Panic Attacks: A Survival Guide

Just have a cup of tea and relax


It’s that time of year. You bring pyjamas to the library and drink your bodyweight in coffee before sobbing from exhaustion. Dissertations, exams and deadlines; there’s a lot to be anxious about, so I thought I’d offer some advice on beating exam anxiety, and overcoming panic attacks.

Lets start at the beginning:

What is a panic attack?

Basically a panic attack is a rush of adrenaline when you don’t need one. Imagine you’re walking through the middle of a jungle and all of a sudden a tiger jumps out at you. Your body also loads up with adrenaline to help you run or fight the ginger beast, and it would help you deal with the threat. But when you’re just walking down the road it is a major inconvenience.

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Once you know what it is you can fix it

What are the symptoms?

Panic attacks have a lot of horrible symptoms. Mine usually consist of light-headedness, sweating, weakness, disorientation, crying, and a horrible fear for my safety. These aren’t the only symptoms and they will vary from person to person. They’re bloody awful, but you can beat them.

Most of theses awful symptoms are caused by a concoction of adrenaline and breathing too much. Yes, breathing too much. It’s why you might feel faint or disconnected from everything around you. It’s just your body preparing to run from that tiger in your brain.

How you can deal with it:

Talk to someone

If you’re in the library, you’re likely to be there with friends. Even if you feel so overwhelmed you can barely talk, let them know what’s happening and try to have a conversation with them. Enjoy the opportunity to distract yourself. Talking will also help regulate your breathing again. Even if you chat about that guy you necked in Glam it’s better than nothing, and might save you from being a mess.

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Friends are just one of many support systems you can have

Shut your mouth

I’m not being mean. Literally shut your mouth. You can’t breathe as heavily. No I didn’t mean what you want to say to Question Boy. It’s simple but it has been hugely helpful for me in the past.

Change your environment

Where are you? In the library? Go outside. Standing up? Sit down? Go outside. Fresh air really helps. Don’t feel like you’re in a rush to head back inside straight away and tell yourself to stop being stupid. You aren’t being stupid. You need to let your body calm down. It’ll take 6 minutes for the adrenaline to dissipate, so enjoy the chance to catch your breath and chill.

Look around you

It sounds like a family care game, but try and go through each of your senses and name five things you can see. Four you can touch, three you can hear and something you can smell. Taste might apply, but it might be quite a strange one if you started licking the pavement.

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Take a break, 20 minutes won’t be the be all and end all to your career

Learn from this

Anxiety doesn’t come out of nowhere. There’s always a trigger, and only you can figure out your trigger. Talk to your friends, perhaps its something to do with your routine. Habits change when exams approach, for example, being in the library at 3am might not be the best thing to do if you’re tired.

To cut it short, even if it takes 20 minutes to calm down, a single panic attack doesn’t last forever and you need to remember this. I’ve had them for years, and they don’t get easier, but managing them does as long as you figure out a method that works for you. Try to pinpoint what you need to change to make them piss off for good, and if things get really bad, you can always ring:

Nightline: 02920 870 555

Student Support: Drop-ins run for 10-15 minutes every weekday in term time from 3-3:45. On Wednesday they hold an extra 9-9:45 slot.

Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7/365 – they’ve literally saved my life before).

Stay strong guys. Help each other and we’ll all get through this shit few weeks together.