Panic attacks

Panic attacks most commonly occur following a period of intense stress, but can be brought on by respiratory problems or postures that restrict breathing in any way. Not everyone who has a panic attack will develop a panic disorder, which is an extreme fear of having another panic attack.

The symptoms of a panic attack include over breathing, racing heart, sweating, trembling, feeling sick, an "electric shock" sensation, feeling an urgent need to rush to the toilet, feeling faint, pains in the chest and an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread. The symptoms can be so intense that it becomes extremely frightening for the person to contemplate experiencing it again. The symptoms can be so strong that frequently people think they are having a heart attack.

What are the signs?

You may be experiencing a panic attack if you have some of the above symptoms and:

  • You think you are having a heart attack
  • You feel extremely frightened
  • You think you are going to die
  • You feel faint
  • You feel totally overwhelmed and think you are going "crazy"

What are the causes?

Panic attacks are usually activated by a stressful situation. There are many potential causes of panic attacks including:

  • Hyper arousal
  • Hypochondria
  • Genetic inheritance
  • Learned responses

How are panic attacks treated?

Panic attacks are one of the most successfully treated disorders. Management of attacks using behavioural strategies like breathing exercises and relaxation training is one method of treatment. A person can also be exposed to the cues or events that trigger the panic in the first place and can be taught to handle these events in different ways that minimise the panic symptoms.  This is known as 'cue' or 'exposure' therapy.

Information about panic attacks by beyondblue

beyondblue's website includes information about panic attack symptoms, prevalence rates and causes.

Panic attacks fact sheet by Reachout

Reach Out!'s page on panic attacks details symptoms, causes and tips about how to manage panic attacks.

Tool kit: Panic attacks by Lifeline

Lifeline is a 24 hour national counselling service for people having difficulty with everyday life. Lifeline's webpage on Panic Attacks includes a link to a Toolkit with information on causes, what to do if you are experiencing a panic attack and treatment options.

Panic attack information in various languages - Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHMA)

MHMA provides national leadership in mental health and suicide prevention for Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Information about panic attacks (under Anxiety Disorders) is available in twenty-three different languages.

People with anxiety may be scared or overwhelmed at the thought of getting help. The type and amount of help that families and friends can provide depends on the relationship you have with the person experiencing the disorder. 

Helping someone who isn't ready to recognise they need assistance can be very difficult.

You can help someone by: 

  • spending time talking about their experiences 
  • indicating that you've noticed a change in their behaviour
  • letting them know you're there to listen without being judgemental 
  • suggesting they see a doctor or health professional
  • recommending and/or assisting them to make an appointment with a doctor or health professional
  • going with the person to the doctor or health professional 
  • asking how their appointment went
  • assisting them to find information about anxiety 
  • talking openly about their feelings
  • encouraging them to try to get enough sleep, exercise and eat well 
  • encourage them to use self-help strategies
  • taking them out and keeping in touch - as well as encouraging friends and family members to do the same 
  • encouraging them to face their fears with support from their doctor/psychologist 
  • contacting a doctor or hospital, if they become a threat to themselves or others

Information about helping someone with anxiety by beyondblue

This information page by beyondblue details their approach to helping someone with anxiety.

Reference: beyondblue website


beyondblue is a national, independent, not-for-profit organisation working to address issues associated with depression, anxiety and related substance misuse disorders in Australia.


Reconnexion, based in Melbourne, provides a specialist counselling service for adults and young people experiencing anxiety disorders, depression and benzodiazepine dependency and withdrawal.

SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy telephone helpline and website.

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