Panic attacks are scary and unsettling, and they can happen to anyone. If you are living with anxiety and/or panic disorder and experience panic attacks, you might be looking for a few ways to calm down on the spot. Whether your panic attacks occur at home or out in public, having a toolkit of techniques might help you feel more in control during what feels like a very overwhelming moment.
What’s important to keep in mind is the fact that anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in America – you are not alone.
The exact cause or causes of panic disorder are unknown, which makes them the subject of intense scientific investigation. This condition is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear paired with physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal discomfort. These sensations often mimic symptoms of a heart attack or other life-threatening issues, to the point where people who experience intense panic attacks may wind up the ER. Some research suggests panic attacks occur when a “suffocation alarm mechanism” in the brain is activated. This activation can become so intense that some people may actually trigger very real physical reactions that do require medical attention. All of this is to say that anxiety is a very real problem that can cost money, time, and quality of life.
If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, or any other type of anxiety disorder, it’s important to recognize that you are having a panic attack, not a heart attack, stroke or another life-threatening issue. This is the first step to calming your mind on the spot. Awareness is key, but it’s also half the battle. So be gentle with yourself during these stressful moments.
There are ways to stop a panic attack when it’s happening, so let’s take a look at five techniques that you can practice and put to use immediately.
How to Stop a Panic Attack
Use Deep Breathing
During a panic attack, breathing typically becomes much more shallow and you might feel that you aren’t getting enough air. Using deep breathing helps to calm the parasympathetic nervous system as well as your cardiovascular system, so that your body and brain can begin to calm down.
Start by breathing in.
- During the inhale, count for about 5-6 seconds to make your in-breath last longer.
- Remember to inhale through your nose.
- Then breathe out for about 7-8 seconds.
- Repeat this simple breathing technique throughout an anxiety attack.
Find a Focus Object
Focusing on all of the details in a singular object can be very helpful for some people during a panic attack. To do this, select your item and consciously note everything about its appearance. For example, if it’s a tree, you might examine the bark, the roots, color variations, shape and movement of the leaves, and so forth. Focus all of your attention on the object for several minutes, and your symptoms may subside. If it helps to prepare in advance, consider purchasing a fidget item that you can carry in your pocket. It will be there to help keep you grounded anytime you start feeling anxious.
Go To Your Happy Place
Use your imagination to picture your version of the most relaxing place in the world. Mentally describe it, experience it, and explore it. Note the sounds, smells, textures, and weather. If your mind drifts, gently guide it back to your happy place. This is a helpful exercise to pair with deep breathing. It doesn’t work for everyone, but if you’ve got a vivid imagination, it can absolutely work for you.
Lavender essential oil is known for its soothing and stress-relieving properties – It can help you relax quickly. You might consider purchasing a roller-ball version that is portable so you can use aromatherapy on the go. If lavender isn’t your smell, try to inhale a citrus essential oil, like wild orange or lemon. These are also uplifting oils that can boost your mood anytime. (Important note: Lavender should not be combined with benzodiazepines. This combination can cause intense drowsiness.)
Repeat a Calming Mantra
Repetition of a simple, calming mantra – such as, “this shall pass” or “I choose to be calm” will help to actually calm the mind from experiencing those racing thoughts that often occur during panic attack episodes. Other examples of mantras: “Inhale calm, exhale stress,” “I am okay,” or “I am safe, I am calm.” You can even create one that’s customized to your anxiety. If you feel stuck, use the internet to get inspired on the best calming mantras out there.
No matter where you are when a panic attack strikes, having these techniques ready might help you feel safer and more in control. If you can, practice them in advance so that you are familiar with the process when anxiety strikes. Prepare for your triggers and you can quickly use these techniques when you need them the most.
Anxiety Disorders: Symptoms and Treatments (n.d.) Mental Health America. Retrieved from: https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/anxiety
Panic Disorders: Symptoms and Treatments (n.d.) Mental Health America. Retrieved from: https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/panic-disorder
Lindberg, S./ Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD (2018, June 8)
Can Anxiety Kill You? Healthline. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/can-anxiety-kill-you#1
Vandergriendt, C./ Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, PhD, LCSW, CST (2019 September 30) What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety Attack? Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/panic-attack-vs-anxiety-attack