Learn How To Stop A Panic Attack In Its Tracks

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated June 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Panic attacks can feel disorienting and cause physical symptoms that feel very real to a person experiencing an attack. If you experience panic attacks, you may feel shortness of breath and numbness or tingling throughout your body. Some people report that a panic attack feels like they are having a heart attack, and others may even feel like they are going to die.  

Despite the overwhelming feelings and physical symptoms, in many cases, a person is not in danger even if they feel like they are. Panic attacks can be deceptive and can occur on their own or can be provoked by an external stimulus. 

If you experience panic attacks and are searching for a solution, know that you are not alone. One in ten adults in the general population experience panic attacks each year. There are evidence-based treatments available for panic attacks, and a mental health professional may be able to help you overcome them. By developing strategies and learning how to recognize the cause of the panicked feelings, you may be able to not only decrease the severity of the symptoms but also stop panic attacks in their tracks.

With the right tools, you can manage panic attacks

Feeling out of control

During a panic attack, sometimes called an anxiety attack, a person may feel completely out of control of their own body and mind. Researchers believe that during a panic attack, the brain can stimulate, and the body responds accordingly.

When we 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 make humans more efficient at either fighting or running away to defend themselves. These changes may include tense muscles, flushed skin, increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, and faster metabolism, all of which can also be symptoms of a panic attack. However, there is typically no danger or threat for people managing a panic attack, even though their bodies and minds are telling them otherwise. 

Acknowledging the panic attack

To manage a panic attack, one of the first steps that may help is to actively acknowledge you are experiencing an attack. When you recognize what your symptoms are, you may find that you can take power away from anxiety. You can tell yourself you are not dying and you are not having a heart attack, and then name the moment for what it is: anxiety at an extreme level. 

You can also acknowledge how intense it feels while reminding yourself that the feelings will pass. Panic attacks, though extremely uncomfortable and frightening, are temporary. Remembering that these symptoms will eventually subside may help remove the fear that it will "never go away." 

How adrenaline affects your body

During a panic attack, your adrenaline levels tend to be high. Adrenaline increases your blood flow, which in turn makes you physically more capable to react. You may be hyper-aware of potential dangers and ready to take them on. When you have high levels of adrenaline, you may experience physiological symptoms associated with panic. Some of these symptoms may include a racing heart, nausea, vomiting, shaking, loss of control, a sense of "unreality," excessive sweating, and more.

When you experience a panic attack, your body tends to mimic 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. However, there are ways to regain your sense of control while the attack subsides.

Strategies for managing panic attacks and anxiety symptoms

When you’re feeling anxious, strategies like positive self-talk and reciting mantras can help you return to a calm and balanced state. Here are some strategies to try, each of which may offer similar benefits. 

Urge surfing and breathing

Panic attacks might feel like they last forever, but they typically peak within 10 minutes, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. After that, the attack usually starts to lessen in intensity. One strategy is to ride out the attack using a technique called "urge surfing." This strategy entails observing the urge to run from the discomfort and instead riding the wave as it rises and falls until it loses its power. 

When you are feeling anxiety or panic, you may also experience racing thoughts. You might not be able to tell one thought from the next, and that is okay. You can close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Instead of fighting the thoughts, you may find it helpful to observe them without identifying with them.

You do not have to understand or fix the thoughts that arise. Instead, you might imagine the words of the thoughts rolling down a river. You can focus on your breath and let it ground you. It may help to remember 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. For this reason, it may help to 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. You can 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 may help you to stay grounded, which may help the stress response naturally calm down. 

Another thing you can try is naming five things in the room you can see, hear, touch, feel, or taste. You can pick one of the five senses and name five objects or sensations that go along with it. This may help to reset your brain and send a message to your mind to focus on something else. 


Panic attacks sometimes happen when we are worrying about something that "could" happen. This means instead of focusing on the present moment, your mind might be looking to the future. It also might be that you are worried about something terrible happening in the present moment and your mind goes into anxiety overdrive. 

That is where mindfulness might help you bring yourself back to this moment. In one study published in Psychiatry Investigation, researchers found that mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) reduced intolerance of uncertainty for people who live with panic disorder. 

When you practice mindfulness, you do not have to fix or change what is going on. This may be difficult during a panic attack because of the symptoms and thoughts you are experiencing. However, with some practice, you may learn to observe your symptoms until they dissipate. Mindfulness may help you remember that your body is having uncomfortable symptoms because of the panic attack, which may slowly reduce any sense of impending danger.

Release your muscles

When you experience intense levels of panic, your muscles and your body may tighten up. Using conscious techniques, you may find that you can relax individual parts of your body one at a time through a practice called progressive muscle relaxation. You might start by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. As you take slow, deep breaths, you can focus on one part of your body that feels tight. Maybe it is your jaw or your neck. As you inhale, try tightening that muscle. Then, when you exhale completely, try to release the tension in that area of your body. 

This exercise may help you to release tension and relax your body, making panic dissipate gradually. Eventually, you may begin to feel more grounded and less tense.

Use stress and anxiety mantras for panic attacks

In transcendental meditation, a mantra is a sacred sound, word, or phrase used in spiritual meditative practices found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga. Mantras are often recited in the Sanskrit language. The term 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, and they may help you feel more in control of your symptoms of generalized or social anxiety. An example of a simple mantra that may help you during a panic attack is "I am safe." When you are feeling heart palpitations or tingling in your body and wondering if this attack will ever end, you might say this mantra to yourself in your head or out loud. 

Below are some 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."

  • “I have peace of mind in this present moment.”

These are just some examples of mantras that you can use during a panic attack to stay grounded. You can also make up a mantra of your own that makes you feel calm and safe.

Note that you can avoid cultural appropriation by learning more about the mantras you are reciting. For example, if you’re using Vedic mantras in Sanskrit, learn what it is you are saying and consider if it feels appropriate to do so. If no, consider coming up with your own single-word mantras instead. 

Try daily mantra meditations or spiritual meditations

Peer-reviewed studies have found that mantra meditations can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety. For example, one systematic review revealed small to moderate improvements in overall mental health with regular practice of mantra-based meditation. 

Mantra meditations can be helpful for those who experience anxiety when practiced daily. This can be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes each morning and night while you repeat a set of single words with each breath. For example: 

  • Peace

  • Calm

  • Relax

  • Breath

  • Love

  • Joy

Picking words like these and repeating them can help you develop daily mantras that are personalized to what resonates with you. 

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 when they happen. Above, we discussed 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 learn strategies for a possible future attack. Sometimes, telling someone directions to breathe or calm down is not helpful amid a panic episode. Instead, you might try some of the following methods to support a loved one through a panic attack:

Stay by their side

Panic attacks can be scary, so it may be helpful to tell the person that you’ll stay with them as long as they need you. This may be more reassuring than anything else you can tell them. They may feel comforted just having you there until their symptoms subside. 

Remain calm and ask them what they need

The person having the panic attack may feel as if they were in serious danger. This may be frightening to you, but it may help if you try to avoid matching their level of intensity. You can also help them by asking them what they need. For example, you might ask if they want to sit down or leave the room.  

You might ask them, "What can I do to help right now?" They might not know, and that is okay. As mentioned earlier, just staying with them can be reassuring. They can let you know when you can help in some way.

Getty/MoMo Productions
With the right tools, you can manage panic attacks

Seeking professional mental health support for panic attacks

While the strategies and mantras for anxiety in this article can help you manage panic attacks, they’re not often permanent solutions. You may find that seeking professional help from a therapist can help you get to the causes of your anxiety. If fear of panic attacks makes it challenging to leave home, you might consider speaking with a therapist online. With online therapy, you can connect with a licensed therapist for mental health support from home or anywhere you feel comfortable. 

Sessions can take place via phone, live chat, videoconferencing, or any combination of these methods that makes you feel comfortable. Also, with an online therapy service like BetterHelp, you can contact your therapist at any time via in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. This may prove helpful if you experience fear or anxiety in between sessions, as you can write down your thoughts or feelings in the moment. 

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 as traditional in-person sessions, with participants in the online group showing continued reduction of depression symptoms three months after treatment. At BetterHelp, licensed counselors are available to help you explore the cause of your panic attacks and help you learn evidence-based strategies for managing them.


If you experience symptoms of panic attacks, you don’t have to face them alone. Although panic attacks can cause some intense distress, there is help available for learning how to manage them effectively. If panic attacks make you feel hesitant to leave home to visit a therapist’s office, you can get help from the comfort of home via online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people overcome panic attacks. Take the first step toward getting help with panic attacks and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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