During a panic attack, your entire body is on high alert. Your heart is pounding and you are breathing too fast and shallow. It can feel like your thoughts are racing, and you can’t think straight no matter what you do. The severity of the symptoms experienced during a panic attack are so intense that it can throw off the rest of your day. It’s understandable that you’d want to do everything you can to make it stop.
However, in the peak of a panic attack, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do to come down. If you don’t have any way to deal with panic attacks, it’s easy to get discouraged, but don’t let this stop you! There are many techniques you can use to stop and reduce your panic attack. Here are a few of the most recommended.
Learn How to Recognize a Panic Attack
Once you are through the experience, it’s easy to look back and say that you’ve just had a panic attack. However, when you’re in the midst of it, identifying what is happening can be more difficult.
Here’s what’s happening in your mind during a panic attack: the amygdala and the midbrain light up, triggering fear and pain responses. The brain prioritizes fear over critical thinking; once again, our primal instincts that might save us from a lion in the wild get us into trouble. This means that the cool analysis that you might normally use to figure out what’s going on in times of calm goes out the window.
Despite the changes that are happening in your brain, with practice you can learn to recognize it as it is happening and work to mitigate the problems it can cause.
1. Know the symptoms
Start by knowing what a panic attack feels like – this way, you can better recognize it as it is happening and be prepared.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Racing heart
- Chest pain
- Feeling like you’re choking
- Sudden sweating
- Feeling detached from your surroundings
- Fear of dying or going crazy
2. Repeat a mantra that will help calm you
It’s nearly impossible to think clearly during a panic attack – preparing and practicing beforehand will help you keep some amount of calm. Find a word or phrase that will help you remember to calm down. Remembering one sentence while you’re in a state of panic is much easier than trying to analyze what is happening when your mind is already fired up. Repeating something like “I am safe, no harm will come to me,” or “This is only a panic attack, and I will be okay,” can help disrupt the cycle of panic and danger that your mind descends into during an attack.
3. Have a system set up that you can automatically follow when you’re panicked
The more automatic your process is, the easier it will be to carry out. Later on, this article will talk about some of the specific techniques which have been shown to reduce anxiety. Preparation will make it easier for you to apply some of these methods when you’re already panicking. It can help to have the steps written out somewhere that’s easy to get to so you don’t have to think much about what to do.
Use Deep Breathing
Hyperventilation is a common symptom of panic attacks. Being able to control your breath sends a message to your mind that you aren’t in danger, and makes it easy for the parasympathetic nervous system to take over.
Deep breathing means breathing from your diaphragm instead of your chest. Forcing yourself to breath from your diaphragm helps to take your focus off of whatever is causing your panic, and instead makes you think about how to breathe. It also helps you combat shortness of breath and brings in more oxygen.
Spire is designed to help guide you through breathing exercises. The activity sensors track your breath and can sense when you are calm and when you are panicked. The device sends a notification to your phone when you are breathing too quickly, and will offer a quick breathing exercise to help you calm down. Using Spire can help by automatically giving you a way to ease your panic without having to think too much about it.
Apply Mindfulness Techniques
Being mindful is one of the best ways to control feelings of anxiety and panic. Mindfulness makes it easier to understand what triggers panic and anxiety for you and helps you learn how to cope with and control those feelings.
Focusing on the present can help you create distance from the panic inside of you. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on your five senses. Here is an exercise that can help you focus on the here and now.
- List at least five things you can see in your environment. Describe them in as much detail as possible.
- List at least four things you can hear. Describe the qualities of those sounds.
- List at least three things you can smell.
- Try touching the textures around you. Whether it be a carpeted floor, a tiled counter, or the damp grass outside. Describe the sense of touching those objects.
This exercise forces you to focus on the details of the present. When you shift your thoughts from your mental state to the environment around you, it can help get some healthy distance from thinking patterns that would otherwise push you further into a state of panic.
Being mindful can also help you recognize what your triggers are. When you understand your environment better, you’re also able to identify potential situations that have been triggering to you. Being acutely aware of sources of anxiety can help you better prepare for situations where you might experience panic, and can help you avoid some of the worst symptoms.
Focus on a Specific Object
There are many ways to be mindful. One of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness is to focus on a specific object.
Focusing on a specific object is a type of grounding. The purpose of grounding yourself is to come back to reality, making it difficult to stay in panic mode because as you engage the more logical processes of your brain. This practice is often helpful in regaining focus, and can give you back the mental clarity panic attacks so often take away.
For those who are not familiar with grounding techniques, having a focus object can make it easier to come back to reality. Instead of trying to focus on the many aspects of your environment, some of which might be frustrating and triggering, focusing on a single object can help you avoid being overwhelmed.
If you’re prone to panic attacks, find an object that you can use when you need grounding. The object should have unique textures to give your anxious mind something to focus on. It should also be something that is easy to carry around with you. Some people use a silken scarf or a distinctly textured rock, but you should use whatever works best for you.
Use CBT Techniques
CBT (also known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) offers specific techniques that you can do in any situation, and not just when you are visiting a therapist.
Turning to CBT is less popular than some of the other methods because it takes time to learn and doesn’t start working right away. However, it is one of the most effective ways to treat long term panic and anxiety. Some individuals respond extremely well to CBT, and people practicing CBT tend to have very low relapse rates.
The best way to learn and implement CBT techniques is to see a therapist who specializes in this treatment. You can try to learn them on your own, but mental health professionals have much more experience and will know how to tell if a specific technique is working or not.
Getting caught in the middle of a panic attack can be a terrifying experience. However, learning how to recognize a period of panic as it’s happening can help you realize when you need to use some calming techniques. Deep breathing, mindfulness, grounding, and CBT techniques are all methods that have been used by thousands of others to return to a state of calm. Finding a technique that works for you and using it in times of panic will reduce the amount of time you spend in a period of fear, and will make it easier for you to get back to your life.