Breathe in, Breathe out: Surviving Panic Attacks

What are Panic Attacks?

We all, at some point in our daily routines, feel anxious and afraid of situations or even people. But when this anxiety turns into a severe disorder, you are very likely to start experiencing episodes of panic attacks or anxiety attacks. So what exactly is a panic attack?

Panic attack: a sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.

The first level of a panic attack can be termed as hyperventilating, or shortness of breath. As your triggers get more intense, you might start palpitating, shaking all over, get nauseous, feel a heavy unbearable weight on your chest; you will feel paralysed and most probably feel like the world is ending.

Panic Attacks
Source: Woodcock Psychology

When I had my first panic attack, I was 17, and going through the first phases of depression. Anxiety disorders very commonly develop in the depressed. Additionally, panic attacks are common if you have social phobia or dealing with some recent trauma.

Facing situations and people fill you with so much fear that your body works up and launches itself into a fight or flight mode.

What triggers these attacks?

Suppose you are in a classroom and the teacher throws a random question at the class. This happened to me recently, where I felt I couldn’t answer and the entire class was staring at me. My heart started pounding uncontrollably, I felt my feet getting cold and palms getting sweaty. Right at this moment, my brain whispered to me “shoot, it’s happening again!”

Brace yourself. It will rise with bubbles and explode in tides. It will wash over you and draw you within. You’ll be puking salt water soon; so brace yourself, it’s almost here.

Your panic attacks can be triggered by any incident or situation. So, there are no rules or “perfect conditions” for having a panic attack. I’ve myself had panic attacks when my parents fought, or when I had a confrontation with a friend. But then again, I have also had panic attacks when I had to order at a food court. Additionally, I’ve read about people panicking in grocery store alleys or during parties. A lot of times you’d find a person locked in a bathroom cell, crying frantically and desperately wanting to run. That person is most probably having a panic attack.

Panic Attacks
Source: Healthline

How do you know you’re having an attack?

There are some common signs that you can identify and know if you are having episodes of panic attacks. The duration varies. Here are some common signs :

– hyperventilation/shortness of breath

– palpitation

– sweating

– chest pain

– shaking/trembling

– dizziness

– nausea

– minor paralysis

– feeling like you are dying or going crazy

Panic Attacks
Source: Consumer Health Digest

What should you do when you panic?

To deal with panic attacks, you have to go through a lengthy process of understanding why it happens, noting your triggers and practising self-relaxation techniques. A clinical psychologist will help you understand this, and yoga or meditation will help you calm down. The process is very tiring. Believe me, I haven’t still gotten rid of my panic attacks. But here are a few things that you could keep in mind:

1. BREATHE. This is the most basic thing that you need to do in the face of a panic attack. Take deep breaths, count to ten, breathe out reverse counting from ten to one. This does two things since you’re hyperventilating, it ensures your body gets its oxygen. Additionally, since you’re keeping your head busy with the counting, it will divert its attention from whatever it is that’s making you anxious.

2. DRINK WATER. And this is not just because water helps with practically everything, but because drinking water helps cool your body down. You might be getting feverishly hot and losing a lot of water by sweating, so drink up.

3. GROUNDING. Grounding techniques are also very useful if you are in the early stages of the dissociative disorder. So, if you feel like you’re drifting away or that you’re spiralling into a panic attack, it is a good way to distract yourself by focusing on other things. The standard grounding procedure is a 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. Here’s an infographic :

Panic Attacks
Source: Pinterest

4. THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. Yes, this is a very clichéd advice, but it works. I used to get annoyed when someone told me to think of happy things. I mean, hello, I am panicking here, how am I supposed to think of rainbows and unicorns? But trust me, you HAVE to push yourself. Think of anything that makes you happy, maybe a person, maybe a thing, maybe a song, or recall a picture of some vacation you took.

The point is to calm yourself down, by thinking of soothing things.


 Now, what should you do if the attack is too severe?  Here are a couple of SOS tips:

– take a big paper bag or envelope, cover your mouth and take vigorous breaths.

– always keep an emergency contact. If you don’t have a trustworthy person around, call your emergency contact on speed dial, and take deep breaths while they reach you. Make sure your emergency contact is reliable, someone you are comfortable with and someone who knows about your condition.

Panic Attacks
Source: Overcoming Depression Org

– the most practical way is to seek help from psychiatrists, alright? So, your doctor will give you an SOS medication for the moments of absolute paralysis and breathlessness. ALWAYS carry this medicine with you, and inform your emergency contact about it before hand.


Panic is something that affects everyone. However, a panic disorder is something that can happen to anyone. Know your triggers and seek help from a professional. Panic attacks are a major disability.

While you can be paralysed in the duration of the attack, you might become too tired to function in the aftermath.

It’s important that you research well, take your medications and take care of yourself. Try relaxation techniques, alternate therapy like painting or gardening. Moreover, maintaining a good sleep schedule will also help. Don’t over exhaust yourself, eat healthily, and do some light form of exercise regularly. You’ll survive this, really. Watch this slam poetry and know that you’re not alone.


Preetika Dubey


Twenty-something Literature student and tragedy lover. I feed on aesthetics and illustrations. My happy days are made up of cloudy skies and cups of chai. I advocate mental health and speaking out loud.

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