Things you can do to help yourself 

There are several self-help techniques you can use to help treat the symptoms of panic disorder yourself.

Some of these techniques are listed below.

Stay where you are

If possible, you should stay where you are during a panic attack. The attack could last up to an hour, so you may need to pull over and park where it's safe to do so if you're driving.

Focus

If you have a panic attack, remind yourself that the frightening thoughts and sensations will eventually pass.

During an attack, try to focus on something that's non-threatening and visible, such as the time passing on your watch or items in a supermarket.

Slow deep breathing

While you're having a panic attack, try to focus on your breathing. Feelings of panic and anxiety can get worse if you breathe too quickly. Try breathing slowly and deeply while counting to three on each breath in and out.

Challenge your fear

When you have a panic attack, try to identify what it is you fear and challenge it. You can achieve this by constantly reminding yourself that what you fear isn't real and that it will pass in a few minutes. 

Creative visualisation

Many things can go through your mind during a panic attack – for example, some people think about disaster or death. Instead of focusing on negative thoughts, try to concentrate on positive images.

Think of a place or a situation that makes you feel peaceful, relaxed or at ease. Once you have this image in your mind, try to focus your attention on it. It should help distract you from the situation and may also help ease your symptoms.

Thinking positively can be difficult, particularly if you've got used to thinking negatively over a long period of time. Creative visualisation is a technique that requires practice, but you may gradually notice positive changes in the way you think about yourself and others.

This audio guide aims to help you replace negative thoughts with more positive thinking.

Don't fight a panic attack

Fighting a panic attack can often make it worse. Trying to resist the attack and finding you're unable to can increase your sense of anxiety and panic.

Instead, during a panic attack, reassure yourself by accepting that although it may seem embarrassing, and your symptoms may be difficult to deal with, the attack isn't life-threatening. Focus on the fact that the attack will evetually end and try your best to let it pass.

Relaxation

If you have panic disorder, you may feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be. Learning to relax can help to relieve some of this tension, and it may also help you to deal more effectively with your panic attacks when they occur.

Some people find complementary therapies, such as massage and aromatherapy, help them to relax. Activities, such as yoga and pilates, can also be helpful. You can also practise breathing and relaxation techniques, which you can use during a panic attack to help ease your symptoms.

Exercise

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, will help reduce stress and release tension. It can also encourage your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can help improve your mood.

It's recommended that adults aged 19-64 years should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.

They should also do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

Visit your GP for a fitness assessment before starting a new exercise programme if you haven't exercised before or for a long time.

Read more about the physical activity guidelines for adults.

Diet

Unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to the symptoms of a panic attack. Therefore, you should maintain a healthy, balanced diet, eat regularly and avoid eating sugary food and drinks. Also, avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking because they can all contribute to panic attacks.


Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014

Next review due: 15/08/2017