Ways to Stop Panic Attacks

Know the Signs


Medically reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

 1. Know the Signs


You don’t have to be in a scary situation to have a panic attack. You could be on a hike, at a restaurant, or asleep in bed. All of a sudden you get a strong surge of fear. This triggers physical symptoms like a pounding heart, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, or trembling. It can last 5 to 20 minutes. Once you learn to recognize when attacks are coming on, you can find ways to stop them.

2. Live Your Life


It’s understandable that you’d want to avoid a panic attack at all costs. But it’s important not to let fear control your life. For example, don’t avoid places where you’ve had panic attacks in the past. If you have one, stay where you are, if it’s safe. When the attack is over, you’ll realize that nothing terrible happened.

3. Talk to Yourself


When you feel a panic attack coming on, remind yourself that you’re feeling anxiety, and not real danger. You can even try directly addressing the fear. Practice a go-to response like, “I am not afraid” or “This will pass.” 

4. Don’t Distract Yourself


As tempting as it may be to try to focus your mind elsewhere, the healthiest way to deal with a panic attack is to acknowledge it. Try not to fight your symptoms. But keep reminding yourself that they will pass.

5. Breathe Through It


An attack may make you take quick, shallow breaths, so get your breathing under control. Close your eyes. Put your hand between your bellybutton and the bottom of your ribs. Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply. Then let all that air out gently through your mouth. You’ll feel the hand on your belly rise and fall. If it helps, you can count from 1 to 5 on each inhale and exhale. After a few minutes, you should start to feel better.

6. Mind in the Present


Notice five things you can see around you. Then, four things you can touch. Three things you can hear. Two things you smell. One thing you taste. When you stay grounded in what’s going on around you, it gives your mind something better to do than focus on fear or bounce from one worry to the next.

7. H.A.L.T. Your Attack


H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired — four feelings that bring out the worst in everyone. If you’re prone to panic attacks, they can turn into triggers. When symptoms pop up, check in with yourself: Am I hungry? Am I angry? Once you pinpoint what’s going on, you can take steps to fix it.

8. Progressive Relaxation


When you feel a panic attack coming on — or are in the middle of one — tense one muscle at a time and then relax it. Repeat this everywhere until your whole body is relaxed.

9. Stop the ‘What Ifs’


Panic attacks feed on thoughts of “what if.” What if I can’t do it? What if I run into my ex? What if everyone laughs at me? Acknowledge that fear, then shift from “what if” to “so what?” Sometimes the worst-case scenario isn’t as bad as it seems.

10. Rate Your Fear


When fear scrambles your mind, rate it on a scale of one to 10 every few minutes. This keeps you in the present moment. It’s also a good reminder that you’re not on a 10 the whole time.

11. Careful With Coffee, Booze, Smoking


Caffeine can make you feel nervous and shaky. It can also keep you awake, which can trigger tiredness later. Nicotine and alcohol can make you feel calm at first, then make you jittery as your body processes it. All three can trigger panic attacks or make them worse. It’s best to avoid them.

12. Make Time to Exercise


Physical activity lowers stress, which is one of the main causes of panic attacks. A workout, especially the kind that gets your heart pumping, can also get you to a calmer place. Can’t work in a workout? Even a 10-minute walk can help.

13. Slow Down


Slow your body down, and your mind will follow. Practices like yoga and tai chi use slow body movements and train the mind to be calm and aware.

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