People under stress or suffering from phobias sometimes experience moments of sudden and intense anxiety.
This can leave you shaking, feeling confused or disorientated, with rapid heartbeats, a dry mouth, sweating, dizziness and, sometimes, chest pain. Chest pains should always be checked out with your doctor immediately, just to make sure it is nothing more serious.
The symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes. But they can last anything between five minutes and half an hour.
If you know something triggers a panic attack, it is best to avoid it and seek help from a physician or counsellor. But Professor Paul Salkovskis, a psychologist at King’s College, London, says it's important not to let your fear of panic attacks control you.
“Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening,” he says. “It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.”
Confront your fear - you may need support do this. During an attack you experience a whole range of frightening symptoms, and worrying thoughts may go through your mind.
"Many people have a sense of impending disaster, and think they're going to faint, lose control or even die," says Salkovskis."You need to tell yourself that this is not going to happen and the symptoms you're experiencing are caused by anxiety."
He says don't look for distractions. "Ride out the attack. Try to keep doing things. If possible, don't leave the situation until the anxiety has subsided."
"Confront your fear. If you don't run away from it you're giving yourself a chance to discover that nothing's going to happen."
As the anxiety begins to pass, start to focus on your surroundings and carry on doing what you were doing before.
“If you’re having a short, sudden panic attack it can be helpful to have someone with you, reassuring you that it will pass and the symptoms are nothing to worry about,” says Salkovskis. “Then you need to try to work out what particular stress you might be under that could make your symptoms worse.
"There's no quick fix but if your attacks are happening time after time, seek medical help."
If you have panic disorder, you may feel constantly stressed and anxious, particularly about when your next panic attack may be. So learning to relax, which isn't as easy as it sounds, can help to relieve some of this stress and tension, and may also help you to deal more effectively with your panic attacks when they occur.
Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence.
Your doctor may recommend drugs and/or counselling to help you.
Please don’t feel stigmatized by your experience; you would be surprised how many famous and successful people have suffered panic attacks in their time