Eight Ways to Stop a Panic Attack in its Tracks
Although stopping a panic attack can feel impossible, it isn't (How to Stop Panic Attacks). Panic is an extremely intense experience of anxiety that comes on suddenly and grips us in a terrifying vice, like a gigantic boa constrictor snake that winds itself around its prey. It's a natural instinct to thrash against the snake that is a panic attack. Unfortunately, fighting against it only worsens panic attack symptoms. So what helps? Here are eight ways to stop a panic attack in its tracks.
Panic attacks can be part of panic disorder, or they can happen in the context of specific stressors and anxieties. Either way, you can stop them in their tracks with these simple strategies.
Eight Tricks to Stop a Panic Attack in Its Tracks
- Breathe. When you feel your chest tighten, your head spin, your heart pound, and your skin start to sweat, intentionally take slow, deep breaths. When your brain signals your body that it needs to panic, breathing automatically becomes more rapid and shallow, which in turn fuels increased panic. Purposeful deep breathing counters the physiological response to anxiety and panic.
- Use essential oils. Scent has a profound effect on emotions. Breathing in the essence of certain plants, such as lavender or chamomile, can have an almost instant calming effect (Aromatherapy for Mental Health Conditions). When you combine your sense of smell with the practice of deep breathing, you can stop panic attacks quickly. Keep a spray bottle of lavender or chamomile on hand to mist the air or a pillow. To ward off panic when you're on the go, saturate a sachet with essential oil and keep it in a sealed baggie. When a panic attack strikes, you can discretely grab the sachet and breath in it's calming scent slowly and deeply.
- Find a focus object. No matter where you are when a panic attack begins, seek out one single object on which to focus. A picture on a wall, a clock, an object on a counter, or anything on which you can concentrate will help curb panic. Study shape, texture, color, patterns, and size, and actively describe them to yourself. Doing so will pull your mind away from the sensations of a panic attack and stop it in its tracks (Using Objects to Reduce Anxiety).
- Move. During a panic attack, the brain diverts blood flow to the large muscles of the body as part of the fight-or-flight response. Use that to your advantage. Leave a confined space and take a walk. Walk at a pace that feels comfortable to you to get the blood flowing properly again. Maximize this strategy by breathing deeply, using your oil-scented sachet, and focusing on elements in your surroundings. Add an element of distraction by listening to music while you move.
- Repeat a mantra. Mantras focus much like focus objects. Having one single word or short phrase to repeat to yourself is a rhythmic way to distract the brain from its state of panic. The most effective mantras remind you of what you value, such as peace, joy, love, or the name of an important person in your life.
- Drink something calming. This is another use for chamomile and lavender. Ingesting them in the form of hot or cold tea calms mind and body. Carry a thermos of hot or iced tea with you to have on hand when you need it. Also, plain water is helpful, too. It regulates the body's systems, hydrates even the brain, and restores wellness.
- Play a matching game. This is a great way to use all of your senses to draw your attention away from a panic attack and stop it in its tracks. One sense at a time, notice something and associate it with something positive in your life. For example, you might tell yourself, "I hear traffic, and it reminds me of the time my partner and I went to the city."
- Don't berate yourself. When we're in the throes of a panic attack, we tend to blame ourselves, talk down to ourselves with harsh labels, or tell ourselves that we shouldn't be having a panic attack. This negative self-treatment doesn't reduce anxiety or panic, and actually makes it worse. Instead, let yourself and the situation simply be without judgment, or talk encouragingly to yourself. Do panic attacks set in before meetings at work, for example? Rather than belittling yourself for this, acknowledge that you made it to work and that you're doing certain aspects of your job very well.
Panic attacks are awful experiences. Using any or all of these eight strategies will help you stop a panic attack in its tracks.
Peterson, T. (2016, August 25). Eight Ways to Stop a Panic Attack in its Tracks, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 10 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/08/eight-ways-to-stop-a-panic-attack-in-its-tracks
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Such a great list. There are several new ones I've never heard before and I think they would help me. Thanks!
That's great! I'm happy that my list contained some fresh ideas. Thanks for your comment. :)
I found that recognizing that a panic attack is coming helps. Stay calm and walk, as you say, has helped offset a full attack. My first signs are light headedness and numbness of the fingers. Then comes the rapid heart rate and sweating. Focusing that one is coming and staying calm usually diverts the attack to just a smaller level of sweat and dizziness that goes away in minutes.