Coping Strategies In The Management Of Panic Attacks

Updated March 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Panic attacks can feel disorienting and extremely uncomfortable. The psychological and emotional symptoms can make it very difficult to manage and can interrupt the normal course of the day unpredictably. When a person has a panic attack, they may even feel like they are going to die. People report that a panic attack feels like what one might imagine is a heart attack. You may feel shortness of breath, numbness and tingling throughout your entire body. Despite the overwhelming feelings and physical symptoms, know you are not in danger even if you feel like you are.

Panic attacks are deceptive and can occur on its own or is provoked by an external stimulus. If you experience panic attacks and are searching for a solution to help alleviate your persistent anxiety, read on. By developing strategies and learning how to recognize the cause of the panicked feelings, you will be able to not only decrease the severity of the symptoms, but 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. Suddenly, 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 are reminded of a previous bad experience at a fair. This is a panic attack.

During a panic attack, a person may feel completely out of control of their own body and mind. In reality, the brain has stimulated the “fight or flight” response and the body has responded accordingly. When humans feel threatened, our bodies have an instinctual reaction that prepares us for defense. The body releases hormones, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine, that stimulate a series of physiological changes that makes humans more efficient at either fighting or running away to defend ourselves. These changes include tense muscles, flushed skin, increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, and faster metabolism. All of which are also symptoms of a panic attack. However, there is no danger or threat for people managing a panic attack, even though their bodies and minds are telling them otherwise. Let's return the fair example; you want to leave this environment so that you can feel better and less panicky.

Acknowledging The Panic Attack

The first step in managing panic is to actively acknowledge you are experiencing an episode or attack. Say to yourself either in your head or out loud if you need to: "I am having a panic attack." When you recognize what your symptoms are, you are taking power away from anxiety and reclaiming it. Tell yourself you are not dying, you are not having a heart attack, and name the moment for what it is, anxiety at an extreme level. You can also acknowledge how horrible it feels while reminding yourself that the feelings will pass.  Panic attacks, though extremely uncomfortable and frightening, are temporary. Remembering that these symptoms and feelings will eventually subside removes the fear that it will "never go away." There is relief in your future. From naming your panic attack, you can take the next step. Focus on the physical and emotional symptoms you are 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. While the danger may feel real, there typically is no threat or danger present, despite what the brain perceives. It can be frightening to experience panic attacks and not know where they came from. When you are unable to 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.

Panic Attacks Can Seem Overwhelming. But With The Right Tools, You Can Stop Them.

Remember To Breathe

Panic attacks might feel like they last forever, but they typically peak at a certain point shortly after they begin (between 10-30 minutes). After that, the attack will start to lessen in intensity. One strategy is to ride out the attack using a technique called "urge surfing." When you are feeling anxiety or panic, you may also be experiencing racing thoughts. You might not be able to tell one thought from the next and that is 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 feet 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 An Object

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 which sends a signal to your body that the danger is passed and the stress response will naturally 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 are worried about something terrible happening in this moment and your mind goes into anxiety overdrive. Whatever reason your mind has abandoned you, it is time to reign it back in.

That is where mindfulness comes into play. Bring yourself back to this moment: the here and now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday but right this minute. You do not have to fix it or change what is going on. This may be difficult during a panic attack because of the symptoms and thoughts you are having. Remind yourself that your body is having uncomfortable symptoms because of the panic attack. Then move back to focusing on this very moment while practicing the slow breathing technique mentioned above. 

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 is 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 Is Your Mantra?

In transcendental meditation, a mantra is a sacred sound, word, or phrase used in spiritual meditative practices found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga that is typically recited in the Sanskrit language. Mantra is derived from two Sanskrit words, manas, which means mind, and tra, or tool. While mantras are typically used in spiritual meditations, you can use these mind tools to help empower you while you are experiencing a panic attack.

 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 am safe." 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 other sample mantras that you can try:

  • "There is no danger here."

  • "I choose calm and peace.

  • "This is anxiety. I will let it pass."

  • "Just Breathe."

  • "There is calm in this storm."

These are some examples of mantras one can use during 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. Simply choose a phrase that leaves you feeling calm and safe.  

How to Help Someone Having A Panic Attack

You may not experience panic attacks but know someone who does. It is natural to want to know how to help them and calm them down when they happen. We have gone over some grounding techniques that are known to help people in these moments. While in the moment, it may not be the best time to guide them through these techniques. You can talk to them after to help them know strategies for the next time. Sometimes, telling someone directions to breathe or calm down is not helpful amid a panic episode. Instead, try some of the following methods to support a loved one through a panic attack:

Stay By Their Side

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 cannot "fix" the panic attack, and that is not even necessary. What matters is that you are there.

Be Calm 

The person having the panic attack is the 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. You can also help them stay grounded by asking them calming questions that they will be able to answer. When someone with attacks and panic disorder can focus in the moment, they may have an easier time getting through the symptoms of a panic attack

Ask What They Need 

Do not presume that you know what someone needs during a panic attack. The best thing you can do is ask: "what can I do to help right now?" They might not know, and that is okay. As mentioned earlier, you staying there is meaningful. They will let you know when you can help.

Be Positive 

Panic attacks can leave a person 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. You can even say some of the mantras mentioned earlier, but in sentence affirmation form. Remind them they are safe, and there is no danger present. 

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.

Seeking Professional Mental Health Support For Panic Attacks

While the strategies in this article can help you manage panic attacks, you may find that working with a therapist can help you get to the causes of your anxiety. Furthermore, if you or your loved one is experiencing regular panic attacks, it is advised that you find a therapist or healthcare provider. There may be an underlying mental health or medical condition that is precipitating these attacks that requires a professional diagnosis and treatment. A therapist can provide you with the tools and coping mechanism strategies that you can use to help you recover from the anxiety possibly causing these attacks and learn to stop any future panic episodes from occurring. 

If you are managing anxiety-caused panic attacks, the act of finding a therapist and traveling to an appointment may seem overwhelming and not worth the discomfort. With online therapy, you can get professional support from the comfort of your own home without having to travel to and from your home. Research shows that online therapy can play a significant role in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. For example, one study found that online therapy was just as effective than traditional in-person sessions, with participants in the online group showing continued symptom reduction three months after treatment. At BetterHelp, licensed counselors and therapists are available to help you get to the root of panic attacks and help you find the calm and resilience to move through these intense moments of anxiety with ease. 

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