How to Stop a Panic Attack

Janis

By Janis | Updated January 8, 2024

Panic attacks can be both physically and emotionally overwhelming experiences, leaving individuals feeling trapped by intense fear and anxiety. These sudden and severe episodes can strike without warning.

Coping with panic attacks can be challenging, but it is essential to remember that you are not alone in this struggle. 

This article is here to provide valuable insights, strategies, and techniques on how to stop a panic attack, regain control, and find relief when you need it most.

Understanding the triggers, symptoms, and coping mechanisms for panic attacks is crucial, as it empowers individuals to take proactive steps in managing these distressing episodes. 

By learning how to stop a panic attack, you can take a significant step toward living a life less dominated by fear and more enriched with serenity and self-assurance.

What Is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of extreme anxiety and fear.

It typically comes on without warning and can last for a brief but distressing period, often peaking within minutes which can be very frightening and may make you feel like you’re losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying.

During a panic attack, individuals may experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms, which can be severe and debilitating.

They can be overwhelming and make it difficult for you to regain control of your thoughts and emotions.

Causes of Panic Attacks

While panic attacks can arise unexpectedly, understanding their root causes, which range from genetic factors to environmental triggers, can aid in prevention and management.

Stress

Stress activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, releasing a surge of adrenaline. This heightened state prepares the body to face threats, but chronic exposure to stress can misfire, leading to panic attacks.

Over time, persistent stress may sensitize the brain’s fear response, making individuals more susceptible to exaggerated reactions and potential panic episodes.

Triggers

Triggers are specific situations that evoke panic responses. Identifying these triggers helps in managing and potentially avoiding panic attacks.

Common triggers include crowded places, driving, or public speaking.

Fear of the Unknown

Anxiety disorders involve excessive, persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Overactivation of the brain’s fear centers can lead to hyperarousal, predisposing individuals to panic attacks.

With this heightened state of alertness, the body can misinterpret minor stressors as significant threats, triggering intense episodes of panic.

Identifying a Panic Attack

Panic attacks manifest through various physical and emotional symptoms. Recognizing these signs is crucial to addressing the panic attack effectively.

Breathing Challenges

One of the hallmark symptoms of a panic attack is the sudden onset of breathing difficulties. People experiencing a panic attack may feel as though they can’t catch their breath or that the air around them is thin. 

This sensation often leads to rapid and shallow breathing, which can exacerbate the panic attack itself. 

Chest Pain and Discomfort

Chest pain is a frightening symptom that many experience during a panic attack resulting from muscle tension, heightened arousal, or hyperventilation. 

It often feels like a sharp, stabbing sensation, leading individuals to fear a heart attack. However, panic-induced chest pain is typically the result of muscle tension, not a cardiac issue. 

Excessive Sweating

Profuse sweating, often accompanied by cold, clammy hands, is another common sign of a panic attack. 

This excessive perspiration is a result of the body’s “fight or flight” response, which increases sweating to cool the body in anticipation of physical exertion.

Involuntary Shaking

Trembling or uncontrollable shaking is a common physical symptom of a panic attack. The body’s fight-or-flight response can trigger muscle tension and shivering, often in the hands and legs. 

This trembling can be distressing, but understanding that it’s a natural response to the perceived threat of a panic attack can help individuals cope with this symptom more effectively.

Pounding Heart

Palpitations, or unusually strong or rapid heartbeats, are common during panic attacks due to the release of stress hormones like adrenaline. This hormone prepares the body to respond to perceived threats.

The heightened state of arousal causes the heart to pump faster, leading to the sensation of palpitations in the chest.

Dizziness

Dizziness during a panic attack often stems from hyperventilation, a rapid and shallow breathing pattern. This disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to lightheadedness.

Additionally, the body’s heightened state of arousal can divert blood flow from the brain, further contributing to feelings of dizziness.

Chills and Hot Flashes

Chills and hot flashes during a panic attack can be a consequence of the body’s acute stress response. As adrenaline floods the system, it can cause rapid changes in body temperature, leading to sensations of coldness or hot flashes.

The onset of anxiety and fear can also alter body perception, making individuals more sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

Dark Thoughts

During a panic attack, the brain’s fear centers become hyperactive, leading to overwhelming feelings of dread and unease due to the other symptoms experienced. This heightened state of anxiety can skew thought patterns towards negative or dark themes.

Additionally, the intense vulnerability felt during an attack might magnify existing worries, pushing some to contemplate worst-case scenarios or distressing thoughts.

How to Stop a Panic Attack

Stopping a panic attack requires a combination of immediate coping techniques and longer-term strategies.

Understanding and harnessing these methods can empower individuals to regain control, alleviate symptoms, and navigate these intense moments of fear more effectively.

Realize You’re Having a Panic Attack

The first step in effectively managing a panic attack is to recognize its onset. Familiarize yourself with the common symptoms, shut your eyes to eliminate possible triggers, and focus on calming techniques.

Awareness of these early signs allows you to take action promptly. Pay attention to your body and mind, and when you notice these indicators, remind yourself that it might be a panic attack. 

Use Your Senses

‘Grounding techniques’ are methods utilized to veer away from the episode and are effective for reorienting yourself during a panic attack. 

One method is the 5-4-3-2-1 mental grounding technique. This method entails identifying five (5) visible items, four (4) objects you can touch, three (3) audible elements you currently hear, two (2) scents you can detect, and one (1) thing you can taste.

This helps bring your focus back to the present moment and away from the overwhelming sensations of panic.

Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a valuable tool for managing panic attacks.

It helps regulate your heart rate and oxygen intake, reducing the intensity of panic symptoms. 

Practice taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose, holding for a count of four, and then exhaling slowly through your mouth.

Focusing on your breath can redirect your attention away from anxiety-inducing thoughts and provide a calming effect, making it an effective technique for dealing with panic attacks.

Redirect Focus

One technique to ground yourself during a panic attack is to find a specific object in your immediate surroundings and focus on it. It could be a picture on the wall, a book, or even a small item in your pocket. 

Concentrate on the details of the object – its colors, texture, and shape. This can divert your attention away from the panic and bring your awareness back to the present moment, helping to reduce the intensity of the attack. 

Finding a focus object can be particularly useful when you’re in a public place or don’t have access to other grounding techniques.

Light Activity to Calm Down

Light physical activity, such as going for a short walk or doing some gentle stretching exercises, can be an effective way to manage panic attacks. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters, and it also promotes relaxation. 

Engaging in light exercise helps reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, like muscle tension and a racing heart. 

Take Medications

In some cases, medication prescribed by a healthcare professional may be necessary to manage severe panic attacks or panic disorders. 

These medications can include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or benzodiazepines. However, they should only be taken under medical supervision, and it’s essential to discuss potential side effects and long-term use with your healthcare provider. 

Medication is typically considered when other methods and lifestyle changes have not provided sufficient relief.

How to Prevent Future Panic Attacks

Preventing future panic attacks involves understanding triggers, building resilience, and adopting proactive strategies. By consistently integrating these practices into your daily life, you can reduce the frequency and severity of panic episodes.

Create a Prevention Plan

Having a plan in place provides a roadmap to navigate the onset of potential panic symptoms. 

This preparedness instills a sense of control, reducing the fear of the unknown.

Familiarizing yourself with coping techniques and ensuring accessibility to supportive resources can also defuse anxiety, warding off full-blown panic episodes.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care routines bolster mental and emotional well-being, creating a buffer against stressors that might trigger panic attacks. Activities like meditation, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet foster a stable foundation.

Furthermore, dedicating time for relaxation and activities one enjoys can recharge the mind, diminishing vulnerabilities to anxiety peaks.

Stick to a Routine

A consistent routine offers predictability and structure, reducing uncertainties that can exacerbate anxiety. Knowing what to expect in your day can diminish the stress of unpredictability.

Routines also often incorporate habits that promote well-being, ensuring that self-care and grounding practices are consistently integrated, further shielding against potential panic triggers.

Seek Support

Seeking support provides a safe space to express feelings, share experiences, and gain coping strategies. The validation and understanding from others can alleviate feelings of isolation.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It is essential to know when to seek help from a healthcare provider. If panic attack symptoms persist or worsen, it’s crucial to consult a doctor. 

They can perform blood tests and other necessary evaluations to rule out any underlying conditions that might be causing your symptoms.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Heart attacks and panic attacks can exhibit similar symptoms, such as chest pain, palpitations, and shortness of breath, leading to misidentification. 

The sudden and intense nature of both episodes can further muddle distinctions.

While panic attacks primarily involve emotional distress, heart attacks are physical events, but their overlapping signs can cause confusion. If you experience signs that resemble a heart attack, contact your medical professional immediately.

Substance Use

Your doctor can also evaluate any substance use that could be contributing to panic attacks. They may offer guidance for reducing use or addressing any side effects from medications you’re taking.

Remember to consult your healthcare provider to discuss the most suitable treatment options for your panic attacks. With their help and guidance, you can work towards managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get through a panic attack alone?

When experiencing a panic attack alone, focus on your breath. Take deep, slow breaths in and exhale through pursed lips.

Remind yourself that the feelings will pass, and try grounding techniques like feeling objects around you or naming items you see in the room.

What are effective ways to stop panic attacks?

Deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and finding a focus object are valuable methods to regain control during an episode. 

Additionally, seeking professional help, such as therapy and medication, can provide long-term support and management for individuals who experience recurrent panic attacks. 

What works best may vary from person to person, so it’s essential to explore different strategies and consult with a healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

How do I prevent a panic attack before it happens?

Stopping a panic attack before it happens requires awareness of your triggers and early signs of anxiety.

Practicing relaxation techniques regularly, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, and seeking therapy or counseling can help you manage and prevent panic attacks.

What causes panic attacks?

Panic attacks can result from various factors, such as stress, physical or emotional trauma, environmental triggers, and other mental health conditions.

Identifying your triggers and understanding the factors contributing to your panic attacks can help with coping and prevention.

How do I stop a panic attack in front of a crowd?

If you experience a panic attack during a presentation or while you’re in front of a crowd, pause, take a few deep breaths, and reconnect with your environment.

Focus on your message and the audience to redirect your attention away from the anxiety. Remember to speak slowly and maintain a steady pace.

How do I help someone having a panic attack?

To help someone with a panic attack, ensure they are in a safe space. Remain calm, offer reassurance, and encourage them to focus on their breathing.

Remain with them until the panic attack subsides, and seek professional assistance if necessary.