When anxiety becomes overwhelming it can turn into panic, and even though symptoms of a panic attack are very frightening, they’re not dangerous. Learning a few skills can help to not only manage the symptoms of a panic attack, but prevent them from occurring.

Although a certain amount of worry and anxiety about coronavirus (COVID-19) is natural, to be expected, and even healthy, some individuals (especially those with pre-existing anxiety disorders) may find that healthy worry becomes overwhelming and turns into panic. Here is some advice on how to manage anxiety about coronavirus when it turns into panic.


Panic attacks are sudden and intense experiences of anxiety that are typically associated with physical symptoms. These symptoms can include; shaking, feeling disoriented, nausea, and rapid and irregular heartbeats. You may also experience dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating or dizziness.

These symptoms can make you feel like something catastrophic is about to happen, like you are going to have a heart attack. Though the symptoms are very frightening, especially to those who have never experienced them before, they’re not dangerous.

How to manage a panic attack

So, what are some effective tips to manage a panic attack?

  1. Tell yourself it is a panic attack. Remind yourself that it’s a panic attack that’s caused by anxiety and that despite how frightening it can feel, it isn’t dangerous.
  2. Remind yourself it will end. The symptoms of a panic attack always pass – for most, the acute stage of a panic attack is 15-20 minutes (although it can sometimes take hours to fully feel back to baseline).
  3. Breathing exercises. Take long deep breaths (in through your mouth and out through your nose) to prevent your body from hyperventilating which can make panic symptoms worse.
  4. Practice mindfulness. A panic attack can make you feel very disconnected from the world around you and place all your focus on the symptoms you’re experiencing. Find something else to focus on, such as an object in the room or another physical sensation (like touching a fuzzy blanket or rubbing your hands against your jeans).

Preventing a panic attack

There are a number of things that can help prevent or reduce the chances of having a panic attack. These include the following:

  1. Practice mindful breathing exercises every day.
  2. Regular exercise helps to manage stress levels, release tension, improve mood and boost confidence.
  3. Eat regular meals to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
  4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking – these can make panic attacks worse.
  5. Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can identify and change the negative thought patterns. It’s these thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks.

Anxiety about threats to our personal safety is normal and helps us to make good decisions to keep ourselves safe. But when anxiety becomes disproportionate to the risk, it can have an impact on our ability to perform our daily activities and can develop into panic. Remember that panic attacks are frightening but they are not dangerous and the symptoms do not last. If you’re experiencing regular symptoms of panic, you may want to consider seeking professional support. For in-office or virtual counseling therapy, see Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates.

For more thoughts on anxiety and Coronavirus read our other article with Tips on Managing Anxiety.