manage panic attacks

How to Calm Yourself During a Panic Attack

When you have a panic attack, you may find that your heart races, your breathing gets shallow, and you believe that something awful is coming your way. In the middle of these spells, it’s difficult to feel like anything can help. However, if you practice a few strategies now, you can be ready to stop panic in its tracks later. Strategies for stopping panic attacks are most effective when you use them early. However, it’s never too late to start working towards calming down. As you learn more about your triggers and symptoms, you can start implementing the following strategies before a panic attack can even get started.

Recognize the Panic for What It Is

Panic attacks often trick patients into thinking that their worries are real. This very real feeling of impending doom only worsens the anxiety, which serves to worsen the dread, and so on. One of the most effective ways to stop this cycle is to call the panic out for what it is. When you feel yourself getting nervous and having panic attack symptoms, say any of these things out loud or to yourself:

  • The panic is real, but the threat is not. 
  • This is just my anxiety talking. 
  • This is a chemical imbalance, not a physical threat. 
  • I have survived this before and I will survive it again. 

Repeating these mantras are not usually enough to stop panic attacks on their own. However, recognizing anxiety is the first step to calming yourself.

Take Prescribed Medications

If you feel like you might have a panic attack, take any medication your healthcare team prescribed to help with the problem. Some anti-anxiety medication is meant for you to take daily, but some are emergency medications. Be sure to ask your doctor if you need emergency pills for panic attacks and what to expect when you take them. Do not take any medications that are not prescribed to you and only take pills as they are prescribed. Typically, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking emergency anti-anxiety medications.

Bring Your Focus to Your Breath

Panic attacks often cause racing thoughts that make it feel like you can’t focus on anything. It can also cause shallow, labored breathing and pounding heart rate. You can turn all of these problems around by focusing on taking deep breaths. Start with this strategy:

  1. Breathe in through the nose for five seconds
  2. Hold your breath for five seconds
  3. Breathe out through the mouth for five seconds
  4. Repeat as needed

This technique works differently for everyone, so you may have to try a few different ways of deep breathing. For example, you may find that you do better if you only hold your breath for three seconds or if you exhale for seven seconds. The point is simply to slow your breathing and shift your focus internally.

Consciously Relax Your Muscles

If your panic attacks cause you to tense all the muscles in your body, this technique is for you. Like deep breathing, this exercise takes the focus from your worries and puts it on your body. However, instead of counting your breaths, you will consciously try to release tension in each muscle.Start by imagining turning off the muscles in your feet and ankles. Think about all the tension leaving this area. Try this for at least a few seconds, then move to the lower legs. Take a few moments to relax each muscle group, including your arms, back, neck, and face. If you’re worried about having a panic attack, write down these strategies and keep them with you. When you feel panic coming on, refer to your list and try one or two of the strategies. You may also consider getting help from the psychiatrists at LifeStance Health. We can help you address the underlying causes of your anxiety and start feeling better soon.

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