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Panic attacks

"I felt like I couldn't breathe, I just wanted to get out, to go somewhere else, but I couldn't because I was on a train"

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What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks are a type of fear response. They’re an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement.

What do panic attacks feel like?

I can’t sleep due to panic attacks and nightmares. When I fall asleep within an hour I am up, soaked, heart racing and shaking.

During a panic attack, physical symptoms can build up very quickly. These can include:

  • a pounding or racing heartbeat
  • feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
  • feeling very hot or very cold
  • sweating, trembling or shaking
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • pain in your chest or abdomen
  • struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking
  • feeling like your legs are shaky or are turning to jelly
  • feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings (these are types of dissociation – see Mind’s pages on dissociative disorders for more information).

During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that you’re:

  • losing control
  • going to faint
  • having a heart attack
  • going to die.

‘My teeth would chatter uncontrollably and my whole body [would] tremble, I’d hyperventilate and cry with panic as the feeling that I was going to fall unconscious was so convincing’.

You might find that you become scared of going out alone or to public places because you’re worried about having another panic attack. If this fear becomes very intense, it may be called agoraphobia.

Dealing with panic attacks

There are lots of things you can do to support yourself with acute anxiety and panic attacks.  Such experiences are often triggered because we are unknowingly holding our breath, or limiting our breathing, to cope with anxiety. As such, this triggers a physiological reaction – the ‘fight or flight’ response, causing ‘stress hormones’ to flood into our body.  Good breathing techniques, if employed early, can help minimise, or at least reduce, the sense of panic. Please see our resource on breathing techniques here.

CBT is the treatment of choice for a prolonged panic disorder: http://cogbtherapy.com/cbt-for-panic-attacks/

See also our resources on techniques to manage performance anxiety.

The information and resource packs above are designed to help you during a very specific period in your training to become a barrister. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing amongst those in a similar position to yourself please get in touch.


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Training to become a barrister is pressured and demanding. Intensive competition for limited pupillages (and when in pupillage for tenancy or employment) can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage those stressors, make emotionally informed, wise decisions and hopefully thrive in your chosen profession.

A simple expression that sums up wellbeing is ‘travelling well’

2 in 3 barristers feel that showing signs of stress equals weakness