Panic attacks

Learn what causes panic attacks, how to tell if you or a loved one is having a panic attack, and what to do.

Panic attacks 

Panic attacks are surprisingly common. But it helps to know what causes them, and what you can do to relieve them.

Jump to section: Signs and symptoms | CausesWhat to do | Getting support

What are panic attacks?

The best way to describe it is an intense and overwhelming feeling of panic or fear

Panic attacks are surprisingly common. Up to 40 per cent of the population will experience a panic attack at some time in their life. Panic disorder is the term used to describe when panic attacks are recurrent and disabling. Approximately 5 per cent of people in Australia will experience panic disorder in their lifetime. It is estimated that slightly more women than men have panic disorder, which usually begins when people are in their early to mid-20s or in mid-life.

Managing panic attacks

Signs and symptoms of panic attacks.

A panic attack can be very terrifying, particularly if you’ve never experienced one before. The feelings can come on suddenly and unexpectedly, and symptoms typically last a few minutes, but the effects of the attack may last for a few hours.

According to Lifeline, symptoms of a panic attack can also include:

  • Accelerated heartbeat or palpitations
  • Dizziness, faintness or nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pains or tightening
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Thinking irrationally, such as feeling like you’re dying, losing control or going mad.

Many people will experience one-off panic attacks at some point during their lives. However, it’s when these attacks happen again and again, impacting day-to-day life, that the condition is considered ‘panic disorder’ -- a form of anxiety.


24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

The causes of panic attacks

It can be hard to pinpoint exactly why someone is experiences panic attacks. There could be a number of factors at play, such as psychological factors, genetic predisposition, stress, or a traumatic event. If you think you may have experienced an attack, it’s important you seek help immediately to rule out any underlying health issues.

Young man having a nap on couch in living room

What to do for panic attacks 

If you feel a panic attack coming on, there are some exercises you can try to help relieve symptoms:

  • Stop and remind yourself what’s going on: If you notice a panic attack coming on, reassure yourself that while symptoms can be horrible, these are feelings you’ve experienced before and they will subside.
  • Control rapid breathing: To help slow your breathing, close your eyes and concentrate on breathing in slowly and gently through your nose, and then out through your mouth. To help slow you down, count to five for each in-breath and then again for every out-breath.
  • Focus your attention elsewhere: Rather than telling yourself to relax and stop panicking, distract yourself from the symptoms you’re experiencing. For example, you could try counting backwards or recall the words of a favourite song.

How to prevent or manage symptoms

  1. Speak to your GP: If you think you could be experiencing panic attacks, make sure you visit your GP. That way you’ll be able to get the right information and course of action to best manage your symptoms.
  2. Exercise regularly: Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and improve mood. Aim for around 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day – this could be anything from walking to work or hitting spin class.
  3. Eat a balanced diet: A well-rounded diet can do wonders for your health, both physically and mentally. For those prone to panic attacks, it’s important to keep blood sugar levels stabilised
  4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol and caffeine can worsen panic attack symptoms, so try to avoid these.
  5. Get enough sleep: A good night’s sleep is important for your physical and mental wellbeing so try to aim for around eight hours of quality sleep each night. To help achieve this, it’s important you take the necessary steps to help relax before bed to ensure you get to sleep swiftly. For example, avoid sugary foods, caffeine, using your phone or watching TV in the hours leading up to bed.
  6. Relaxation techniques: Breathing exercises, meditation and other relaxation techniques can help to manage some of the symptoms of anxiety.

Read about more healthy habits that could help. 

Where to get help

The best place to start is by speaking to your GP or health practitioner. They will be able to assess your individual situation and recommend the best next steps for your recovery.

Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

If at any point you feel like someone’s life is in danger, seek immediate help. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support and call 000 if you believe that someone’s life is in danger.

For more support and information

Beyond Blue

Back to top

Medibank health support and services

As an eligible Medibank member, you get more than just health insurance. You get extra support, when you need it most. 

Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover~ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.

New telehealth services

Medibank members with eligible extras can now access telehealth services - including psychology, physiotherapy, dietetics, occupational therapy, podiatry, exercise physiology and speech therapy - and claim for services undertaken from 14 April 2020 until further notice.  Medibank members can also access counselling telehealth services undertaken from 15 October 2020 until further notice, with benefits payable towards Medibank recognised Counsellors only.#

Medibank has a wide range of health and wellbeing services to support eligible members with their mental health.

Further reading

Seeking help: the basics                                 

Where to go for help to navigate a mental health issue.

Managing panic attacks

Panic attacks                                                       

So how can you tell if you're experiencing a panic attack? And is there anything you can do to help relieve or prevent symptoms? We take a look.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia

Types of anxiety                                                      

Anxiety can present itself in numerous different forms. Learn about each form of anxiety and how they differ.

Home Support Services can deliver Home Support Packages to help older Australians live safely and comfortably in their own home.

Anxiety and depression in older people

Learn to identify the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in an older person, for yourself or someone you care about.                

Looking for something else?

Visit our Medibank Better Minds homepage to find more tools and services.

Talk to us about your cover and accessing services 

Contact Medibank when and how it suits you: online 24/7, in-store, by phone or through the My Medibank app.

Things you need to know

~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).