Disclaimer: The below does not constitute medical advice – please consult a professional/doctor if you are concerned about symptoms you are experiencing.

Panic attacks can be intense. They can be confused with heart attacks or other medical conditions. But essentially, they are just mega doses of stress and all the physical symptoms that go with that: e.g. raised heartbeat or palpitations, sweating, heat, dizziness, intense fear, shortness of breath, and nausea. You may be afraid you are going to pass out or even have a heart attack.

And when panic strikes, all you want to do is get rid of it; make it stop; or sometimes run away from the situation you are in. The problem is that such reactions may make it worse and sustain it.

So, what to do?

 Firstly, if this is the first time you have had a panic attack and you think it might be a heart attack, seek medical help. But if this happens repeatedly, and you know this is a panic attack, then the below instructions may be helpful. These instructions largely come from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and are tried and proven) ACT is one of the most evidence-based therapies around.

During my training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy I was taught that the most effective way to deal with a panic attack is to do the opposite of what you are wanting to do: STOP RESISTING the panic attack.

A panic attack will not harm you – it is just a huge dose of fight, flight and freeze – in other words stress. The more you fight it, the worse it gets.

Know you will be OK. Know you will be safe.

Focusing on the physical feelings and believing something bad is going to happen to you, will make the symptoms worse. Sure, you could try and calm yourself or do a breathing exercise – and sometimes for some people that works. But what is described here, often results in a better outcome.

The more you fight the symptoms, the more you tell your brain (the amygdala) that an emergency is happening. And guess what! Your brain responds in the only way it knows how – it turns up the stress response increasing the symptoms. Understanding and discovering this is key!

So instead of fighting, you stop resisting. You let the panic attack happen without trying to control it. Instead, you reassure yourself with some useful self-talk – letting yourself know, “this is JUST a panic attack – it will soon pass – nothing bad will happen – I can allow it to happen”.  Learn these words!

You can then just let yourself BE with the sensations you are experiencing – if you can sit down, but equally you could this wherever you are.

ACT also teaches to take an observer position whereby you know this is JUST a panic attack and then you curiously observe what is being experienced. Taking an observer position creates a little distance!

Years ago, I remember a famous psychiatrist – I cannot remember her name – use a similar but slightly more radical approach that often stopped panic from ever recurring.

She would have you invite your panic to do its worst! She would say, “bring it on”. A gentler approach would be to “welcome the panic”, make space for it and be absolutely willing to feel it.

The more you can do all of this with a compassionate and caring attitude towards yourself the better.

What often happens when you follow these instructions, is the panic briefly gets worse! And then it suddenly and rapidly starts to diminish, and you are left feeling wonderful relief because you have faced your fear and discovered that what you were so afraid of is actually very manageable.


You may need to discover and deal with the cause of panic. Often it will be built up stress, sometimes it is a result of past trauma or suppressed emotions. Equally, panic can have physical causes such as hormonal imbalance and you should therefore be checked out by a medical professional.


I offer online therapy and coaching to help deal with panic attacks and anxiety.