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How to Stop a Panic Attack: 9 Strategies

A male that is experiencing a panic attack and severe anxiety.

If you’ve experienced a panic attack, then you know how overwhelming, unpredictable, and scary it can feel. However, it is important to recognize that you’re not alone.  Panic attacks are relatively common, and the NIH reported that about 13% of people experience at least one in their lifetime.

Knowing what to do during a panic attack can help decrease its severity and bring you peace of mind.  Unfortunately, not many people know where to start.  If you’re wondering how to stop a panic attack, then today’s blog post is for you.  

As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I am revealing the top 9 strategies for stopping a panic attack in its tracks.

What Is a Panic Attack?

So, what is a panic attack? The Mayo Clinic defines it as a “sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” Panic attacks usually come on suddenly, and they manifest in a wide range of symptoms:

  • A sense of impending doom
  • Fear of losing control 
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and/or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea 
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or a tingling sensation
  • Feeling detached from reality 
 

As an experienced anxiety therapist, I can attest that a panic attack is an incredibly frightening experience. Many victims of panic attacks believe they are losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying.  So, what should you do during a panic attack? Well, keep reading to find out.

9 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack

A lot of people wonder whether it is possible to stop a panic attack while it’s happening. While everyone experiences an attack differently, some strategies can be used to minimize and/or stop the symptoms of a panic attack:

Remember That It Will Pass

Sure, this might sound cliché, but it’s true. Acknowledging that you are experiencing a brief period of concentrated anxiety can help lessen the severity of your attack. Note that panic attacks will peak about 10 minutes from their onset, and then your symptoms will begin to subside.

Take Deep Breaths

Once again, this is only a cliché because it works. Panic attacks usually trigger a rapid heart rate that is accompanied by rapid, shallow breaths. Unfortunately, hurried breathing will only make your feelings of anxiety worse.

To combat a panic attack, try to concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply. Inhale deeply from your abdomen to steadily fill your lungs. Count to four, then mimic the entire process as you exhale.

Smell Lavender

Lavender is an essential oil known for bringing forth a sense of calm and relaxation. Because this smooth scent taps into your senses, it sometimes allows you to stay grounded during the attack. Additionally, it gives you something external to focus on.

Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Muscle tension is a common symptom of panic attacks and using muscle relaxation techniques can help lessen their severity. How does this work? Well, if the mind senses that the body is relaxing, it can prompt your other symptoms to diminish as well.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a popular coping method for anxiety attacks. Want to give it a try? Start by tensing and holding a muscle for 5 seconds, then verbally tell your body to ‘relax’ and release the muscle. Let your body relax for 10 seconds, then repeat the entire process on a different muscle. Feel free to undergo this practice for however long you need.

Seek Out Somewhere Peaceful

If possible, try to relocate yourself to a quiet, peaceful place. External stimuli can often escalate a panic attack, so leaving a busy room and/or leaning against a wall make it easier to focus on your breath and practice coping strategies.

Repeat a Mantra

For some people, repeating a mantra or saying a prayer bring them a sense of comfort and internal strength. This is particularly helpful during an anxiety attack because it offers something concrete to focus on. When choosing a mantra, remember that it can be something as simple as ‘this too shall pass.’ I recommend going with anything that will bring you peace in the present moment.

Go For a Walk or Lightly Exercise

Not only will walking remove you from a stressful environment, but the rhythm of walking or light exercise can help to regulate your breath. (As you might have noticed, regulated breath is key to coming out of a panic attack.) Of course, exercise also releases endorphins, which help your body relax and elevate your mood.

Find Your Happy Place

Your happy place is wherever you feel most relaxed. When experiencing a panic attack, it might be helpful to close your eyes and imagine that place. Not only will this calm your mind, but it gives you something to focus on. As I mentioned, focusing on something concrete minimizes the external (and probably very overwhelming) stimuli.

Try The 5-4-5-2-1 Method

Generally, panic attacks can make you feel detached from reality. To combat this, therapists recommend using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to practice grounding and mindfulness. By directing your attention away from the source of stress, this technique shifts your focus onto the world around you. 

To practice, complete these 5 steps slowly and thoroughly: 

  • Look at 5 separate objects. Think about each one for a little while. 
  • Listen for 4 distinct sounds. Where did they each come from? What makes them different from each other?
  • Touch 3 objects. What do they feel like? Consider their texture, size, shape, and use. 
  • Identify 2 different smells. This could be anything from the smell of your laundry detergent to your breath.
  • Name 1 thing you can taste. What taste is already in your mouth? Or is there something nearby that you could eat?
 

Top Rated Anxiety Therapist in Fort Worth, Texas

Wondering how to stop a panic attack? Hopefully, today’s blog post offered some helpful strategies. However, if you struggle with chronic anxiety or suffer frequent panic attacks, the best way to stop them is to seek the help of a licensed therapist.

Fort Wellness Counseling is home to one of the top-rated anxiety and depression therapists in the Fort Worth area. With over a decade of experience helping people overcome their anxiety, I am confident in my ability to help you.

Ready to put an end to your anxiety? Contact our team to schedule an appointment today.