What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are often triggered by recent stress in your life. They are an extreme form of anxiety but occur at unexpected times, often leaving sufferers afraid of venturing into public places (in case of an attack). One minute you’re feeling fine, the next you’re struggling for breath and feeling sick and dizzy. The symptoms are intensely physical, and sufferers experience overwhelming terror. Often people worry they may be having a heart attack, a stroke, or losing their mind.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations (rapid or irregular heartbeat)
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating or flushing
  • Choking feelings
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Numbness or tingling in hands, arms or legs
  • Dizziness or unsteadiness
  • Feeling of detachment, or feeling out of touch with yourself
  • Hot flushes or chills
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy or being out of control

What Can I Do When an Attack Occurs?

Although panic attacks are frightening they do not cause you physical harm. Remind yourself the symptoms mean you are having a panic attack - not that you are about to die.

Panic attacks generally reach their peak at about four minutes, and have usually lost their intensity by 10 minutes. Remind yourself it will soon be over.

Try to distract yourself. Concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and steady. Try to breathe in slowly through your nose and out even more slowly through your mouth. Put your hand on your abdomen and feel the air push it out. Feel your abdomen go down as you slowly breathe out. When your abdomen moves in response to your breath, rather than your chest, you are achieving the right effect. Take three of these breaths at a time, with ordinary breathing in between. If you breathe this deeply for too long at one time you may feel a bit light-headed. This is because you are taking in more oxygen than usual. A few "normal" breaths will correct the situation.

Don’t try to fight your feelings, give them time to pass.


Do I need to seek help for my Panic Attack/s?

About one in 10 people experience a panic attack at some time in their lives. Usually this follows a period of stress and no further attacks occur. In this case it will usually be enough to be aware of the symptoms and how to manage an attack.

About three percent of the population experience recurring panic attacks. Frequently occurring panic attacks can impact heavily on your life and make you feel afraid of doing things that weren’t a problem before. In this case it’s important to seek help.

You can discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who may suggest you visit a counsellor or psychologist.

At Student Counselling Service we have counsellors who can help you manage panic attacks. They will also help you explore the reasons why the attacks may have started and develop strategies for dealing with stress.


Where to from here?

If you would like to make an appointment to see a counsellor to learn more about this topic please contact the counselling service on your campus.  Distance students can contact any one of the campuses.

Please tell the receptionist if you need an urgent appointment.

Albany: Health and Counselling Centre Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 5.00 pm. Telephone (09) 213 6700.

Manawatu: Student Counselling Service, Turitea Campus, Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 5.00 pm (8.30 - 4.30 during semester breaks). Telephone (06) 350-5533.

Wellington: Student Counselling Service, The Student Services Trust @ Wellington, Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 4.30 pm. Telephone (04) 801-2542.

Massey Contact Centre Mon - Fri 8:30am to 5:00pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 contact@massey.ac.nz Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey