Learn How To Stop A Panic Attack In Its Tracks
By Sarah Fader
Updated June 29, 2020
Reviewer Lori Jones, LMHC
Panic attacks can feel excruciating and painful. It's hard to figure out how to deal with panic attacks when you experience them frequently. When a person has a panic attack, they might feel like they're dying. People report that a panic attack feels similar to what one might imagine is a heart attack only it isn't. You may feel shortness of breath, numbness and tingling throughout your entire body, which is extremely uncomfortable and can be terrifying. The truth of the matter is, you are not in danger even if you feel like you are.
Panic attacks are deceptive. Panic disorder is a completely natural body response that can occur on its own or is provoked by a trigger. You may have searched for panic attack help and been disappointed that you haven't found a solution to alleviate your persistent anxiety; this is understandable and frustrating. Panic attack treatment can vary from person to person, but there are things you can do to help yourself during an attack. In this article, you can learn how to stop panic attacks in their tracks.
I feel out of control
Imagine you are in a crowd at a county fair. There are hundreds of people there, and you want to get on a ride. All of a sudden you begin to feel your heart race, your head begins to feel flushed, and your face turns red. Your breathing is labored, and you feel as if you might breathe. It could be that you are feeling claustrophobic, or maybe you had a bad experience at a fair that you're reminded of. Standing in this line is triggering you, and now you're in the midst of a panic attack.
Whatever the case, you feel completely out of control of your own body and mind. And the reality is: you are. Your body is doing what it does when it feels that it's under the threat of attack; it's in the fight or flight mode. When we feel threatened we have an instinctual reaction, which causes us to try to defend ourselves. We feel sudden a rush of adrenaline followed by anxiety and panic. We want to get out of the situation we're in. Let's return the fair example; you want to leave this environment so that you can feel better and less panicky.
You have a Panic Attack
The first thing to do when you have a panic attack is to acknowledge it. Say to yourself either in your head or out loud if you need to: "I have a panic attack." When you recognize what your symptoms are, you are taking power away from anxiety and reclaiming it. You're not dying, you do not have a heart attack, this is anxiety, and even though it feels awful, it will pass. Panic attacks, though extremely uncomfortable and downright scary, are temporary. Remembering that your panic attack will stop eventually removes the fear that it will "never go away." There is relief in your future. Now, you can focus on the physical and emotional symptoms you're having and start to take control.
How Adrenaline Effects Your Body
During a panic attack, your adrenaline levels are high. Adrenaline increases your blood flow, which in turn makes you physically stronger. You are hyper-aware of potential dangers and ready to take them on. When you're hyped on adrenaline, you will experience physiological symptoms associated with panic. Some of those symptoms include: racing heart, nausea or vomiting, shaking, loss of control, feeling a sense of "unreality," excessive sweating, and more.
When you experience a panic attack, your body mimics how it would react if you were in actual danger. It's like it imagines that a lion is after you and you need to defend yourself, only it's not true. You are not in any real danger, but your brain perceives that you are. It can be frightening to experience panic attacks and not know where they came from. When you can't identify the symptoms, you might feel powerless to control these attacks. This is an illusion; you have the power to breathe through a panic attack, you just need to learn some essential techniques to do so.
Remember to Breathe
You may be wondering: how long do panic attacks last? Panic attacks might feel like they last forever, but the reality is that they peak at around 20 minutes. After that, the attack will start to lessen in intensity. The key is to ride out the attack using a technique called "urge surfing." When you're feeling anxiety or panic, you probably are having racing thoughts. You might not be able to tell one thought from the next, and that's okay. You can close your eyes, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let the thoughts be there.
You do not have to understand or fix them, but rather imagine the words of the thoughts rolling down a river. Focus on your breath and let it ground you. As you breathe in feel your feel connect to the ground. One of the most important things to remember when you are panicking is that you are not floating outside of your body even though it might feel that way. Your feet are on the ground, and one of the things you can control is your breath. Keep breathing and feeling your feet connected to the floor or the ground.
Focus on Something
One grounding technique you can use is to focus on one thing in the room. Pick an object and stare at it while taking slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Having a focal point helps you to stay grounded and send a signal to your body that it's okay to release that adrenaline and start to calm down. Another thing you can try is naming five things in the room you can see, hear, touch, feel or taste. Pick one of the five senses and name five objects or sensations that go along with it. This resets your brain and sends a message to your mind to focus on something else. Distraction is an effective technique to use in your brain during the panic.
Panic attacks sometimes happen when we are worrying about something that "could" happen. This means instead of focusing on the "right now" our minds are looking to the future. It also might be that you're worried about something terrible happening in this moment and your mind goes into anxiety overdrive. Whatever reason your mind has abandoned you, it's time to reign it back in.
That's where mindfulness comes into play. Bring yourself back to this moment: the here and now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday but right this minute. You don't have to fix it or change what's going on. Your body is going to have some uncomfortable symptoms because you have a panic attack. Accept the fact that you do not have control over what's happening and ride the waves, like when the ocean gets rough, and you have no choice but to stay steady. The same principle goes for panic as wave jumping: hang on and stay at the moment. You will get through this!
Release Your Muscles
When you experience intense levels of panic, your muscles and your body are bound to tighten up. Using conscious techniques, you can relax individual parts of your body one at a time. Close your eyes, and first focus on your breath. As you take slow deep breaths, focus in on one part of your body that feels tight. Maybe it's your jaw or perhaps your neck. As you inhale, tighten that muscle and when you exhale completely release the tension in that area of your body. This exercise will help you to release and relax your body making panic dissipate gradually intentionally. Eventually, you will begin to feel more grounded and less tense.
What's Your Mantra?
Something that can help you through a brutal panic attack is a key statement or phrase that empowers you; this is called a mantra. Mantras are easy to remember, but they can help you feel more in control over your symptoms of anxiety. An example of a simple mantra that will help you during a panic attack is "I can get through this." When you are feeling tingling in your body, heart palpitations, and wondering if this attack will ever end, say this mantra to yourself in your head or out loud. Here are some sample mantras that you can try:
- "I can do this."
- "Don't give up."
- "This is anxiety. I will let it pass."
- "You are safe."
These are some examples of mantras one can use in the midst of a panic attack to help them stay grounded and not succumb to the overwhelming power of anxiety. You can try one of the sample mantras or make up a mantra of your own that works for you! Whatever phrase makes you feel calm or safe, try using that.
How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack
We've gone over some grounding techniques to help you get through a panic attack. Now it's time to learn how to help someone else when they are experiencing intense levels of anxiety. When someone has a panic attack, and they're with a friend or family member, that other person can help. Here are some ways to support a loved one through a panic attack:
- Stay with them - Your loved one needs support right now. Panic attacks are scary, so it's important that you stay in their presence so you can support them through this episode. They will feel comforted just having you there. You can't "fix" the panic attack, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're there.
- Be calm - The person having the panic attack is the complete opposite of calm, so they need you to be a grounding force. Do not match their level of intensity or anxiety. Be their rock and remain as calm as possible.
- Ask what they need - Don't presume that you know what someone has a panic attack needs. The best thing you can do is ask: "what can I do to help right now?" They might not know, and that's okay. As mentioned earlier, you staying there is meaningful. They'll let you know when you can help.
- Be positive - Panic attacks can make the sufferer feel hopeless and terrified. Remind the person that they are going to be okay. They can get through this, and this panic attack will end.
Panic attacks typically last from 20-30 minutes. The calmer you can stay during this time, the better for your friend or loved one. They will appreciate your loyalty and support.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you calm a panic attack?
There is no specific way to keep a panic attack from happening, but you may be able to lessen the affects and do your best to calm yourself down. The first thing you should do when you are trying to keep panic attacks in check is to do your best to regulate your breathing. Try to take yourself out of the moment by opening your eyes and focusing on something specific. This can help you start to feel better and can lessen the symptoms of anxiety that you may be feeling. You can also make sure that you understand that you are having a panic attack and that you will be fine. It will pass and these feelings will also pass.
What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?
A panic attack and an anxiety attack are very similar. The main difference is that a panic attack can happen suddenly and without any warning. On the other hand, an anxiety attack usually happens when the body experiences a period of stress. For example, when you find yourself in a stressful situation, like a job interview, you may have an anxiety attack. They also have similar symptoms and can make people experience symptoms of panic. Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks may be caused by specific anxiety disorders.
Can you die from having a panic attack?
You are not likely to die from a panic attack, although, in some cases, it may feel like you are having a heart attack. There may also be other physical symptoms that cause you to feel pain. Chest pain is common when it comes to panic attacks, so do everything you can to remember that these feelings will go away.
What does a panic attack feel like?
A panic attack may feel like you are having a stroke or heart attack. Other symptoms of a panic attack include numbness in the body, heart palpitations, nausea, and feeling like you are having an out of body experience. Essentially, you may feel like you are not connected to your body, but you may also experience dizziness, pain, and other unwanted effects.
Should you touch someone having a panic attack?
There is no harm in touching someone that is having a panic attack, but you need to ask their permission to touch them. Otherwise, this may add to their anxiety, which is something you should avoid. You can place a hand on their back or shoulder, to let them know that you are there for them and that everything is going to be okay.
What are the warning signs of a panic attack?
Most of the time there are no warning signs for panic attacks, as they come on suddenly. This is why it is harder coping with panic attacks, since you don’t really know when to expect them. There are symptoms of panic attacks, however, which can alert you that are having one. Some symptoms include chills, nausea, sweating, pain in chest, feeling lightheaded, accelerated heartbeat, and a feeling of danger. You may also feel like you are having a heart attack.
What happens to your body during a panic attack?
During a panic attack, your body is expressing a reaction, which is called the “fight or flight” response, that is common during periods of extreme stress or danger. The difference is that during panic attacks, there is often no danger to the person with panic disorder. Your heart may also race, and you may feel alert and awake, which are effects of the hormones your body can produce during these times.
Is crying a symptom of a panic attack?
Crying can be a symptom of a panic attack, but it can be a symptom of many other things as well. For instance, if you have social anxiety disorder, or some other type of disorder, you may also experience crying for seemingly no reason. It is important to keep track of all of your symptoms and visit with a doctor, who can diagnose you, when you have a disorder of some type. There are many reasons you may be crying, and it may be something that is to be expected.
What does a mental breakdown look like?
A mental breakdown, or nervous breakdown is related to periods of stress, and may cause a person to have anxiety and panic attacks, as well as a number of other symptoms. If you have a mental breakdown, you may be unable to get through your daily tasks, for several days. Symptoms include sleeping too much or not enough, not wanting to socialize, neglecting hygiene for days at a time, being unfocused and unmotivated. You may also experience nightmares and physical pain. If you experience these symptoms, be sure to meet with your doctor or therapist, so you can learn ways to stop some of these symptoms and you can start to feel like yourself again.
Do panic attacks damage the heart?
There is little evidence to suggest that panic attacks harm your heart. However, if you suffer from panic disorders, you may be more likely to develop a heart condition over time. Science is still investigating this to see what the connections are, but there is no reason to think a panic attack will cause damage to your heart. At the same time, if this is something you are concerned about, you should consider learning how to stop a panic attack. This may be able to help you halt a panic attack before it starts and may also be able to lessen other symptoms.
Can a panic attack last for hours?
Panic attacks usually last a few minutes at a time but can be experienced for up to 30 minutes. It is unlikely that they will last for hours at a time. If you feel like you have attacks and panic disorder and your attacks last for hours at a time, you may actually be experiencing some other type of mental disorder, which will need to be evaluated. Be honest with your doctor or therapist about the symptoms you are feeling and talk to them about ways to prevent them. Extended attacks can be traumatizing, and you should do whatever you can to stop the panic attacks and panic, so you don’t have to live in fear of the next one. There is help out there for you.
Why do you get a panic attack?
A few different things can cause panic attacks. These include periods of stress, mental conditions, or other physical conditions. You may also be experiencing panic if you use stimulants. Panic attacks generally come on without warning, so it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly why they happen.
What are the 6 types of anxiety disorders?
There are 6 disorders that are considered to be anxiety disorders. These include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Each of these disorders can cause a great sense of anxiety panic to the person experiencing the disorder.
What's the best treatment for panic attacks?
The best treatment when it comes to attacks and panic disorder is a mix of psychotherapy and certain medicines. When you are under the supervision of a doctor’s care, you can learn more about panic disorder coping, and hopefully also learn ways to stop attacks and panic, so that you are able to live a life without having to worry about frequent attacks. With continued treatment, you can have a shot at limiting attacks and panic disorder, which can allow you to go back to your old routines.
What should you not do when someone is having a panic attack?
It is important to watch what you say to people when they are experiencing attacks or panic disorder. At times, people want to tell people with panic disorder that they are overreacting or that they should calm down. These are things that you want to avoid. If the person with panic attacks is someone that is close to you, you might want to start to help them learn what triggers panic attacks in them. In other words, you can help them write down in a journal what is happening, where they are, and other details that surround a panic attack, so you can do your best to figure out what may trigger panic in your loved one. It some cases, this is next to impossible, but it is still worth tying, since when you determine that something is a trigger, you may be able to prevent panic attacks by avoiding this aspect.
How do you ground someone during a panic attack?
If you want to help someone stay grounded during an attack, you should ask them questions that they will be able to answer. You may want to ask them to name 5 things they can see or tell you how they are feeling. When someone with attacks and panic disorder is able to focus in the moment, they may have an easier time getting through the symptoms of a panic attack.
Why do I panic when someone touches me?
If you experience panic when someone touches you, this may indicate that you have a fear of being touched. You should check with a health professional to see if you are experiencing anxiety panic disorder, so you can get the proper treatment if you are. It is important to treat panic, because in many cases, it is caused by fear that is not actually present. Be sure to concentrate on disorder coping, which may be able to alleviate your phobia or the condition you are experiencing.
What medical conditions can cause a panic attack?
There are a few medical conditions that may cause a panic attack and the most common one is panic disorder. You might also experience an attack if you have an anxiety disorder of some type, you have a mental disorder, or you have a major problem with your health, including a chronic illness or some type.
Can a panic attack wake you up?
Yes, you can experience attacks and panic disorder while you are asleep. It is possible that you have anxiety that is not allowing your brain to relax and rest, and this is what is causing a panic attack. If this is the case, you will need to learn more about coping with panic, so it will not keep you from sleeping and doing other things that you need to do.
Can you have a panic attack for no reason?
You can have a panic attack for seemingly no reason. There may be an actual reason why you had an attack, and you just don’t know what it the reason in. On the other hand, there may be no reason for your attack. Many people find themselves experiencing panic attack one or two times in their lives. This does not necessarily indicate that they are suffering from panic disorder and is considered to be fine.
What are the three basic types of panic attacks?
The three types of attacks are unexpected, situational-bound, and situational predisposed attacks. Unexpected attacks generally happen for no apparent reason, situational-bound happen when someone is met with something they are afraid of or have a phobia of, and situational-bound occurs can happen when someone is exposed to a trigger, but an attack will not always occur with the latter type. Regardless of which type affects you or someone you love, you should consider learning how to stop a panic attack.
What happens to your brain during a panic attack?
When you are experiencing attacks and panic disorder, your brain is likely protecting you from being harmed during the attack. The truth is that science and medicine do not know exactly what is happening to your brain during a panic attack, but they are studying this topic. They are learning more about what is going on all the time.
Why do I shake after a panic attack?
You may experience shaking after a panic attack because of how your body is responding to the stress that it is perceiving. This shaking can last well after an attack, where you will need to do your best to calm down for a long time afterwards. If you are experiencing shaking, you may want to ask your doctor about ways to stop shaking, or how to lessen the effects of these attacks and panic disorder, in general.
You Can Get Help
If you're having trouble figuring out how to manage panic attacks or anxiety on your own, it's okay to reach out for professional help. An online counselor at BetterHelp can help you work on grounding techniques to cope better with panic attacks. Panic can feel debilitating and scary, but it doesn't have to. There are mental health professionals who are trained to help people with anxiety and panic. Reach out today and get the help you need.