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What is a Panic Attack and How to Handle Them in Public

Welcome to our Mood-E Blog

Rebeckah Atkinson

Written by Rebeckah Atkinson, BS

Rebeckah is currently an intern and under the supervision of Kayce Bragg, LPCS (# 8061), LAC #369

Rebeckah Atkinson, BS  is a resident of West Columbia, South Carolina. She received her B.S. in Psychology from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina in December 2018, and she is currently completing her M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Webster University (Columbia, SC). She is on track to graduate in the Spring of 2024. 

Rebeckah believes that coming to therapy is a powerful step in the healing process. She aspires to create an open, empathetic, culturally sensitive environment in which clients can express their mental health or life concerns in a judgement free environment. She employs an integrative, trauma-informed approach to counseling that includes person-centered, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems therapy techniques. Rebeckah works with individuals, children, couples, and families.

What is a Panic Attack and How to Handle Them in Public

panic attack

Have you ever experienced a panic attack? Have you ever experienced one in public? For those of you who said yes to one or both questions, it is important to know that you are not alone, and that you can learn to navigate your way through these episodes. Panic attacks in public can be scary, especially if you’re unprepared and alone. Being aware of techniques for how to navigate one, when one happens, however, can mean removing the power or influence of a public panic attack. It is important to know what a panic attack is, where they come from, and how to manage them. Do not allow your panic attacks to determine what your life looks like, but rather, take control, and learn to manage them, giving you back the control to life your life as you desire.

Understanding Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are a common mental health issue that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 6 million adults in the United States suffer from panic attacks each year. This means that around 2.7% of the population is affected by panic attacks every year. It is important to understand the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack to know how to handle it. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are both forms of mental health issues that can cause significant distress and disruption to a person’s life. While they are related, they are two distinct conditions that have different symptoms and causes.

  • A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of fear and anxiety that can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Symptoms of a panic attack include a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, trembling, and a feeling of impending doom. Panic attacks can be triggered by a stressful event or situation but can also occur without warning.
  • Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are more of a prolonged state of fear and worry. Symptoms of an anxiety attack can include a racing heart, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Anxiety attacks can be caused by a specific situation, event, or can be more generalized and long-term. Anxiety attacks can last for days or weeks and can be more difficult to manage than panic attacks.

The Impact of Public Panic Attacks


Individuals who experience panic attacks often feel shame or embarrassment, causing them to withdraw from social situations to ensure they do not experience one in public. As someone who has experienced a panic attack, it is important to know that not all panic attacks feel the same, and the next one might feel completely different. Having a panic attack in public can be an incredibly scary and embarrassing experience. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and there are ways to manage the situation. Having a plan in place for when panic attacks occur is so important.

Coping Strategies for Individuals


The first step in managing panic attacks is to recognize the signs of an attack.  Once you’ve identified that you’re having a panic attack, it’s important to focus on calming your body and mind. Here are some steps:

  1. Recognize symptoms: rapid heart rate, chest tightness, sweating, dizziness, and difficulty breathing.
  2. Calm body and mind: Deep breaths and positive self-talk reduce physical symptoms.
  3. Distract yourself: Focus on an object or count to 10.
  4. Remember attacks pass: Have a plan with calming activities and a support system.
  5. Coping strategies: Walk, listen to music, or do yoga to reduce intensity.
  6. You’re not alone: Seek support from friends, family, or even strangers.
  7. If alone, find a quiet place until the attack passes; panic attacks are not dangerous.

Supporting Loved Ones


If you have a loved one that experiences panic attacks, it is important to know how to properly support them in their time of need. Helping someone who is having a panic attack can be a difficult task, but it is important to remain calm and provide support. It is important to create a safe and comfortable environment.

  • Ask them to sit down and provide a glass of water.
  • Speak in a calm and reassuring voice and let them know that you are there to help.
  • Ask them to take slow, deep breaths and focus on their breathing.
  • Encourage them to practice relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.
  • It is also important to listen to the person and validate their feelings.
  • Do not try to talk them out of their feelings or minimize their experience, but instead, acknowledge their feelings and provide reassurance that they are safe and that the panic attack will pass.

Lastly, it is important to provide support and comfort. Ask them what they need and offer to stay with them until the panic attack subsides. If they are feeling overwhelmed, it may be helpful to distract them with a simple activity such as playing a game or listening to music. By following these tips, you will be able to help someone having a panic attack. It is important to remain calm and provide support and comfort. With patience and understanding, the person can get through the panic attack and feel better.

Seeking Professional Help


Dealing with panic attacks can be a difficult and overwhelming experience. It is important to remember that panic attacks are treatable, and that help is available. If you or someone you know is experiencing panic attacks, it is important to seek professional help. With the right treatment, people can learn to manage and reduce their symptoms.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help individuals cope with their symptoms and manage their panic attacks. As counselors, it is our role is to provide a safe and supportive environment for those experiencing panic attacks. It is also important for us to help individuals understand what is happening to them, and to provide tools and strategies to help them cope. This may include helping them to identify and challenge their negative thoughts and to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness. It is also important for us to help individuals recognize their triggers and to develop a plan to manage them. With the right support, individuals can learn to manage their panic attacks and live a full and fulfilling life.

One of the most effective resources for dealing with panic attacks is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals to identify and change their negative thought patterns and behaviors that can trigger panic attacks. Through CBT, individuals can learn coping strategies and relaxation techniques to help them manage their panic attacks. Another useful resource for dealing with panic attacks is support groups. Support groups provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences and learn from others who are dealing with similar issues. These groups can also provide valuable information about panic attacks and helpful tips for managing symptoms.

Finally, self-help books and online resources can be helpful for individuals dealing with panic attacks. These resources can provide individuals with information about the causes and symptoms of panic attacks, as well as strategies for managing them. Additionally, many of these resources offer tips for relaxation and stress management that can help individuals cope with their panic attacks. Overall, there are many resources available to help individuals cope with their panic attacks and with the right support and resources, individuals can learn to manage their panic attacks and lead a healthy and fulfilling life. With the right strategies, you can learn to manage panic attacks in public and take back control of your life.

panic attack

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