Panic Attacks and Anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feeling of anxiety at some point in their life. You may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam or having a medical test or job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily life. When this happens it may cause you to withdraw from social contact (seeing your family and friends) to avoid feelings of worry and dread. You may also find going to work or college difficult and stressful and you may take time off sick. These actions can make you worry even more about yourself and increase your lack of self-esteem.

What are symptoms of anxiety?

How severe the symptoms are varies from person to person. Some people have only one or two symptoms, while others have many more. Some examples of possible feelings include:

  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling a sense of dread
  • Feeling constantly “on edge”
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritable

Some physical symptoms may be:

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • A noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • A dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick
  • Headaches
  • Pins and needles
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

If this anxiety stays for a long time you may feel it is hard to deal with everyday life. Your anxiety may become severe, you may feel powerless, our of control, as if you are about to die or go mad. Sometimes if the feelings of fear overwhelm you, you may experience a panic attack.

What is a panic attack?

It is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. You may feel:

  • A pounding heartbeat
  • Faint
  • Sweating
  • Sick
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feelings of losing control
  • Shaky limbs

An attack may come on very quickly. Most attacks last between 5 and 20 minutes. You may have one or two panic attacks and then never experience another. Or you may have attacks once a month or several times each week. They may come without warning and strike at random.

Top tips to help during a panic attack – having trouble breathing?

Getting Rid of Hyperventilation

Hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can. If you hold your breath for a period of between 10 and 15 seconds and repeat this a few times, that will be sufficient to calm hyperventilation quickly. Breathe in and out of a paper bag. Naturally there are many times when this would be inappropriate and may appear a little strange. It really helps though. Take vigorous exercise – while breathing in and out through your nose. A brisk walk or jog whilst breathing through the nose will counter hyperventilation. Regular exercise will decrease general stress levels decreasing the chance of panic attacks.

The 7:11 Breathing Pattern – the opposite of hyperventilation

It may take a few minutes but the body will respond regardless of what your mind is thinking.

  • Sit down
  • Close your eyes for a little while
  • Become aware of your breathing
  • Breathe in to the count of seven
  • Breathe out to the count of eleven

It may be a little difficult at first, but doing this regularly causes your general anxiety level to come down.


A – Accept the anxiety
Decide just to go with the experience. Fighting anxiety, getting angry or scared just fuels the fire.

W – Watch the anxiety
Observe it without judging it to be good or bad. Remember – you are more than just your anxiety.

A – Act normal
Behave normally and continue doing what you intended to do. Breathe normally.

R – Repeat the steps
Continue accepting your anxiety, watching it and acting normal until it goes down to a comfortable level.

E – Expect the best
What you fear may never happen.

You will surprise yourself by the effective way you handle situations when using the ‘AWARE’ technique.


  • Count backwards in threes from 100. 100, 97, 94…
  • Think of 5 songs which don’t contain the song title in the lyrics, eg. Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Visualise the last beach you visited
  • Can you think of 5 song titles by ‘The Beatles’?
  • Count backwards in fours from 2000. 2000, 1996, 1992…
  • Think of 5 words that rhyme with ‘car’
  • Recite the alphabet backwards in your head. Z, Y, X…
  • How many light objects can you see around you?
  • Look around and find 5 instances of the colour blue
  • Look around you how many colours can you count?
  • Count the number of people you can see and multiply by 3
  • Mentally count the number of letters in your full name
  • Think of 5 song titles by your favourite singer or band
  • Look around you, can you see 3 things beginning with ‘c’?
  • How many letters are there in this sentence?
  • Recite the alphabet missing every other letter. A, C, E
  • How many letters in this sentence? ‘I am calm and relaxed’
  • Recite the alphabet backwards missing every other letter. Z, X, V…
  • How many times does the letter ’a’ appear ‘These sensations are harmless. Nothing bad is going to happen to me.’
  • Work out this sum in your head: 36 x 12.

Some useful resources

The following tool can be used to help you if you are experiencing panic attacks to keep a record of how often they occur, how strong they are and how long they last.

Panic Attack Diary


  • P.A.A. Lite
  • Panic Attacks
  • Fast Calm


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