Panic attacks are devastating and can leave you terrified and exhausted. Although they peak and pass relatively quickly, they are intense while they last.
The symptoms are so acute and real – rapid breathing, sweaty hands, feeling weak and dizzy, raised pulse rate, chest pains – that it’s hard to believe it’s a mental health issue, not a physical problem. One moment you are thinking normally about something, the next you feel as if you are going to die.
While it’s very common for a panic attack to feel like a heart attack, other people may have different symptoms. Racing thoughts, feeling as if your surroundings are surreal and fearing that you are going crazy are also common manifestations of a panic attack.
Regardless of which symptoms you experience, the best way to overcome or stop a panic attack is to reduce the amount of time you spend thinking about those symptoms.
Panic attacks are not something that you can control or stop right away, but you can decrease the intensity of the attacks. By practicing certain strategies, you can change the way an attack affects you and help calm yourself down before it reaches the painful and terrifying stage.
Here are a few strategies that can help you stop a panic attack faster and with far less misery. As you master the ability to lessen the impact of the attacks, you can eventually enjoy a panic-free life again.
- Acknowledge and accept it. Acknowledge the fact that you are getting anxious and starting to panic. Do not try to ignore it or start pretending as if nothing is wrong.
- Use deep breathing to relax. When you are anxious, you tend to breathe from your chest. This is a shallow form of breathing and it makes your body feel more stressed out. Instead, try to do belly breathing. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you breathe in, instead of expanding your chest, expand your belly with air.
Take at least 5 seconds to breathe in through your nose. Hold it for 3 seconds, then breathe out for at least 7 seconds through your pursed lips. This will help you stop a panic attack.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Practice meditation to calm down your senses. It can be a very difficult thing to do when your thoughts are on overdrive.
As you start to feel panicky, try to sit comfortably, close your eyes and clear your mind by focusing on your breathing. You can also try mantra meditation, in which you chant a calming word or phrase like ‘om’ or ‘shanti’. As you chant the mantra, feel the positive vibrations in your lower belly.
- Splash water on your face. Splashing really cold water on your face can bring you back to the present moment.
When you have a panic attack, your adrenaline level goes up and your heart starts racing. Splashing cold water quickly rouses the vagus nerve and slows down your heart rate.
- Take a walk. Take a stroll when you start feeling anxious. Walking can help reduce some of the excess adrenaline released when you become anxious.
- Start a conversation with someone. Talking with someone works as a great distraction to stop a panic attack. It takes you out of your head and gives you time to relax. Talking to someone who makes you feel happy or has a positive influence on you can lift your spirits and refocus your energy positively.
- Distract yourself. There are many ways to distract yourself. It will get your brain thinking about something other than the panic attack, thereby lessening your anxiety. Listen to music or recall a happy time in your life. Describe in detail five things that you can hear, see or touch around you. Talk to yourself about the tree you see in front of you or the sounds you hear around you. Use all of your senses to picture something relaxing.
Although you may find it difficult to do so in a panic situation, imagining yourself in a relaxing scene will calm your body, relax your senses and help stop the symptoms of panic.
- Talk yourself out of the panic. Talk to yourself about what is happening and what you can do about it. Tell yourself, “It’s okay to be afraid and it will stop in 10 minutes if I relax,” or “I have been in this situation before and I can get through it again.” Talk yourself out of fearful thoughts that make you panic. Prepare a list of such positive statements and keep it with you to refer to when needed, rather than trying to remember them in the middle of a panic attack.
- Write it down. You may tend to worry about a situation and imagine only the worst possible outcome, leading to anxiety and panic. This is when it helps to write things down. Keep a notepad and write down your thoughts every time you have a negative thought about any situation. Write down as many outcomes as you can think of.
Now, decide which outcome is unpleasant and which is a catastrophe. You will notice that most of the outcomes you imagined will never reach that catastrophic stage. Doing this will help you stop a panic attack and release stress.
- Continue doing your current activity. Panic attacks can disorient you, so even though you might feel like fleeing, try to stay where you are and be in the present moment. One way to be in the present moment is by becoming aware of your body. Feel your feet on the ground. Notice how your body leans on a wall next to you or how you clench your fists on the steering wheel. Notice every subtle sensation of your body.
- Stop running away from the situation. If a place tends to make you anxious and you run away from it, then your panic response will tag that place as threatening. It will associate the place or similar places with fear.
When you panic, if you can stay in the situation until you calm down, your panic response will get the message that the situation or place is not causing the panic. So, continue what you’re doing as if nothing is happening.
- Remind yourself that it’s temporary. When you are in the midst of an attack, you may feel as if it’s never-ending. But even in that moment of panic, remind yourself that it is temporary. Tell yourself that it will eventually pass and you will come out of it.
- Keep your mind busy. Usually when you panic, your brain becomes less active. But you can minimize the panic if you force your brain to work on something – counting backwards, doing a crossword puzzle or reading something.
- Prepare for panic situations in advance. If new or unfamiliar situations tend to make you anxious, prepare for them in advance. Think of how you will handle the uncomfortable situation in advance before you actually encounter it. This will make it easier for you to control your anxiety and stop a panic attack.