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Panic and panic attacks

Panic is a word that’s used a lot, but what does it really mean? And how is a panic attack different from just ‘panic’?

What is panic?

Panic is your body’s alarm system, there to tell us to be careful of something. This is useful if you’re under attack because the body gets pumped with adrenaline which help us run away, or stand and fight if need be. Nowadays, that adrenaline might also come in useful if you find yourself face to face with a burglar, for example, but mostly, panic is your body overreacting to what it thinks is a threat.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an extreme version of panic. They can feel more intense than usual panicky feelings. Or they can last for longer, or simply come out of nowhere, even when there’s no threat. Symptoms can include:

  • Your heart thudding or skipping a beat
  • Your head pounding
  • You feel dizzy, wobbly or faint
  • Changes in breathing, as though you can’t breathe enough or catch your breath
  • You need to escape or stop what you’re doing
  • You’re hot and sweaty, or cold and even shivery.

Coping with panic

Here are some important things to remember:

  1. Panic attacks are very common and lots of people you know may have experienced one
  2. Panic itself is not dangerous, even if it feels like it is
  3. Panic is not necessarily a sign of serious mental or physical illness, but if you’re worried, talk to a trusted adult, teacher or friend
  4. Panic attacks do not usually last long, and the feelings will pass.

Things that might help

Breathing techniques

Controlling your breathing can help generally but also when you’re panicking.

Breathing techniques


This is really useful for helping burn off the extra adrenaline your body is creating in times of panic. Find out easy ways to get started here.



Think of relaxation as the opposite of panicking. Sounds good? Mindfulness can help you get there.



Information about stress and anxiety, including symptoms, managing anxiety and panic attacks.


Straight up Advice – Heads above Waves

Information and advice helpline for children and young people.

Heads Above the Waves