you breathe, ensure that your stomach expands as this helps to ensure the breathing isn’t shallow.’


Meanwhile the expert also advised learning to use positive coping statements such as ‘my anxiety and panic will pass. It doesn’t last.’ 

If you can shift your focus and take your mind to a relaxing place this will help to ease the symptoms. 


The psychotherapist explained that many things can go through your mind during a panic attack, which are often negative thoughts, such as disaster or death.  

She said: ‘Rather than focusing on these, try to count five things you can smell, five things you can see, five things you can hear, and five things you can touch – and then start again with another list.’


Susie also advised having a repeated mantra which could act as a focus for spiralling thoughts.

She said: ‘Focus on positive, peaceful and relaxing images. Remember, panic attacks are not life threatening. Repeat a manta “this too shall pass”.’ 


Other methods of coping that Susie suggests are picking one object and noting everything about it that is possible.

She explained: ‘Coping with panic attacks also involves having a plan such as a distraction plan which might involve calling someone. 

‘Progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness techniques can help.’

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