The first time I had a panic attack, I thought for sure I was dying. I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom and I were arguing, both screaming at the top of our lungs. Next thing I knew, I was gasping for air and hyperventilating. My heart was racing and the room was spinning. I cried enough tears to fill an ocean as I looked at my mom with fear in my eyes. She immediately flew into action, grabbing a paper bag and telling me to breathe into it. It seemed to help, but a medical professional later informed us that this method doesn’t really work. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety. It triggers severe physical symptoms even when there is no real danger. Often times when describing panic attacks, people will say it feels like they’re having a heart attack or dying.
This was just the beginning of many panic attacks. I once had one so severe that my older sister called 911. Each time I have an attack, it feels like the world is ending. Living with anxiety and having panic attacks is crippling. I’ve had them in public places like school and work which caused me to try and isolate myself from the world. I avoided places I knew could potentially trigger an attack. It has been years since my first panic attack but I still struggle with them. Over the years, I’ve acquired coping skills that have helped me calm myself when I’m having one.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- Pounding or racing heart, hyperventilation, or shortness of breath
- Sweating or chills
- Trembling or shaking
- Tingling or numbness
- Weakness or dizziness
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
The symptoms of a panic attack can be quite terrifying and make you feel like you’re dying. That being said, there are methods you can try to help calm the attack.
How to Stop a Panic Attack
1. Take Deep Breaths
Some individuals who experience panic attacks hyperventilate. Trying different breathing techniques can decrease your symptoms. Here are two deep breathing exercises to try.
- Inhale deeply for a count of 4 seconds, hold for 4, exhale for 4.
- Inhale through your nose as deeply as you can, exhale out of your mouth as long as you can.
It’s important to remember your breath during this time because so often during a panic attack hyperventilating increases fear.
2. Get Some Fresh Air
Most times when I feel a panic attack coming, I start to feel as though I’m suffocating and the walls are closing in on me. The only possible way to escape is by going outside, breathing in the air, and letting the wind hit my face.
While I’m out there, I may also ground myself by placing my bare feet on the earth or touching things like trees or the grass.
3. Find One Object to Focus On
Another thing that can be helpful is finding an object to focus your attention on.
Choose an object you can see clearly and focus all your attention on it. Describe everything you notice about this object.
4. Use Essential Oils
Essential oils like lavender are believed to have a calming effect. Use your essential oils in a diffuser or rub some on your wrists and inhale the smell. This may help to ease your symptoms.
5. Repeat A Mantra or Affirmation
Affirmations have been a saving grace for my symptoms. By reciting an affirmation or mantra, you are reassuring yourself that everything will be ok and that what you’re experiencing will pass. Repeat phrases such as, “I am calm.” or “This will pass.”
6. Talk to Your Support System
Having a support system when you struggle with panic attacks is important. If you’re able to, tell them how you’re feeling and let them know how they can support you. Having that extra help in frightening situations might assist you in calming down.
7. Picture A Place That Brings You Joy
What is your happy place? Close your eyes and envision yourself in that place. Imagine somewhere relaxing and really focus on the details.
This will help center you and bring you down from your attack.
8. Learn Your Triggers
Being able to identify your triggers will help you manage your anxiety by learning to cope and act sooner in controlling possible attacks. It’s important to be able to identify signs of a panic attack and to remind yourself that you’re not dying and that it will pass.
9. Take Medication
Sometimes panic attacks are so severe and continuous that we need medication and that’s ok. There is prescription medication available that can help put you at ease when you feel a panic attack creeping up.
Some of these medications, such as benzodiazepines, are only recommended for short-term use as they don’t treat the underlying cause of an anxiety disorder and some people also become dependent on them.
This is more of a daily commitment. Finding time to meditate each day can help reduce anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend starting with guided meditation. Two of my favorite places to find guided meditations are the Insight Timer App and Youtube.
11. Seek Therapy
Therapy is another long-term commitment that can assist in stopping panic attacks. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help change how you deal with challenging or scary situations.
There’s also exposure-based therapy during which your therapist will expose you to something that usually causes you to have a panic attack. They will then help you work through it.
Living With Panic Attacks
Living with anxiety and fighting off panic attacks can be terrifying. It can cause you to want to isolate yourself from the world because you feel like you have no control over what’s happening to you.
While it’s not always possible to prevent a panic attack, trying some of these tips could help reduce your symptoms.
Sometimes panic attacks occur suddenly and unexpectedly which can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. If your panic attacks happen often and interfere with your daily activities, it’s time to seek professional help. Working with a doctor or mental health provider can help you learn to manage your anxiety.