Panic Attacks

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear and anxiety that happens in situations when there may be no immediate danger. Panic attacks may happen when you don’t expect them, and could last 5-30 minutes, but sometimes may be an hour or longer. They don’t have a specific cause; however, they tend to affect people who have experienced trauma, abuse, or high levels of stress. Panic attacks are common among survivors of sexual violence.

A panic attack might include some of these feelings:

  • Chest pain
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Difficulty breathing and feeling out of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
  • Fast, pounding heartbeat
  • Feeling of doom or danger
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment
  • Feeling out of control
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Shaking
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating

What will help during a panic attack?

Panic attacks can be overwhelming. You may feel like you are having a heart attack or fear that you are dying. During these times it is important to remember that this feeling will pass. It can be hard to know what to do to feel better during a panic attack—some of the suggestions below might help.

  • Recognize that you are experiencing a panic attack and try to remind yourself that it will pass.
  • Find a position you are comfortable in. For some people this might mean taking a walk or a bath, for others it could mean curling up in bed.
  • Close your eyes or find a specific object to focus on to help ground yourself.
  • Concentrate on slowing down your breathing. If this is hard to do, try counting your breaths or timing them to a slow, repetitive sound.
  • Think about each muscle in your body, going from head to toe, and relax each of them, one at a time.

After a panic attack, you may feel physically and emotionally exhausted. You’ve just been through something really difficult and stressful, so be kind to yourself and try to practice self care in these moments.

How can I help prevent future panic attacks?

There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t have another panic attack, but there are several things you can do to manage them and help reduce the chance that you will have more. Consider activities that bring you focus or positive distraction, like sketching in a journal, listening to guided meditation, or going for a run. Not all activities work for all people, but keep experimenting until you find something that works for you.

  • Therapy. Consider talking with a trained professional who will be able to help you in your healing process and think of strategies to help with panic attacks. Therapy can also help you work through side-effects of panic attacks, such as fear of a situation you were in while having one in the past.
  • Have a plan and stick to it. On your own, with a loved one, or with your therapist, come up with a plan for what will help prevent future panic attacks and what your strategies will be if another one happens.
  • Practice self care. Caring for your mind and body can help you feel strong and healthy, and can help with reducing future panic attacks.

How to be supportive during a panic attack

If you want to support a loved one who is experiencing panic attacks, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

What to do:

  • Help the person having a panic attack get somewhere that is safe and private.
  • Calmly remind them that panic attacks always end—they will not feel this way forever.
  • Help them regulate their breathing by taking long, deep breaths together.
  • Follow their instincts for what they need in that moment, unless it is self-harming behavior. If they feel trapped indoors and need to take a walk or run, go with them. If they need to watch a calming movie, sit with them.
  • Listen to them if they need to talk through how they are feeling.

What NOT to do:

  • Do not tell them to calm down or tell them not to worry.
  • Do not ask them too many questions.
  • Do not agree with and encourage negative or panicked thoughts they express.

It’s very common for survivors of sexual violence to experience panic attacks. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at y en español a




The rape kit backlog is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.

Read More

Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 310 are reported to the police.

More Stats

A $25 monthly gift can educate 15,000 people about preventing sexual violence. Can you think of a better way to spend $1 a day?

Donate Monthly