Hi Saffron, my name's Patrick and I'm a pretty long-time sufferer of, well, pretty much everything you described in your post up there. I was just browsing around for somewhere to post about what I go through and found this place, and yours was the first thread I clicked on, so I registered and here I am.
I've read many texts from people who understand and treat these problems and they say that it's just the body going through the motions of what would normally happen if you did something like high stress exercise or were running for your life. In other words, it's scary because it happens at times when you aren't exercising, therefore you don't understand the sudden weakness and heart rate increase. Unfortunately, because you have a panic attack, it can mean that you'll give yourself more of them if you let it control you. Every day for me is a struggle just about, but you're right - distracting yourself is a great way to take the edge off. What I do is find something that I can analyze like the names and back stories of favorite book or movie characters and just think about them. I also find that sitting or laying in front of an electric fan in a cool room or spraying some cool water in my face helps. The initial panic shouldn't last too long, and I tell myself that, and that there's nothing really wrong. I'm not saying I handle it well sometimes, in fact I've probably made a fool of myself in the past. I'm just trying to give you some tips on how to deal with the whole thing.
I remember one time I was alone in my apartment in or around 2007 and I had the WORST panic attack I can remember, so bad that I had no energy and thought for sure I was about to die. The thing is, since I was so pumped up mentally I couldn't fall asleep (and usually that helps to "reset" my mind). I ended up going to the hospital and worrying my dad, when all they had to tell me was I have panic problems (thanks guys, but I knew that lol). You're not alone. Also remember, there are hotlines to call even if you're just having a panic attack and it helps to talk to someone. Good luck with whatever you face each day.