Panic Attack: What To Do When It Happens

Updated October 22, 2018

Reviewer Heather Cashell


Panic attacks are scary, but are rarely occurs ever without warning. The best way to control a panic attack is to stop it before it happens. Panic attacks are most often symptoms of a panic disorder, but they can also be due to situational factors, such as in a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recognizing triggers and employing panic reducing strategies are often effective in controlling panic attacks.

Triggers and Tolerance

A trigger is something that causes a reaction. Generally, triggers are associated with traumatic events from childhood or adolescent years. These events can also be associated with domestic violence, verbal or emotional abuse, or work-related stressors. Typically, people are able to identify those individuals and/or situations that cause stress. A panic attack is an extreme reaction to high level stress and anxiety. Attacks may seem to come out of nowhere, but in reality the sufferer has built up a tolerance to stressors. When there is a tolerance, the individual is merely postponing the inevitable, but also creating a boiling point situation. The buildup of tolerance to stressors is a coping mechanism that many develop in an effort to sustain a relationship, job, or even to avoid dealing with the object of stress.

Work-related Triggers

If someone has a boss that is overbearing or threatening, the need to sustain employment will cause the individual to learn to function in the face of even severe stress. The buildup of the stress can often manifest itself in mental or emotional distress, such as depression or anxiety or panic attacks.


Abuse or Violence Triggers

Individuals who have been abused by a family member or a victim of crime may develop symptoms of PTSD. Events or individuals that are reminiscent of the traumatic event can bring on a panic attack.

Stopping a Panic Attack

If someone suffers from a panic disorder, it may be impossible to stop a panic attack. However, a panic attack that is brought on by a trigger can be avoided by employing strategies.

Acknowledge and manage triggers. They cannot always be avoided; i.e., bosses. However, planning time more efficiently can circumvent certain triggers like traffic. If deadlines bring on feelings of panic, employ a proactive stance so that projects can be completed early, thus reducing stress.

Managing sudden onset of panic attack. When stressors and triggers go unacknowledged and unmanaged, then panic attacks seem sudden. If at all possible, separate from the source of anxiety. Move to an open area, preferably where fresh air is available. If a change of location is impossible, use deep breathing and visualization techniques.


Managing daily stress. Managing daily stress through diet, exercise, and proper amounts of sleep can equip individuals to better handle stressful events as they occur.

For more information on managing panic attacks connect with a licensed, qualified therapist.

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