How To Stop An Anxiety Attack When You're In Public

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Having an anxiety attack can be challenging enough on its own, but having one in public can add a whole new level of difficulty. Perhaps the first step to stopping an anxiety attack in public can be knowing how to identify when you're having one. The symptoms of an anxiety attack typically include overwhelming fear, a racing heart, difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, nausea, tingling in the body, and hot flashes or chills. Strategies you may employ include controlling your breathing, practicing mindfulness, loosening your muscles, and escaping to your happy place. Working with a licensed therapist in person or online can also be helpful for managing anxiety.

Control your breathing

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Anxiety doesn’t have to control your life

When an anxiety attack starts, it often begins with shortness of breath. When you feel like you are having difficulty breathing, your anxiety may worsen, which can lead to other symptoms as well. When you first realize you are experiencing shortness of breath, it's generally recommended that you begin to control your breathing to stop the anxiety attack from worsening.

Experts typically advise people who experience anxiety attacks to prepare for this situation by practicing breathing exercises on a regular basis. This way, you may be familiar with the process when anxiety strikes. Taking deep breaths can calm your mind and body, which may stop the symptoms from progressing. Here are the steps you can practice:

  • Breathe in deeply through your nose. Make sure that you are filling your lungs completely, not just the top portion. When people are in the habit of shallow breathing, they are usually only filling their lungs partially. 
  • Once your lungs are full, hold your breath while you count to three in your head.
  • Open your mouth slightly and exhale slowly through your mouth.

Taking a moment to do these breathing exercises might be just what you need to stop an anxiety attack. It can also be a simple thing to do when in public without drawing a lot of attention to yourself. Consider stepping away from the crowd for a minute and focus on your breathing.

Practice mindfulness

Our thoughts can have a lot of control over our actions, including our involuntary actions. This means we may unintentionally bring on anxiety attacks simply by being worried about having one. We can also bring on additional anxiety by thinking negative, fear-based thoughts when an anxiety attack starts.

Practicing mindfulness usually means paying attention to what you are thinking about. You may observe your thoughts without judgment and focus on the current moment. You can choose which thoughts to focus on instead of letting them be carried away by your emotions. This practice can be challenging at first, but it can also be helpful when trying to stop an anxiety attack. Consider taking steps to calm your mind, and your body may follow.

Practicing mindfulness can help you better control a situation when anxiety is starting to overwhelm you. This may keep anxiety attacks from progressing further. In some cases, it may prevent them altogether. In essence, this practice can help you recognize the signals of an attack so that when you are in public, you will know what to do to regain control.

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Make a friend aware

If you're going to be in a social setting with a friend, and you are worried about having a panic attack, it may be a good idea to make them aware of your concern. You can help them understand your situation by letting them know the symptoms you experience and how to recognize when an anxiety attack may be beginning. You might also want to let them know about things that can trigger anxiety for you so they can recognize them in a public setting as well. When the person you are with is aware of the situation, they may also quietly remove you from the public setting if necessary.

Loosen your muscles

Anxiety usually causes us to tighten our muscles. This can lead to pain and numbness throughout your extremities. If you can feel your body starting to get tense, you can start working to combat this, even if you are in public, by focusing on tightening and loosening the muscles in your body, one area at a time. Work from one arm to the next, and then focus on your feet and legs as well. This may help you relax your body and give your mind something specific to focus on. If you do this while also controlling your breathing, you may stop anxiety attacks in their tracks.

Face Your Fears

We often have anxiety and fear over things that are likely never going to happen. While it may seem a little backward, you can reduce your anxiety by confronting your fears. Often, the thing we are most afraid of is simply the idea of the thing. Once we take action in that area, we usually find there is nothing to be scared of. If you can get yourself to face your fears and jump in, then you may find there is nothing to have anxiety over after all.

Shut out the world around you

If you are in a busy environment surrounded by a lot of people, noise, and chaos, you may start to feel like your anxiety has been triggered. One way to overcome this may be to take a moment and close your eyes. This can help you shut out the world around you. It can also help you to focus on your breathing, relax your muscles, and practice mindfulness. Sometimes, just being able to close your eyes for a minute or two can help you regain control.

Still, it may not always be possible to shut your eyes when in public. If you are in a position where you are unable to do that, you can simply find a steady object to focus on instead. As you look at this item, try to focus on the details of the object. Put all your attention on this item. This can redirect your focus by taking it off your anxiety and placing it onto a mundane object.

Escape to your happy place

Most everyone has a particular place in the world where they feel the happiest. When you start to feel your heart racing and fear creeping in, take a moment to picture yourself in your happy place. It might be watching the waves roll in over the white sand at the ocean, or maybe it's a serene cabin in the woods. Wherever this place is, try to take a moment to picture the details of it. What does it look like, smell like, sound like, and how do you feel when you are there? This technique can remove your thoughts from the subject of your anxiety while replacing them with calming sensations.

Use lavender

Over the past decade, the use of essential oils as a natural remedy for different ailments has generally become popular. Lavender is an essential oil that's often known for helping to relieve stress and promote relaxation. Consider keeping something lavender-scented with you during the day, such as hand lotion or an oil roller. If you start to feel anxious, you can apply the lavender scent for a calming remedy.

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Anxiety doesn’t have to control your life

Choose a phrase to repeat

It may be easier to control racing thoughts when you have a specific thought to focus on. For example, you might pick a simple phrase or saying that you can memorize. When you start to feel tense, simply repeat the phrase to yourself over and over. Make sure it's a comforting phrase that reminds you that things are better than they seem.

Don't try to ignore it

When you acknowledge that you are starting to feel anxious, you can attempt to do something about it. If you simply try to pretend that it isn't happening, though, it could make things worse. The same idea often applies to physical ailments as well. For example, if you have a headache, you usually won’t ignore it and expect it to go away. Instead, you may take the steps that you know work to alleviate your pain. You may want to handle anxiety attacks the same way. That is, you might learn what helps you alleviate the symptoms, and then be prepared to address them when they arise. 

Talk to a therapist

If you experience anxiety attacks, you may want to consider therapy to get to the root of your anxiety and identify any triggers you may have. A licensed therapist can also provide you with additional strategies to overcome anxiety when you’re alone or in public. 

Benefits of online therapy

Sometimes, anxiety can keep people from getting the help that they deserve. You may experience symptoms of anxiety whenever you leave the house, for example, or you might have social anxiety that makes talking to people in person a challenge. Online therapy may prove a more convenient alternative for you. With this form of remote therapy, you can seek professional mental health services from the comfort of your home. You might also be able to save some time since you won’t have to sit in traffic or spend precious minutes in a waiting room somewhere. 

Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be considered an established form of care in the field of mental health. One of the most recent studies probing internet-based therapy and anxiety found that even a brief web-based intervention could be effective in alleviating the symptoms of social anxiety. Researchers have also found that those who seek online therapy for anxiety tend to be more likely to continue with treatment when they receive therapy online as opposed to in a more traditional clinical setting. 

Takeaway

When you’re having an anxiety attack in public, there can be many strategies to employ that may stop it in its tracks. For instance, you might repeat a comforting phrase, use the scent of lavender to calm yourself, practice deep breathing exercises, or enlist the help of a friend. Connecting with a therapist through an online therapy platform or in your local area can also be an effective method of addressing anxiety and discovering new ways to manage it.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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