5 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack


A panic attack is a sudden and intense surge of fear, panic, or anxiety. For some individuals they can be overwhelming, causing both physical and emotional symptoms. Studies have suggested that approximately 13% of people will experience one in their life time.

If you have a panic attack, you may experience symptoms such as: difficulty breathing, sweating profusely, tremble, or have heart palpitations. Some people experience chest pain and feel detachment from reality or themselves (disassociate) during panic attacks. Some individuals experiencing panic attacks may think they are having a heart attack or stroke.

You are more likely to experience a panic attack if you: have a panic disorder, anxiety disorder, use certain substances or have a substance use disorder, use certain medications, have medical conditions (such as an overactive thyroid), or have a condition that causes psychosis.

A panic attack often happens when you’re exposed to a trigger, but triggers vary widely between people. In some cases, there may be no clear trigger for panic attacks. However, some people find the following can trigger panic attacks: social events, public speaking, conflict, past or current stress.

Knowing what to do when panic attacks arise can help reduce their severity or stop them. Below are 5 ways stop or reduce panic attacks.

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1. Deep breathing

It’s not uncommon for an individual to hyperventilate when having a panic attack. Hyperventilating can increase fear during a panic attack. Deep breathing can help reduce symptoms of panic during an attack.

In one study, 40 people joined either a therapy group that involved deep breathing or a control group. After 20 intensive training sessions, those who practiced deep breathing saw improvements in their attention levels and emotional well-being. Blood tests also showed lower cortisol levels in this group, suggesting lower levels of stress.

Another group of scientists found that slow breathing could have similar effects. They suggested it could also improve feelings of relaxation, comfort, and alertness and reduce symptoms of arousal anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.

To reduce anxiety or panic attacks, individuals can try to breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating on each breath. Breathe deeply from the abdomen, filling the lungs slowly and steadily while counting to 4 on both the inhale and the exhale.

People can also try using 4-7-8 breathing, or “relaxing breath.” With this technique, the person breathes in for 4 seconds, holds the breath for 7 seconds, then exhales slowly for 8 seconds.

It should be noted that for some people, deep breathing can make panic attacks worse. In these cases, the person can try focusing on doing something they enjoy instead.

2. Focus on an object

When a person becomes overwhelmed with distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories, concentrating on something physical in the environment can help them feel grounded.

Some people find it helpful to find something to focus all their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible.

Focusing on one stimulus can reduce other stimuli. As the person looks at the item, they may want to think about how it feels, who made it, and what shape it is. 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 your energy on this object, and your panic symptoms may subside.

If the person 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.

3. Muscle relaxation techniques

Another symptom of panic attacks is muscle tension. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help limit an attack. This is because if the mind senses that the body is relaxing, other symptoms — such as rapid breathing — may also diminish.

If you attend muscle relaxation therapy, your therapist might take you through the following steps:

  • First, you may learn how to tense the muscles before releasing the tension.
  • Then, you will learn how to relax the muscles without tensing them first.
  • You may also learn how to relax specific sets of muscles, for example, in the shoulders, for practical use in everyday situations.
  • Finally, you may learn how to practice rapid relaxation, when you can identify any areas of tension and release it as needed.

To start relaxing your muscles at home, 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’ve practiced them beforehand.

4. Picture your happy place

Guided imagery techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety. Research suggests that both spending time in nature and visualizing nature can help treat and manage anxiety.

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?

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 pine trees.

When an attack begins, it can help to close the eyes and imagine being in this place. Think of how calm it is there. People can also imagine their bare feet touching the cool soil, hot sand, or soft rugs.

5. Exercise

Research shows that regular exercise can not only keep the body healthy but boost mental well-being, too.

Experts have found that exercising at 60 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate for 20 minutes three times per week can help reduce anxiety.

If you are not used to exercising, talk with your doctor before starting. There is some evidence that starting aerobic exercise anew can trigger additional anxiety in people with an anxiety disorder. Building up gradually can help your body adjust and avoid breathing problems. Aerobic exercise includes activities such as running on a treadmill.

If you feel stressed or you’re hyperventilating or struggling to breathe, stop and take a rest or choose a more moderate option, such as walking, swimming, or yoga.

Walking can remove a person from a stressful environment, and the rhythm of walking may also help them regulate 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.

Do you or someone you know experience panic attacks or other symptoms of anxiety? If so you may benefit from participating in therapy where you can learn more about solutions mentioned above and other ways to reduce panic symptoms. If you struggle with panic or anxiety, schedule an appointment with Tri-Star Counseling. We would love the opportunity to walk along side you and help provide insight to help you heal.

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