During a panic attack, your entire body is on high alert. Your heart is pounding and you are breathing fast and shallow. Your thoughts are racing, and you can’t think straight. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are real and intense. A panic attack can truly throw off the rest of your day. It’s understandable that you’d want to learn how to stop a panic attack.
At the peak of a panic attack, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do. Don’t get discouraged. There are techniques you can leverage to reduce the severity of your panic attack, and even stop it altogether. Read on to learn more.
How to stop a Panic Attack
When you’re in the midst of a panic attack, identifying what is happening can be challenging.
Let’s start by demystifying what happens in your body and brain during a panic attack. The sections of the brain called the amygdala and midbrain are activated. These centers are responsible for triggering fear and pain responses. Because the brain prioritizes fear over critical thinking, primal instincts take over despite a rational assessment that there is no real danger. Your ability to control your mind and body are greatly reduced.
With practice, you can relearn how to control your mind and body and learn how to stop a panic attack. Here’s how.
1. Recognize the symptoms
Start by knowing what a panic attack feels like. This will enable you to immediately identify when it is happening.
Common symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pain
- Feeling like you’re choking
- Feeling detached from your surroundings
- Fear of dying
2. Repeat a mantra that will help calm you
It’s difficult to think clearly during a panic attack, partially because it’s hard to stay calm. Find a word or phrase that will help you remember to calm down. Use something that puts you in a happy place mentally and emotionally. 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 feeling in danger.
3. Have a protocol set up that you can automatically follow
The more automatic the process feels, the easier it will be to carry out. For example, you can plan to immediately find an isolated place, sit down and call a friend. Having a set of steps planned out ahead of time can help you feel better more quickly.
4. 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. This can help trigger the the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, which is the system that controls relaxation responses (such as digestion). One way to practice deep breathing is with diaphragmatic breathing. This is when you force yourself to breathe starting from deep in your diaphragm. It helps you combat shortness of breath and brings in more oxygen.
If you’re interested in training yourself in breathing exercises, Spire is designed to help. Spire’s sensors track your breath and can detect 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 breathing exercise to help you calm down.
5. Practice mindfulness
Being mindful is one of the best ways to control feelings of anxiety and panic. Through mindfulness, you can train your mind to focus and detach itself from thoughts and feelings. One of the most effective mindfulness techniques is to focus on your five senses. Here is an exercise that can help you focus and practice mindfulness:
- List at least five things you can see. 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 zone on the details all around you, right now. When you shift your thoughts from your mental state to the environment around you, it creates distance from thinking patterns that would otherwise push you further into a state of panic.
6. Practice grounding techniques
Focusing on a specific object is a type of grounding. 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. The purpose of grounding yourself is to come back to reality and engages the more logical processes of your brain. This can return you to a state of mental clarity.
If you’re prone to panic attacks, find an object that you can use when you need grounding. The object should have unique textures, smells, patterns or colors to make it easy to focus on. It should also be something that is easy to carry. Some examples are a silk scarf scented with essential oils, a distinctly textured and painted rock, or even a childhood teddy bear or toy.
Long Term Solutions to Panic Attacks
The above are acute tactics you can apply to quickly come out of a panic attack. But in the long term, especially if your panic attacks are severe and recurrent, it can help to go see a mental health professional to and obtain advice or anxiety medications.
A common technique which is taught by mental health professionals to patients suffering from panic attacks is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is one of the most effective ways to treat long-term panic and anxiety. Individuals respond extremely well to CBT, and people practicing CBT tend to have very low relapse rates. CBT involves therapy which will help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.
Stay Calm and Come Out of a Panic Attack
Finding yourself caught in the middle of a panic attack can be a terrifying experience. 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 can be used to return to a state of calm.
Find a technique that works for you and use it in times of panic. This will reduce the amount of time you spend in a period of fear and make it easier for you to get back to your life.