Panic attacks are sudden, intense surges of fear, panic, or anxiety. They are overwhelming, and they have physical as well as emotional symptoms.
Many people with panic attacks may have difficulty breathing, sweat profusely, tremble, and feel their hearts pounding.
Some people will also experience chest pain and a feeling of detachment from reality or themselves during a panic attack, so they make think they’re having a heart attack. Others have reported feeling like they are having a stroke.
Panic attacks can be scary and may hit you quickly. You should know the strategies you can use to try to stop a panic attack when you are having one or when you feel one coming on.
Below are helpful ways to handle a panic attack:
Use deep breathing
While hyperventilating is a symptom of panic attacks that can increase fear, deep breathing can reduce symptoms of panic during an attack.
If you’re able to control your breathing, you’re less likely to experience the hyperventilating that can make other symptoms and the panic attack itself worse.
Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four.
Recognize that you are having a panic attack
By recognizing that you’re having a panic attack instead of a heart attack, you can remind yourself that this is temporary, it will pass, and that you are okay.
Take away the fear that you may be dying or that impending doom is looming, both symptoms of panic attacks. This can allow you to focus on other techniques to reduce your symptoms.
Remember that it will pass
During a panic attack, it can help to remember that these feelings will pass and cause no physical harm, however scary it feels at the time.
Try acknowledging that this is a brief period of concentrated anxiety, and that it will be over soon.
Panic attacks tend to reach their most intense point within 10 minutes of their onset, and then the symptoms will begin to subside.
Close your eyes
Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you’re in a fast paced environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack.
To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can block out any extra stimuli and make it easier to focus on your breathing.
Picture your happy place
A person’s happy place should be somewhere they would feel most relaxed. The specific place will be different for everybody. It will be somewhere they feel relaxed, safe, and calm.
What’s the most relaxing place in the world that you can think of? A sunny beach with gently rolling waves? A cabin in the mountains? A quiet mansion with light music?
When an attack begins, it can help to close your eyes and imagine being in this place. Think of how calm it is there. Picture yourself there, and try to focus on the details as much as possible. Imagine digging your toes into the warm sand, or smelling the sharp scent of flowers.
This place should be quiet, calm, and relaxing not busy cities, no matter how much you love the cities in real life.
If panic attacks frequently occur in the same environment, such as a workplace or social space, it may be helpful to inform somebody and to let them know what kind of support they can offer if it happens again.
If an attack happens in public, telling another person can help. They may be able to locate a quiet spot and prevent others from crowding in.
Mindfulness can help ground you in the reality of what’s around you. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can combat your panic attack as it’s approaching or actually happening.
Focus on the physical sensations you are familiar with, like digging your feet into the ground, or feeling the texture of your jeans on your hands. These specific sensations ground you firmly in reality and give you something objective to focus on.
Use muscle relaxation techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your body’s response as much as possible.
Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when you have practiced them beforehand.
Find a focus object
Some people find it helpful to find a single object to focus all of their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible.
For example, you may notice how the hand on the clock jerks when it ticks, and that it’s slightly lopsided. Describe the patterns, color, shapes, and size of the object to yourself. Focus all of your energy on this object, and your panic symptoms may subside.
If someone has recurring panic attacks, they can carry a specific familiar object to help ground them. This may be something like a smooth stone, a seashell, a small toy, or a hair clip.
Grounding techniques such as this can help people dealing with panic attacks, anxiety, and trauma.
Engage in light exercise
Endorphins keep the blood pumping in exactly the right away. It can help flood our body with endorphins, which can improve our mood. Because you are stressed, choose light exercise that’s gentle on the body, like walking.
Walking can remove a person from a stressful environment, and the rhythm of walking may also help them regulate their breathing.
Moving around releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve mood. Taking up regular exercise can help reduce anxiety over time, which may lead to a reduction in the number or severity of panic attacks.
The exception to this is if you are hyperventilating or struggling to breathe, do what you can to catch your breath first.
Keep lavender handy
Lavender is known for being soothing and stress-relieving. It can help your body relax. If you know you’re prone to panic attacks, keep some lavender essential oil at hand and put some on your forearms when you experience a panic attack. Breathe in the scent.
You can also try drinking lavender or chamomile tea. Both are relaxing and soothing.
Learn your triggers
A person’s panic attacks may often be triggered by the same things, such as enclosed spaces, crowds, or problems with money.
By learning to manage or avoid their triggers, people may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.
Repeat a positive mantra internally
Repeating a mantra internally can be relaxing and reassuring, and it can give you something to grasp onto during a panic attack.
Whether it’s simply “This too shall pass,” or a mantra that speaks to you personally, repeat it on loop in your head until you feel the panic attack start to subside.
Speaking positive things to yourself helps you overcome whatever you are feeling at the moment that may cause a panic attack.