When Panic Attacks


by Nicole Bueno

Blue Anxiety by Diana Pappas

Blue Anxiety by Diana Pappas; Photo courtesy of www.allposters.com

If you have ever experienced feeling an overwhelming sense of intense fear, worry, and anxiety, that seemed to come out of the blue, you may have experienced a panic attack.  Common symptoms of a panic attack include heart palpitations, an increase in body temperature, shakiness in your legs and hands, intense fear, thinking you are going to faint, thoughts that you are going crazy or are about to die.  Many first time panic sufferers fear they may be having a heart attack or other medical emergency and end up in the emergency room as a result of their panic attack symptoms.  Panic attacks are also commonly referred to as anxiety attacks. 


Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in theUnited States.  Anxiety affects about 40 million adults in America.  That is about 18% of the population.

If you experience panic attacks, there are several steps you can take to relieve panic attacks and their symptoms:

  • Get a medical exam.  Sometimes a physical condition is the cause of panic attacks and their symptoms.
  • Do deep breathing exercises.  Your body cannot be anxious and calm at the same time. As soon as you notice you are having panic attack symptoms, you can prevent it from becoming a full blown panic attack by utilizing the deep breathing technique. It is important that it is a deep breath which means it is from your stomach.  To know if you are doing it correctly, place your hand on your stomach.  When you inhale, your stomach should expand.  When you exhale, your stomach should contract.  One such breathing exercise is a 5-2-5 count. Using the stomach – and not the chest – inhale  for 5 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Then slowly exhale, over 5 seconds. Repeat this cycle twice, and then breathe ‘normally’ for 5 cycles (1 cycle = 1 inhale + 1 exhale). Focus on the breathing, and it will relax the heart-rate.  Do not feel discouraged if it initially does not work.  It can take practice.
  • While focusing on the breath, engage in positive self-talk.  Negative self-talk such as “What if I pass out?” or “What if I go crazy?” may only escalate the physiological symptoms.  Instead, try positive self-talk such as “I’m going to be okay” or repeat a word while doing the breathing exercise such as “calm” or “relax”.
  • Seek support from a mental health professional such as a therapist.  A mental health professional can provide you with various treatment techniques to help manage, cope, and alleviate anxiety and panic in your life.
  • Be informed.  Read about anxiety and panic attacks. 
  • Go to Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website at http://www.adaa.org/ for information and resources.

Nicole Bueno is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and is a Mental Health Therapist and Peak Performance Sport Consultant. Nicole received her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from San Jose State University and her Master’s Degree in Social Welfare from U.C. Berkeley. She is currently a Master’s Degree candidate of the Sport Psychology program at John F. Kennedy University. She has her own private practice in San Jose, California.  Nicole can be reached at nbueno.lcsw@yahoo.com or (408) 724-1009.