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How To Sit Through a Panic Attack When You Can’t Leave

Anxiety and panic attacks strike in situations where you can't leave. Here, learn four ways to sit through a panic attack when you can't leave the situation.

Sitting through a panic attack without being able to escape is a thought that can inspire a new anxiety attack. Panic attacks can strike seemingly out of the blue, and anxiety attacks hit in response to escalating stress and worry. They often happen at terrible times, times and places when we’re around other people and in situations that we can’t easily escape (which of course makes sense, as these are anxiety-provoking situations). Keep reading to learn four ways to sit through a panic attack when you can’t leave. 

Being in a place such as a meeting, classroom, your child’s event, and the like when panic arises is awful. Knowing that you can’t easily slip away unnoticed only serves to worsen an already-bad anxiety attack. It may seem as though you are losing all control, but in reality, there are things you can do to increase your sense of control and decrease the intensity of the panic attack, all while staying where you are.

Four Ways to Endure a Panic Attack When You Can’t Leave the Room

  1. Focus Object and Mindfulness. Have one, and only one, focus object to concentrate on. Carry something small and interesting with you, such as an unusual rock, smooth piece of sea glass, or a store bought fidget object. It can be something mundane such as the pen you’re using or a poster on the wall. What it is doesn’t matter. It does matter that you have a single thing on which to concentrate. Focus on it with the senses you can: what does it look like, sound like, feel like? This is mindfulness practice. Get in the habit of practicing mindfulness throughout every day. Being mindful when you’re not in the throes of an anxiety attack will help you use the skill when you are.

2. Do Something. Your body wants to flee. You want to flee. There’s all of this pent-up energy coursing through you that needs to go somewhere. You can’t go out the door, so find a different way to channel it. Doodle, scribble, and draw. Fiddle with a bracelet, rubber band, or Rubik’s cube. Knit or crochet if you know how. Move in any way you can. As with the focus object, do it mindfully. Use your senses to help get your mind onto your actions and out of panic mode.

3. Breathe. This is essential to calm the heart rate, slow thoughts, and reduce stress. In panic- and anxiety attacks, breathing goes haywire. Getting breathing under control also gets panic under control. In the midst of a panic attack, it can be difficult to simply breathe. There are exercises you can do to create a nice rhythm. One such exercise is very subtle and thus great for times when you want to be discreet.

  • Place the index finger of one hand at the base of the thumb on the other hand.
  • Breathe in slowly and move your finger up the thumb. Exhale as you move it down.
  • Inhale up the index finger, exhale down.
  • Continue back and forth with both hands until your breathing returns to normal.

4. Keep your mind on the above strategies and off your thoughts. During an anxiety attack, thoughts race relentlessly. Now is not the time to engage with them. Don’t try to identify them. Don’t try to argue with them. Don’t look for evidence that they’re wrong. Don’t agree with them. See them as a cluster of words. Accept that your thoughts are racing and just imagine them zooming by.  Accept their presence now. Deal with the thoughts later.

Doing any of the above strategies (as many or as few as you want to) can help you survive a panic or anxiety attack when you’re unable to leave where you are.

Endure a Panic Attack When You Can't Leave the Room

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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