Panic attacks can be scary and may hit you quickly. Here are 9 simple strategies you can use to try to stop or manage panic attacks. Some may help you in the moment, while others can help in the longer term.
1. Use deep breathing
While hyperventilating is a symptom of panic attacks that can increase fear, deep breathing can reduce symptoms of panic during an attack. If you’re able to control your breathing, you’re less likely to experience the hyperventilating that can make other symptoms — and the panic attack itself — worse. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four.
2. Recognize that you’re having a panic attack
By recognizing that you’re having a panic attack instead of a heart attack, you can remind yourself that this is temporary, it will pass, and that you’re OK. Take away the fear that you may be dying or that impending doom is looming, both symptoms of panic attacks. This can allow you to focus on other techniques to reduce your symptoms. It is not always possible to avoid triggers for a panic attack, but if you know what triggers it, this can help you understand that it is a panic attack and not something else.
3. Close your eyes
Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you’re in a fast-paced environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack. To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can block out any extra stimuli and make it easier to focus on your breathing.
4. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness can help ground you in the reality of what’s around you. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can combat your panic attack as it’s approaching or actually happening. Mindfulness involves:
- focusing your attention on the present
- recognizing the emotional state you’re in
- meditating to reduce stress and help you relax
Focus on the physical sensations you are familiar with, like digging your feet into the ground or feeling the texture of your jeans on your hands. These specific sensations ground you firmly in reality and give you something objective to focus on.
5. Find a focus object
Some people find it helpful to find something to focus their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible. For example, you may notice how the hand on the clock jerks when it ticks, and that it’s slightly lopsided. Describe the patterns, colour, shapes, and size of the object to yourself. Focus all your energy on this object, and your panic symptoms may subside.
6. Use muscle relaxation techniques
Muscle tension is a symptom of anxiety, and muscle relaxation techniques can help reduce tension and promote relaxation during an attack. Progressive muscle relaxation aims to release tension in one group of muscles at a time to relax the whole body. Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your body’s response as much as possible. Try muscle relaxation:
- 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.
7. Picture your happy place
Guided imagery techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety. 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.
8. Engage in light exercise
Research shows that regular exercise can not only keep the body healthy but boost mental well-being, too. Exercising for 20 minutes three times per week can help reduce anxiety.
9. Repeat a mantra internally
Repeating a mantra internally can be relaxing and reassuring, and it can give you something to grasp onto during a panic attack. Whether it’s simply “This too shall pass,” or a mantra that speaks to you personally, repeat it on loop in your head until you feel the panic attack start to subside.