Anxiety and panic attacks

Anxiety is a feeling of apprehensiveness. We all experience anxiety at one time or another; it is a normal human experience – it keeps us safe at times of danger.











Anxiety (worrying, apprehension and nervousness)

Most people have experienced anxiety as nature intended – it is a bodily response designed to protect us from danger.  Our bodies release a wave of adrenaline to enable us to respond to a dangerous situation with fight or flight.  Whilst this is normal, many people unfortunately experience anxiety all too frequently. This chronic anxiety can range from a mild sense of unease to crippling panic attacks. 

Panic attacks (overwhelming fear and anxiety and distressing physical symptoms)

Panic attacks are an acute form of anxiety and can in some cases make it almost impossible to function normally.  Most people describe the feeling as an overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety or impending doom, which happens suddenly and often completely unexpectedly.  These feelings can strike at any time, sometimes in response to a stressful situation, or at other times for no apparent reason.  A person can wake with a panic attack from a bad dream or from an episode of sleep apnoea. Panic attacks are frequently accompanied by some disturbing physical symptoms.

Common physical symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • heart palpitations and chest pain
  • dizziness
  • feeling jittery, restless
  • copious sweating (palms and elsewhere)
  • trembling and weakness in the limbs
  • nausea, diarrhoea
  • muscle tension in the face, neck, jaw and shoulders
  • difficulty concentrating, poor eye contact
  • tiredness, low energy, feeling drained
  • frequent urination
  • sleeping problems, insomnia.

How is anxiety connected to breathing?

Breathing is commonly affected during anxiety and panic attacks. The stress hormone, adrenaline is released and breathing rate increases as your body’s self-defences launch into a state of hyper-arousal. This response is our autonomic nervous system (our automatic, involuntary nervous system) moving into its sympathetic "fight or flight” state.

The increase in breathing with anxiety can be quite subtle; with a panic attack, hyperventilation is usually obvious.

Better Breathing Courses and Self-Help Programs

Physical responses to anxiety and panic attacks can be minimised through controlled breathing.  As a part of anxiety management and prevention, learning to regulate your breathing can have a huge impact, enhancing the autonomic nervous system’s parasympathetic state, the system responsible for "rest and digest".  As a natural sedative, controlled breathing can improve your ability to sleep, and in times of stress, is a powerful tool for remaining calm and in control.

Self-help program: Book and CD on breathing retraining