Quick Tips to Stop a Panic Attack

This is Part 1 of what will be a short series of blog posts related to anxiety and panic. You may be reading this if you or a loved one has experienced a panic attack before. If you have, you’ve also probably wondered how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening. This post will go over a few panic attack tips to help you deal with them or help you support your loved ones if they are experiencing a panic attack near you. If you are experiencing a panic attack now, skip down this page to the section, “How to Get Through a Panic Attack” to get the quick anxiety tools you need right now.

You might be wondering what is a panic attack?

A panic attack is different than general anxiety and stress. Often people casually say I am about to have a panic attack when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. However, a panic attack is very different than generalized or social anxiety.

When you are experiencing a panic attack your body is triggered as if there is a real emergency and responds this way even though the situation you are in is not dangerous. You may experience uncomfortable sensations such as (but not limited to):

  • Heart palpitations or your heart may start racing or pounding in your chest
  • Numbness or tingling (parasthesias)
  • A feeling of choking
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Fear that you are dying
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Chest pain and/or shortness of breath

Your body and mind responds to danger when in fact there is no real threat to your safety.

Panic attacks can happen very rarely or more frequently for some. If they happen frequently or you experience several of the physiological symptoms described above, they could meet the criteria for a panic disorder per the DSM-5. If you are concerned you are experiencing panic attacks often or feel you may need additional support, please seek the help of a therapist or a medical professional who can help you better understand your needs and how to help you with your panic.

How to stop a Panic Attack in the Moment

Panic attack symptoms can sneak up on you and once you are in a full-blown panic attack there are some tools I would like to share that can get you through the uncomfortable moment. While it is terrifying and during a panic attack it’s hard to see coming out of it ok, they are not dangerous. Another thing to know is they generally don’t last more than 10 minutes with most of any uncomfortable physical sensations gone within 15 minutes. You will get through it safely. Here are a few quick tips to help you do this:

Press Pause and Accept the Moment:

Pause, acknowledge that you are having a panic attack and accept that it will come and go in a short amount of time. I often share to state matter of factly to yourself or loved ones, “this is a panic attack and nothing else, I am safe and it will pass”. Remind yourself or your loved ones they are not in any danger.

Sit with the Panic:

Remember I mentioned they don’t usually last more than 15 minutes? It does not help to resist or fight against the panic. Once the panic sets in its best to do some grounding techniques such as “sitting with the moment” and “riding the wave”.

Hand over Heart & Belly:

It’s helpful in a panic attack to focus on your breath. Putting one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly can help you connect to your breath and heart. Just placing your hands here can often have a calming effect on anyone regardless of whether you are in a state of panic or not.

Notice Your Environment:

Try adding in this grounding technique by noticing what is around you while you “ride the anxiety wave”. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Name them and draw your attention to those things as you ride through the panic. If you have to repeat this, it’s ok. This technique just helps you reconnect in the now instead of allowing your thoughts to be swept away by the fear.

Practice This in Advance:

It is helpful if you practice these tips in advance so you have these tools ready and available to you if panic does arise. As with any techniques I share, advanced practice helps when you suddenly find yourself facing a tough and uncomfortable moment.

Here’s an important fact: we can’t get rid of anxiety and panic because our brains are actually wired to respond to real danger. Think about it this way, if there was a true emergency, you would want your body to respond and keep you safe! With panic attacks these quick and easy tools will help manage the control that anxiety can have on your life.

After reading this, if you are wanting more information, here is a great workbook I often find helpful in my private practice work. You may want to give a shot on your own or you may find it helpful to seek the guidance of a professional therapist to help you through similar techniques and strategies.

Thank you for joining me for this quick post. Please stay tuned for Part 2 in this blog series coming soon: What Anxiety Looks Like in Children.

Be Well,
Dr. Gurash

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