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Explains anxiety and panic attacks, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
"I can’t sleep due to panic attacks and nightmares. When I fall asleep within an hour I am up, soaked, heart racing and shaking."
During a panic attack, physical symptoms can build up very quickly. These can include:
During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that you're:
"My teeth would chatter uncontrollably and my whole body [would] tremble, I’d hyperventilate and cry with panic as the feeling that I was going to fall unconscious was so convincing."
You might find that you become scared of going out alone or to public places because you're worried about having another panic attack. If this fear becomes very intense, it may be called agoraphobia (see our pages on phobias for more information).
"I felt like I couldn't breathe, I just wanted to get out, to go somewhere else, but I couldn't because I was on a train."
Watch Polly, Lewis, Faisal, Brian and Shelley share how panic attacks feel for them, and talk about what helps:
Panic attacks can happen during the day or night. Some people have one panic attack then don't ever experience another, or you might find that you have them regularly, or several in a short space of time. You might notice that particular places, situations or activities seem to trigger panic attacks. For example, they might happen before a stressful appointment.
Most panic attacks last between 5–20 minutes. They can come on very quickly. Your symptoms will usually peak (be at their worst) within 10 minutes. You might also experience symptoms of a panic attack over a longer period of time. This could be because you're having a second panic attack, or you're experiencing other symptoms of anxiety.
"My panic attacks seem to come out of the blue now. But in fact, they seem to be triggered mainly at night when I want to go to sleep but cannot stop my mind racing, experiencing worry and panic about anything that may be on my mind."
Panic attacks can be frightening, but there are things you can do to help yourself cope. It could help to keep print these tips out and keep them somewhere easy to find.
During a panic attack:
After a panic attack:
If you're having lots of panic attacks at unpredictable times and there doesn't seem to be a particular trigger or cause, you might be given a diagnosis of panic disorder. It's common to experience panic disorder and agoraphobia (a type of phobia) together. People who experience panic disorder may have some periods with few or no panic attacks, but have lots at other times.
"Never knowing when I was going to [have] a panic attack was the worst feeling in the world."
This information was published in September 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.