A panic attack is an abrupt, intense state of fear that can peak within minutes. Attacks include a range of physical symptoms such as chest pain and heart palpitations, as well as psychological effects, including the belief that one is dying.
Panic attacks can be extremely frightening. They may leave you feeling out-of-control and in serious danger. If you have a panic disorder or similar mental health imbalance, it is exhausting to experience frequent panic attacks. Fortunately, people with panic disorder can use certain techniques to either ease a panic attack while it’s happening or reduce the likelihood of one happening again. So, if you’re wondering how to stop a panic attack, be mindful of the following coping strategies.
How to Stop a Panic Attack in the Short Term
When you start to experience a panic attack, there are several things you can do to help reduce its intensity. Apply these techniques as soon as you notice any panic attack symptoms arise.
Hyperventilation is a common panic attack symptom that can increase feelings of fear. Slow, deep breathing can help to reduce hyperventilation and reduce other panic attack symptoms as well.
Focus on breathing deeply, feeling the air enter your mouth and fill your chest. Watch the air leave your chest and exit your mouth as you exhale. It can be helpful to breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four.
Recognize That You’re Having a Panic Attack
If you want to know how to stop a panic attack before it gets worse, then it is to crucial recognize you’re having one. When you experience a panic attack, your mind may tell yourself you’re having a heart attack. This is due to the extreme fear you experience, as well as physical symptoms like a racing or pounding heart.
If you know you’re having a panic attack, you can tell yourself that it is temporary and will pass and that you’re not in any danger. By removing the fear of dying or disaster, you can ease your panic attack symptoms immediately.
Mindfulness can help keep you grounded in reality. Panic attack symptoms can make you feel detached from reality (derealization) or yourself (de-personalization) but staying mindful allows you to focus on what’s really happening around you. Focus on physical sensations, such as the feeling of your feet planted on the ground or the texture of your clothing. By paying attention to something objective, you can prevent yourself from feeling separated from reality.
Focus on an Object
Many people living with panic disorders find that focusing on an object during a panic attack can lessen the symptoms. The aim of this technique is to divert your attention away from panic attack symptoms and direct it towards something else instead. Choose an object in clear sight and examine all of its details, if it’s moving in any way, as well as its color, shape, patterns, and size.
Try Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Relaxing your muscles will help to reduce both the physical and psychological symptoms of a panic attack. Like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques help control your body’s response to panic, calming you down in the process.
Stop a panic attack in its tracks by consciously relaxing one muscle at a time. You may decide to start with your fingers, moving onto your hands, then your arms, and so on.
If these options are unsuccessful, your doctor may prescribe medications like benzodiazepines. These are a highly effective way of reducing or even eliminating panic attack symptoms.
Common benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium). Keep in mind, though, that this form of medication can be highly addictive. So be sure to use benzodiazepines sparingly and only as prescribed.
How to Stop a Panic Attack in the Long Term
As someone living with panic disorder, it’s important to know how to stop a panic attack in the long-term. There are various methods for preventing panic attacks from happening in the first place. Here are some effective strategies:
One of the reasons that panic attacks continue to occur is that people fear and avoid situations in which they might panic. This might include traveling by public transport, public speaking, going to a job interview, or walking through a busy shopping mall. By believing that you will inevitably panic in these situations, you avoid them.
This could lead to reclusive behavior and living in fear of further panic or anxiety attacks. This actually encourages social anxiety and panic attacks should a stressful situation ever arise.
One key to preventing panic attacks is exposing yourself to those places and situations you fear will spark an incident. Take small steps. If an hour at the mall is too stressful, spend 10 minutes there. Gradual progress is still progress. The aim of this exposure is to help you feel comfortable in situations you fear. Over time, you will develop confidence and become more panic attack resistant.
There are various lifestyle habits that are known to help prevent panic attacks. They include:
- Meditation: As we mentioned, mindfulness can help ease panic attack symptoms. Regular meditation can help you stay calmer in your everyday life, making a panic attack less likely to occur in the first place.
- Yoga: A daily yoga practice can help you to feel relaxed, both mentally and physically, reducing the chances of you feeling overwhelmed by stressful situations.
- Light exercise: Regular exercise is a great way to boost your mood and reduce stress levels. Many people with a panic disorder find that doing exercise is a way of reducing both the intensity and frequency of panic attacks.
- A nutritious, balanced diet: Certain foods can make you more prone to experience a panic attack. This may include sugar and caffeine, which can worsen anxiety.
If you feel unable to deal with panic attacks on your own, seek out the appropriate treatment options for panic or anxiety disorder. Some forms of therapy such as exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy help many people suffering from panic attacks and panic disorder. With support, you can gain control over their symptoms and live a full and happy life in the long-term.