What To Do When Panic Attacks Happen In Public

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown

Approximately 22.7 percent of Americans will suffer from a panic attack in their lifetime.  According to WebMD, panic attacks are sudden fear and extreme nervousness for 10 minutes or more at a time. They are strong feelings of being terrified at seemingly random times, or after a triggering event. Panic attacks can unfortunately take place at any second no matter where you are. Thankfully, there are some useful coping mechanisms and ways to make public panic attacks easier.

What is Panic Disorder?

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Chronic or frequent panic attacks can point to suffering from panic disorder. The main symptom of panic disorder is having frequent panic attacks that are uncontrollable. In addition to this, there are a wide variety of symptoms of panic disorder. Some signs of this could be feelings of impending danger or fear of not having control over a situation. Other symptoms could be an incredibly fast heart rate, shaking, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, and chest pain. However, it is important to note that it is possible to experience a panic attack and not have the disorder.

Panic disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack”.If you have panic disorder, you may feel like panic attacks are out of your control at times. The fear of panic attacks can make you feel like you need to be exhaustingly intentional about what situations you put yourself in. This is to avoid getting triggered by anything and from having a long and brutal panic attack.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

According to a WebMD answer post, the cause of panic attacks is unknown. However, major stressors can play a key role in developing a panic disorder and subsequently panic attacks. Various events can put you at greater risk for panic disorder. These could be traumatic events or built-up trauma. Also, a family history related to panic attacks can increase the likelihood of getting a panic disorder.We do know that panic disorder is more commonly experienced by women than it is men, but it can occur in everyone. Additionally, people who suffer from panic disorder are more likely to experience depression, abuse drugs or alcohol, and attempt to commit suicide.

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Panic disorder should not be taken lightly. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with panic disorder, it is very important to seek help from a professional. Getting help from someone who is an expert in panic disorder can be critical to have a good quality of life. Panic disorder can easily turn into a downward spiral if left untreated.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks: What’s the Difference?

A lot of the time, panic attacks and anxiety attacks can be referred to as the same thing. They do have a few symptoms in common. However, they are very different. Panic attacks have more intense symptoms that are very extreme, and they are completely sudden. Whereas with anxiety disorder, anxiety levels can fluctuate in levels of intensity and symptoms can gradually get worse over varying periods of time. “Panic attacks usually occur without a trigger. Anxiety is a response to a perceived stressor or threat,” as stated by Medical News Today. Anxiety disorder and its symptoms can be linked to several different mental health conditions as well. These conditions include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. So, in conclusion, panic disorder and anxiety disorder are similar, but they are very different when looking at how the symptoms arise.

What to Do When Panic Attacks Happen in Public

As mentioned above, panic attacks happen very suddenly. Panic attacks can happen with no trigger, or something very small. This means panic attacks can happen in public places frequently. For someone with panic disorder, they could experience a panic attack during work meetings, in class, on dates, and even when you are spending time with your family. Learning to cope with panic attacks is crucial for the person suffering. Doing so will help them feel as though they can live a normal life and enjoy small moments.

Get Comfortable with Your Surroundings

When you feel yourself starting to have a panic attack in public, the first thing you should do is make sure that you are in a safe space where you can stop for a minute and wait things out.One of the things you could try to learn is to be comfortable letting people see you in a vulnerable way. If you’re scared about how people are going to look at you, it could just make your panic attack worse. For many people, the added fear of panicking in public can only add to the symptoms and length of a panic attack.

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When you feel a panic attack coming on in public, try to take a moment to yourself to feel vulnerable in knowing that some people will probably see you struggling. If you get used to this, you could start to feel comfortable enough for other people to see you panic, and the fear of having a panic attack in public can dissipate. This could help the attack to just run its course and happen when it does. It is important to go through this without worrying about other people. Remember that people will see much worse in their lives than seeing you have a panic attack. You do not need to worry about the opinions of others when you are struggling with a panic attack. If someone does judge you for a panic attack, they are not worth being in your life anyways.

Learn to Recognize You are Having a Panic Attack

It can be incredibly difficult to recognize the early signs of a panic attack. When you feel your heart racing, it is hard to discern if it is a panic attack or if it is from simply walking up the stairs. You may be observing yourself and evaluating your body all day to see if you need to prepare yourself for a panic attack. With all of that being said, recognizing that you are having a panic attack can be challenging. However, once you learn to recognize you are having a panic attack it can be incredibly helpful.

To try to recognize your panic attacks, it can be beneficial to take notes of the signs or symptoms that lead up to your past panic attacks. Journaling your heart rate, if you are sweating, your breathing rate and more can help you recognize your common symptoms.Learning to look for a pattern can give you a warning when you are about to have a panic attack in public.

Remove Yourself from the Crowd

Sometimes, being in a crowd when you feel a panic attack coming on can make it significantly worse. You might feel like people will think you are crazy or misunderstand what is happening. Try to find any sort of secluded space or a tucked-away area. This can provide you with some sort of feeling of privacy. Crowds can be overwhelming and incredibly scary even when you are not having a panic attack. If you work at an office or go to school, it is a good idea to find a private place. Knowing exactly where to go when you feel a panic attack coming on can give you a moment of peace that will make your panic slightly less derailing.

Focus on your breathing.

A common symptom of having a panic attack is having difficulties breathing. Many people who suffer from panic attacks or panic disorder describe it as feeling like you are having a heart attack. You can’t breathe and you can’t think about anything else. According to an article by Healthline, focusing on deep breathing can help minimize these effects of a panic attack. Focusing on breathing can help to keep your mind occupied during this difficult time and can help restore your breathing back to a normal pattern. Breathing and other relaxation techniques can be learned to help calm down the mind during this scary time.

Let Someone You Trust Know

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Panic attacks can happen at the most inconvenient times. Letting someone know can help take some of the pressure off. They can cover for you when at work, or they can take notes for you in class. Another thing is if you are with someone and you can feel a panic attack starting, TELL THEM. One of the best ways to work through a panic attack before it overwhelms you is letting the person you are with know what is about to happen. It could be helpful to have them talk you through something else to get your mind off of things. This could include asking you questions about your favorite show or about your favorite activity. Distraction does not cure panic attacks, but it can help lessen the blow and keep you afloat.

Knowing Yourself

One of the most important things when struggling with panic attacks in public is to know yourself. Knowing it’s okay to not be okay and if other people disagree with you, that is okay too. Know your triggers and how your body feels leading up to a panic attack. Recognize the signs of your feelings and feel them through completely. Once everything has passed, don’t try to block out what happened. When you feel comfortable enough, revisit what happened so you can learn about yourself and how to get through things better than the last time. Ultimately, though, just remember that even though it doesn’t feel okay at the moment, the moment will pass.

Seek Help from a Counselor

As mentioned above, getting help from a professional can aid you in figuring out what the best ways are for you to manage your panic attacks. If you are in touch with the specific causes of your panic attack episodes, they are more likely to have less and less power over you. A counselor can explain why you have panic attacks, and what the root of them may be. This can be incredibly comforting for many patients. There are very effective treatments for panic attacks that can be done by a licensed counselor. With counseling, people with panic attacks tend to learn how to control them and predict when they will happen. So, be sure to seek the help of a counselor if you suffer from panic attacks.

If you are looking for an online counselor, consider working with one through BetterHelp. There is a large network of licensed and affordable counselors who specialize in panic disorder and panic attacks. Additionally, you will always have access to your counselor through the click of a button, rather than going into a building for your appointments. This can help with privacy, and also if you feel more comfortable in the security of your own home.


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