Panic attack management

What to do when you're having a panic attack

Key points about what to do when you're having a panic attack

  • A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear that starts and finishes quickly.
  • They are common and can happen anytime, anywhere and without warning. 
  • This page has tips about what to do when you're having a panic attack.
  • You can learn how to manage and prevent panic in future.


Young woman having panic attack, breathing through it
Print this page

Panic attacks come on suddenly with physical feelings including breathlessness, chest tightness, heart racing and light headedness.

If you're aware this is happening:

  • breathe
  • focus on your senses
  • challenge your panicked thoughts.

Read more about each of these below.

If you're aware a panic attack is happening:


  • In through your nose for a count of 4 seconds
  • Hold for 4 seconds
  • Out through your mouth for 4 seconds
  • Hold out for 4 seconds
  • Keep going until you feel the panic fading. If you're too breathless to hold for 4 seconds that’s OK, get as close as you can.
  • Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. The one on your belly should rise and fall.

Here's a video to watch as you do this:

Video: Guided square breathing exercise in 2 minutes

(Dee Jay, India, 2020)

Next, FEEL (ground yourself in your environment).

There's a mindfulness exercise you can do called the 5–4–3–2–1 grounding technique.

  • Identify 5 things you can see: It might be a plant, or a picture on the wall, or the window. You could say them in your head or whisper them out loud.

  • Identify 4 things you can feel: It might be the sun on your face, a breeze or fabric on your skin.

  • Identify 3 things you can hear:  It might be birdsong, a car going past or music playing nearby.

  • Identify 2 things you can smell: It might be freshly mown grass, traffic fumes, coffee.

  • Identify 1 thing you can taste: It might be what you ate or drank recently, chewing gum or lip balm. If you can't taste anything think about the taste of a favourite food or drink. 

Woman focusing on her breathing and sensations

Image credit: Canva


  • Identify the trigger, eg, I'm walking into a supermarket, I feel my heart racing.
  • Identify the unhelpful thoughts, eg, I think I might collapse and embarrass myself in front of everyone.
  • Challenge the thoughts, eg, my heart is racing because I'm anxious. I’ve had this feeling before. It gets better after a few minutes and goes away after I leave the supermarket.

Panic usually starts to fade away after 10 minutes. You can feel unsettled for quite a while after. After a panic attack is a good time to learn about what happened.

Learn more about panic and how to manage and prevent it.

Just a Thought have created an online course on overcoming panic. Read more about the Overcoming Panic course.  


Looking after yourself – Panic(external link) Centre for Clinical Interventions, Australia


  1. Looking after yourself – panic(external link) Centre for Clinical Interventions, Australia
  2. What to do if you have a panic attack in public(external link) Patient Info, UK, 2021
  3. Feeling anxious? Try the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique(external link) Very Well Mind, US, 2024

Need help now?

Healthline logo in supporters block

Need to talk logo

Healthpoint logo

Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Emma Dunning, Clinical Editor and Advisor

Last reviewed: