How Can I Stop a Panic Attack?

Getting Through a Panic Attack

Young woman relaxing with headphones at home
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From symptoms of shaking nerves, trembling, sweating, and numbness to feelings of fear, anxiety, and even embarrassment - panic attacks can be extremely difficult to deal with. If you are a panic attack sufferer, you may be all too familiar with the struggle of managing these symptoms. Panic attacks can be extremely difficult to stop entirely. However, there are ways to learn how to better control and lessen their symptoms.

Let Panic Run Its Course

Panic attacks typically come on suddenly, bringing on escalating feelings of dread and anxiety. These attacks are often marked by bothersome physical symptoms, such as choking sensations, shaking, tingling, rapid heart rate, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain. During a panic attack, you may experience feelings of depersonalization and derealization, in which you feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. You may become fearful that you are going “crazy,” losing all control, or having a stroke or heart attack.

When going through a panic attack, it can be difficult to focus on anything else but your symptoms. You may try to push away your upsetting thoughts and physical sensations, but resisting your panic attacks can actually intensify your anxiety. You may also fear your attacks because you don’t understand them. The next time a panic attack takes hold and those feelings of dread set in, try to surrender to your symptoms and allow the attack to run its course.

Remind yourself that your symptoms cannot hurt you and know that it will soon pass. Additionally, to help take the fear out of the unknown, try to learn as much as you can about panic attacks.

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Breathe Your Way Through

While having a panic attack, you may have experienced shortness of breath or hyperventilation.

These symptoms can be especially troublesome as it can feel as though you can’t breathe. Fear associated with shortness of breath can heighten your anxiety during a panic attack. Learning to slow your breath down can be essential in controlling your panic attacks and reducing your fear.

When panic attack symptoms start to escalate, try to focus on your breath. You may be experiencing quick shallow breaths. Concentrate on slowing your breath down. It can help to put your hands on your stomach, noticing how your hands and center rise when you take a full complete breath in, and lower when you exhale all the air out. Taking slow deliberate breaths will help you calm down and bring your awareness to your breathing instead of your symptoms.

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Relax Your Body

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to be anxious when your body is relaxed. Letting go of tension throughout your body can really help you remain calm during a panic attack.

When panic starts to set in, start with your breathing exercise and simply take a few deep breaths. Then bring your attention to how your body feels. Mentally go through each area of your body, and intentionally relax that area. For instance, notice how your face, shoulder, and neck feel. Relax your forehead. Soften your eyes and brows. Let go of tension around the mouth, jaw, and neck. Roll your shoulders back and allow them to rest.

If you become distracted when trying to relax, gently bring your attention back to your breath and start again. Continue to go through each muscle group, making your way down to your center, your arms, hands, legs, and feet. When you are finished, take a few breaths and repeat, this time starting at your feet and making you way back up to the crown of your head, releasing deeper with each breath.

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Use a Distraction

When panic attack symptoms set in, it can feel like your fear and apprehension are going to spiral out of control. When feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, try to distract your attention away from your physical experience. For instance, it may be helpful to talk to a person you are with or call someone on your cellphone. You may need to leave where you are at and try your breathing and muscle relaxation exercises in an area away from where the panic symptoms began.

Mental distractions can also help you escape your panic symptoms. Counting can be a simple and easy refocus. You can even use counting with your breathing technique, mentally totally each breath. For example, inhale deeply and exhale slowly, counting one. Next, repeat a cycle of breath and count two. Keep repeating until your panic subsides.

You can also shift your focus by repeating positive affirmations to yourself. During a panic attack, you may think to yourself “I’m scared,” “I can’t get through this,” “People probably think I’m insane.” Replace these types of thoughts with more encouraging statements. Try to repeat to yourself affirmations, such as “Even though I feel scared, I accept myself,” “I will get through this,” or “I am strong.”

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Follow Your Treatment Plan

If you have been experiencing persistent panic attacks, make sure you discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Panic attacks are rarely associated with a serious health issue, but your clinician will be able to rule out the possibility of different mental health and medical conditions. Depending on your symptoms and needs, your treatment plan may include prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Your doctor will be able to assist you in using effective ways to cope with your panic attacks.

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Take Care of Yourself

Aside from coping with panic attacks, you may need to make some lifestyle changes to lower your overall feelings of stress and anxiety. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can help you reduce your anxiety. To become more calm and relaxed, try to include relaxation techniques and part of your routine. Plus, through regularly practicing these techniques when you are not highly anxious, you may be better prepared to use them when panic strikes.

Take time for self-care by participating in activities that bring you a sense of balance, relaxation, and wellbeing. For example, regular exercise has been found to help lower stress and anxiety levels. You may want to consider a variety of activities you can participate in to boost your physical self-care, such as walking, dancing, or biking. Also, consider other areas of life that you can incorporate into your self-care routine, such as hobbies, nutrition, or spirituality. Tending to your needs and nurturing your sense of wellness can help you be better equipped to deal with your panic and anxiety symptoms.

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Track Your Progress

When you have started to work on managing your panic attacks, it can be beneficial to start tracking your progress. This can be done through the use of a panic diary, personal journal, or mood and anxiety chart. Write down potential triggers, successes, and setbacks. Keeping a record of your progress can help you determine what has been working for you and where there may be more potential for growth.

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Sources

Bourne, Edmund J. (2005). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 4th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Burns, D.D. (2006). When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life. Broadway Books: New York.

Silverman, Harold M. (2012). The Pill Book. 15th ed. Bantam Books: New York. 2010.

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