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Panic Attack Information: Beating Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be terrifying and can take over your life, but there is a way to break the cycle, says Nicola Quinn.
In this article:
  • What is a panic attack and what does it feel like to have a panic attack?
  • Panic attack information and advice: what to do
  • Treating panic attacks: ways to overcome panic attacks

In the UK, an estimated 12 million people currently suffer from some form of anxiety or depression, and 1 in 150 people suffer from panic disorder or ’panic attacks’. Nicola Quinn, writer of new book Life Without Panic Attacks, lived with chronic anxiety and panic attacks for 15 years before she discovered a lifeline. We chatted to her about living with panic attacks and how to break the cycle.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is when you have overwhelming terror, with a physical and emotional response completely out of proportion to what is going on around you.

Contrary to popular belief they can last for hours, even when you have removed yourself from the situation. One of the most unpleasant aspects of panic attacks is that they seem to flash from out of nowhere, which is what causes the constant anxiety, waiting for the next one, and you can never be prepared enough – they always catch you out and each one is worse than you could ever remember enduring before.

What does it feel like to have a panic attack?

You feel like you’re going to die. You can’t breath, think or move and yet you desperately need to run away. Your body shakes and goes weak, your mouth is dry and you can barely speak. You feel dizzy and unsteady like you are about to faint.

Your heart is racing so fast it feels like it’s about to burst and the beating in your throat is so hard it feels hot and sore. You desperately need to go the toilet and yet the thought of being closed in a public cubicle is unbearable and increases the panic.

But above all, the thoughts are terrifying and flash so fast you can barely hear what’s going on around you or remember who you are and what you are doing there.

Do you have any tips for what people should do during and after a panic attack?

Most people who have panic attacks will tell you that once you are past a certain point there is no return. That is the biggest fear; once you are there it is difficult to remember anything and you have little choice but to bear it – then feel like a wrung out washcloth afterwards, limp and lifeless, for ages. All you want to do when an attack hits is get out, now, and if you are far from home even the thought of that is little comfort.

What is necessary is learning how to prevent them, so my first tip is to learn EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). It is the only thing that saved me from 15 years of chronic panic attacks.

Through learning this simple technique you quickly reduce your stress and anxiety and also learn not to be scared of the bad feelings, which immediately makes a huge difference. It’s the fear of feeling so bad that keeps the cycle of terror alive and with EFT you can stop that very quickly.

It is possible to start practising in your own home. This is enormously helpful to panic attack sufferers who cannot now leave home and those who cannot bear the thought of feeling even a tiny bit worse than they already do in case they trigger another attack. I am not brave and made sure I was absolutely confident I could handle it before I ventured out and had total success.

My second tip is to learn how to breathe properly. The symptoms of panic attacks are practically the same as hyperventilation, which is breathing quickly from the chest and unbalances the blood oxygen levels.

Taking one slow deep breath from the abdomen. Putting your hand there so you can feel it being pushed out helps to know you are doing it right, and really regains balance, calm and composure quite quickly.

Then continue breathing deeply like that, counting to 4 on the in breath and 5 out, while the adrenaline starts to disperse, which takes about 3 minutes. Then the physical symptoms start to slow right down and stop.

Most people will have been told to take a deep breath and calm down and it makes no difference. This is because they do it from their chest, in essence worsening the situation, so they then decide deep breathing doesn’t help at all – but they are wrong. Proper breathing calms the system down quite rapidly. If you do it quickly enough before the panic starts to spiral out of control it is possible to prevent a full blown attack.

What advice would you give to friends and family of people who have panic attacks?

The most important thing for them to do, is not to be afraid and to deal with their own fear first. The worst thing for a panic attack sufferer is to have someone around who doesn’t know what’s going on and/or is scared they will make things worse, say the wrong thing and add to their loved one’s distress.

A panic attack sufferer needs someone who is strong, someone who can take charge, someone they trust who will be doing the best for them, be that steering them safely out of a crowd, giving them a drink of water, or reminding them where their emergency spot is to tap on to calm them down.

What have been your worst experiences with panic attacks?

My first was on a train when very few people knew exactly what a panic attack was. I really had no idea what had just happened to me and thought it was a one off until it happened again on the train on the way back home a few days later. Then, unsurprisingly, I stopped going on trains.

But the worst times of all were when I was panicking day and night while trying to look after my little girl when she was about four years old. It went on for about nine months and sometimes we didn’t go out for weeks. I would feel like I was holding my breath all day long just waiting for someone to come round and help me.

I felt so bad for my daughter, which just compounded my symptoms as I couldn’t get down on the floor and play with her, or bath her on my own in case I had to rush off and lie down curled up on my bed. It was horrific; I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

What causes panic attacks?

People think panic attacks come out of the blue and wreck a perfectly good life but it takes many years of stress and discontent before they manifest as the final straw.

There definitely has to be a convergence of events. Years of stress, coupled with a debilitating bout of flu or some illness, then an incident such as a break up of a relationship, or a new job – then wham, the body starts pumping adrenaline night and day, seemingly, and you are in a constant state of fight or flight. The nerves become taught as piano wires and then the whole system just explodes. Melt down. Panic attacks. Anxiety. Depression.

If there is a hereditary aspect I would say it is more from learned behaviour. My father was anxious and I know now running back into the house before we all set off in the car was him needing to go to the toilet because of his anxiety. I know my daughter is prone to anxiety because of me and for that I am sad, but she has grown into a fine young woman, funny, intelligent and creative despite me and I am very proud of her.

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How are panic attacks linked to anxiety and depression?

It’s easy to get into the cycle of constant anxiety, wondering when the next panic attack will happen. It’s like you have to keep your guard up to protect yourself and that can be exhausting, debilitating and anxiety provoking. And it’s easy to see how that can eventually lead into depression, especially with the thought of never getting better and never being able to do what you once did without thinking about it.

Everything is planned, everything has to be done on a good day though not planned too far ahead to cause prolonged anticipation of it all going horribly wrong. It’s a no win situation and very depressing.

What are some common ways of dealing with or treating panic attacks?

The usual way if you go to your doctor is to be prescribed anti-depressants and often tranquilizers. While this can give you a much needed ’time out’, it may not be the answer as the fear could return when they are stopped. I don’t think it is so much the withdrawal from the drugs though that is a factor for some people; mostly it’s the massive contrast when the fear kicks in again, it seems even more extreme. And it will still be there if it has not been addressed, there will still be the fear of feeling like that again, out of the blue.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is also a popular way of treating panic attacks, although it wasn’t for me.

If someone has one specific trigger for panic attacks – such as lifts – is there anything that can be done about it or should they just avoid that trigger?

Avoiding the trigger makes sense if it fills you with terror – there’s no point in worsening your symptoms, especially when you have nothing to help you, no tools at your disposal, or you are alone. But it is easy to find yourself gradually avoiding more and more until you end up at home, scared to go out at all. At one time I wouldn’t leave my bed it was so bad.

So it is much better to use EFT to start clearing all fear of feeling bad, and then you can have a fine time in lifts testing your new found skill, that feels great to do!

What helped you to overcome panic attacks?

One hundred per cent it was EFT. I really don’t know how much longer I could have gone on without it. I took the technique, figured out how to make it work best for me and was relentless in my practice of it.

EFT is very simple, just a series of meridian points you tap in sequence while saying a statement of exactly how you are feeling out loud to focus your mind on it. You take a reading before and after so you can see the difference one round of tapping has made and you simply tap each bad feeling down to zero so you have no response to it. It really is as easy as that.

The protocol is free, you can get it on my site, the exact same thing I used. My book just goes further in explaining my story and the special way I used it, but anyone can easily get the same results on their own if they are willing to work at it. And the beauty is there is no need to scare yourself, you only go as fast as you want.

EFT also reduces underlying stress and helps you think much clearer, which is a blessed relief in itself and a brilliant bonus in these uncertain times so I would recommend it to anyone, not just those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks.

What would you say are the most important steps in overcoming your fears?

The most important thing is to overcome your fear of feeling bad and come to realise that it is ok to feel strange in strange situations. That was a big one for me, thinking I had to feel perfect all the time – you don’t. It’s not practical or possible. I also came to welcome feelings of excitement and anticipation, which I had once feared would herald an attack if those feelings became too overwhelming. Now I like to be overwhelmed, in a good way of course.

Life Without Panic Attacks is available from DragonRising as an EBook in Classic PDF form at £12.95 or in paperback for £16.95. Visit


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