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  • Adriana Leone

How I overcame my fear of panic attacks

I remember my first experience with a panic attack years ago. It was unexpected; I was in the classroom and could not understand my feelings and thoughts. I saw my instructor moving her lips while teaching the class, but I could not hear or understand her words. The classroom was spinning. It was like I was there physically, but it felt like an out-of-body experience, like a movie.

I remember a tremendous fear and desire to run out of the classroom and hide for protection. But fear of what? And where would I hide?

I remember asking myself, “What is this feeling I’m having? I’m losing control of myself!” I was about to die because I could not breathe and felt my heart pumping faster and faster. I was sweating and could not stop shaking. I grabbed my desk in the most vital way possible to control my shakiness and stared at a dead point in the classroom to distract myself and control my impulse to run away. I don’t know how long it lasted; all I knew was that it felt like an eternity. I did not think I had a panic attack until weeks later, after talking to my therapist and ruling out other diseases.  

According to DSM-V, panic attacks are a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. One of the most common cognitive symptoms of a panic attack is the intense fear of losing control of self or dying, combined with other physical symptoms. Some of the most common physical symptoms are a racing heart and difficulty breathing. The physical symptoms can be similar to many physical illnesses, such as heart or respiratory disease, so you must check with your doctor to rule out other diseases. 

An episode of a panic attack may come unexpectedly and peak within minutes. A panic attack is an isolated event, whereas panic disorder is recurrent unexpected panic attacks. They can also occur in comorbidity with mood disorders or other mental health disorders. Sometimes, having one episode of a panic attack is enough to impact someone’s life by creating a fear of having it again so that the person may avoid a similar situation in which they experience it for the first time.

When talking about panic disorder, its consequences may go beyond avoiding one specific situation and impact a person's quality of life if they start to avoid socialization or disengage in meaningful activities.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) offers several techniques that can help manage panic attacks. Here are two simple techniques that are often used:

1. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a powerful technique to reduce panic and anxiety. When you start feeling the onset of a panic attack, try to focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. This can help reduce the physical symptoms of a panic attack by calming the nervous system and increasing the oxygen flow to your brain, helping you feel more in control.

2. Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves identifying and challenging negative, often irrational thoughts contributing to panic. It's about recognizing these thoughts, questioning their validity, and then replacing them with more balanced, realistic thoughts. This technique helps you understand that the catastrophic predictions and thoughts during a panic attack are not accurate or helpful.

How to Practice:

  • When you feel a panic attack coming on, identify the thoughts contributing to your anxiety.

  • Ask yourself questions to challenge these thoughts, such as:

  • "Is there evidence for this thought?"

  • "What's the worst that could happen, and how likely is it?"

  • "Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?"

  • Try to replace negative thoughts with more balanced, realistic ones. For example, if you're thinking, "I'm going to have a heart attack," remind yourself, "This is anxiety. I've felt this before, and I was okay."

Both techniques can be practiced and applied when you sense the early signs of a panic attack. With regular practice, they can help you manage and reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks over time. However, it's important to remember that while these techniques can be very effective, working with a therapist who specializes in CBT can provide you with personalized guidance and support.

In my experience, knowing that it was a panic attack and challenging my thoughts, with the guidance of my counsellor, was what helped me to overcome the fear of having future ones. 

Contact our counsellors at Emotion Wise Counselling today for help with panic and anxiety. We offer for in-person counselling in downtown Vancouver.

Reach out for help today at .


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