How to Stop a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are physical anxiety events that can be debilitating, and may stop your life in its tracks. That's why it's so important to learn how to stop a panic attack and what you can do to prevent them from getting worse.

Keep in mind that anxiety is complicated. There is no "surefire" treatment for any anxiety disorder. But the following will help you learn more about what you can do to minimize the effects of your panic.

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Panic Attack Reduction and Cures

The first thing to note is that panic attacks are generally not something someone can just stop right away. Once they've started, they tend to continue until they peak and pass. Unfortunately, if you truly want to permanently cure panic, you need to find a more comprehensive strategy for anxiety like those you'll find with my anxiety test.

The strategies to stop panic attacks tend not to work right away. At first, they decrease the severity of the attack. Then over time the more you do them the less the attack will affect you, and the less you'll fear it. You also need to change your mindset about panic attacks slightly - you need to accept that panic attacks happen and still try your best to live your life even after a severe panic attack occurs. If you withdraw, you make it harder to stop future panic attacks as well.

The following, however, are tips to help you stop panic attacks right away. Remember, they don't always work immediately. Expect yourself to have some setbacks along the way as you practice.

Tip 1: Breathing Retraining

First, you need to learn to fix your breathing when you're having a panic attack. Most symptoms - including, ironically, feeling as though you're not getting enough oxygen - are caused by hyperventilation, which is actually when your body doesn't have enough carbon dioxide left because you breathe it out too quickly.

From chest pains to rapid heartbeat to feelings of faint and more, most symptoms are due to the way people breathe when they have panic disorder. So if you fix your breathing as soon as you feel a panic attack coming on, you can reduce some of these symptoms. Unfortunately, you cannot stop hyperventilation completely once it occurs, so expect the symptoms to persist even if you do these exercises. These are to prevent them from becoming worse:

  • Slow down your breathing by first taking at least 5 seconds to breathe in.
  • Don't worry about expanding your chest. At your peak, hold for three seconds.
  • Breathe out like you're whistling for at least 7 seconds.

Repeat this step multiple times. Symptoms of hyperventilation should stay as they are or get only slightly worse, but will otherwise not cascade into terrible symptoms.

Tip 2: Walk and Talk

Another simple way to start stopping panic attacks is to "walk and talk." Essentially, go for a walk to get your blood flowing (this is good for hyperventilation) and try to call someone on a phone - someone that knows you have these attacks and is happy to talk to you.

Talking on the phone is mentally distracting, which takes you out of your own head. Combined with the visual stimulation of walking, and together they make an effective, simple way to reduce some of the withdrawal and symptom exacerbation that occurs when you stay in one place in silence.

Tip 3: Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation is considered more of a spiritual experience, but in this case we're focusing on the physical qualities that make it beneficial. Mantra meditation is a style of meditation involving relaxed breathing and "mantras," like "Ohm…" that people are familiar with when they think of media depictions of meditation.

Once again, the spiritual component is the reason this meditation is so popular, but ignoring that component for a moment there are still very real reasons this may help slow or stop your panic attack:

  • Mantra meditation involves slowed breathing, which is useful for hyperventilation.
  • Mantras themselves give you something healthy and productive to do when you're panicking.
  • Mantras also drown out the mind, as the sounds tend to overwhelm the senses.

There is a great deal of value in that type of control and sensory experience, and the mantras themselves provide a stimulation to the senses that is valuable for reducing the effects of negative thoughts. Mantra meditation may very well be something worth learning.

How to Stop All Panic Attacks

Stopping all panic attacks when they start, however, does take far more work than simply a few strategies, because much of it has to do with mental prevention - learning how to cope with stress better, pay less attention to your body, and not trigger a cascade of anxiety when something occurs.

I've helped many people permanently control their panic attacks with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Take the test now to find out more about what you need to do to completely stop your anxiety.

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Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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