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  4. Panic attacks
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Panic attacks

Panic feelings are common and a lot of people experience them.

What are they?

A panic or anxiety attack is basically an exaggeration of the body's normal reaction to fear. In a situation of extreme danger the body prepares itself for escape or for defence, the 'fight or flight reaction'. The main difference is that with anxiety attacks there is no obvious danger and they appear to come out of the blue. Symptoms can include increased heartbeat and breathing, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, tingling sensations and more, all of which can be very uncomfortable but are not in any way harmful. To experience such intense feelings and not know why can be extremely worrying.

Why do they happen?

Fear reactions do occasionally occur for no good reason, although research has shown that these reactions tend to be greater when people are tired, under stress or are physically run down. The important thing is not the fear reaction itself but the worrying about the feelings that you are experiencing. Thoughts like "what's wrong with me?", "am I dying or going mad?", "I must look so stupid", are very frightening thoughts and escalate the panic creating a vicious circle.

Once you have had one panic attack, you often worry that you may have another and become oversensitive to bodily sensations that would normally go unnoticed This can be enough to trigger the body fear reaction which in turn leads to panic.

What to do if it happens:

  • Try to stay where you are if possible, if not, don't leave in a hurry but walk away slowly to somewhere you can stop and concentrate on reducing panic feelings.
  • Try not to fight the feelings of fear, just give yourself a little time to calm down and let them pass naturally. 
  • Reassure yourself that nothing terrible will happen, that you can cope with this.
  • Concentrate on breathing. Try and slow it down, counting slowly to four on the outbreath. It may help to use a paper bag or to cup your hands around your mouth.
  • If your fear is still increasing try and concentrate on what is around you, describing to yourself the physical environment in detail until you can concentrate on relaxing again.
  • When it has passed, continue what you were doing, try and avoid the temptation to leave or go home.
  • Many people find that speaking more about these feelings of panic and anxiety can ease the intensity of them.

Please do contact the Student Counselling Service to make an appointment should you wish to discuss this with one of our counsellors.

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Northampton Square

London EC1V 0HB

United Kingdom

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.