7 Quick Tips for Coping with Your Panic Attacks

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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As many as 11% of people in the United States experience at least one panic attack per year. Yet, only 2–3% of US residents have a panic disorder diagnosis.

Panic disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder in which a person experiences intense, unpredictable and recurrent attacks of anxiety without any observable threat. People who struggle with symptoms like a racing heart, fast breathing, and full body tremors worry about the next time a panic attack will hit, often causing them to avoid any associated triggers. They last on average 10 to 15 minutes, and although they do not cause harm, they can decrease one’s quality of life.  

The following self-help guide references several steps to help you better manage your panic symptoms. The key is to become more aware of how your body stores stress in order to effectively reset the nervous system. These techniques empower you to stay ahead of the panic rather than the panic taking control of you. So keep reading for seven panic attack solutions and how to avoid having them in the first place.

1. Recognize What Is Happening

When you are misinformed about anxiety, you can easily mistake the intense somatic experience as something dangerous. If you are thinking you are having a heart attack, an asthma attack or are going into anaphylaxis, your anxiety will only intensify. Identifying and labeling your symptoms as a panic attack can be very helpful in coping with the distressing nature of the symptoms. Recognize that the symptoms are short-lived and the body just needs 10 or 15 minutes to reabsorb the adrenaline and other stress hormones that are coursing through you. 

2. Reduce the Stimulation Around You

It is not always obvious what triggers panic attacks. They come by surprise and when there is no immediate threat. One main reason is because panic attacks are a build up of various stressors over a period of time. Once your body has reached its maximum threshold, panic attacks are suddenly triggered with no apparent cause.  Essentially, your nervous system has gone into sensory overload. Your brain cannot process any more information and it responds in a life-threatening fashion.

Thus, it can be immediately helpful to reduce the stimulation around you. By shutting down your five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell – you can help ward off panic symptoms:

  • Close your eyes
  • Use a focus object
  • Go into a dark room or closet
  • Put in earplugs
  • Avoid your smartphone

3. Do Breathing Exercises

Countless studies have shown that slow and controlled breathwork is effective in reducing stress and improving mental health. Experts also recommend it as a method for alleviating panic attacks. Deep breathing is one of the most accessible coping skills to master. Take slow deep inhales through your nose and draw the oxygen deep into the abdomen for a count of 3. Pause. Then exhale slowly through pursed lips, allowing your body to release tension at a count of 6. This slow, methodical breath prevents hyperventilation, helps slow the heart rate, and promotes proper circulation. In turn, it sends a message to the brain that you are safe and do not need to trigger your nervous system to go into alarm mode. Close your eyes if you wish. Inhale and exhale slowly and rhythmically until your nervous system returns to normal.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Once you have slowed your breathing with the above exercises, you may benefit from daily mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is the state of being conscious of your surroundings. It can help you focus on the here and now, reducing stress. You can get started with the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Here’s how it works:

  • Find 5 objects in your environment and notice something unique about each one
  • Listen to 4 different sounds around you and consider where they came from
  • Touch 3 items in your vicinity and note their distinct textures and temperatures
  • Smell 2 different scents wafting by and consider where they originated from
  • Taste 1 flavor in your mouth and focus in on it

By the end of this process, you should feel more in touch with your surroundings. Do not focus on what has happened or will happen. Instead, calmly and non-judgmentally take in your surroundings.

5. Do Guided Imagery

Another excellent tool for relaxing during or after a panic attack is to close your eyes and visualize yourself in a place that brings you a sense of calm and peace. It could be a place you have already been or someplace in your imagination. Perhaps you see yourself relaxing in a garden oasis, on a beautiful beach, at a lakeside retreat, or in a tranquil meadow. Wherever your mind takes you, allow this moment of relaxation to be a time just for you, free of all distraction. Imagine how your peaceful setting looks, sounds, feels, smells, and tastes. Let it carry you to a place of safety and calm. You may also wish to call upon other desired feelings, like a stronger sense of confidence or motivation. Stay in this moment until your body and mind release itself from any remaining tension.

6. Relax Your Muscles

A panic attack takes a toll on your entire body. You may experience rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, chest pain, and muscle tension.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can be especially helpful with muscle tension and its accompanying symptoms. This technique isolates specific muscle groups, and through focused meditation, it helps you release physical tension one muscle at a time. The goal of PMR is to help your mind let go of stray thoughts in order to focus on your body achieving a full state of calm and relaxation. This practice benefits the mind and body in its entirety and, when practiced regularly, has lasting effects for overall wellness.

7. Try Panic Attack Prevention Strategies

The best way to deal with panic attacks is to learn how to prevent them from happening in the first place. This will take practice and patience but will be well worth your effort.

  • Learn your panic attack triggers
  • Reduce your consumption of substances like caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco products
  • Do regular physical activity or exercise
  • Eat a wholesome and balanced diet with regular meals to prevent blood sugar spikes
  • Incorporate relaxing activities to de-stress and relieve tension

In addition, continue practicing the coping skills mentioned above. Do deep breathing, mindfulness, calm visualizations, and muscle tension release daily. These techniques will help heighten your awareness of stress build up, reset your body closer to its baseline, and ward off the unexpected attacks. Finally, consider treatment for your underlying anxiety. A panic attack is not always a symptom of panic disorder. Regardless, panic disorder treatment can help reduce or even eliminate these distressing symptoms.

Get Treatment for Panic Attacks in New York City

These 7 helpful tips offer effective tools in managing and preventing panic attacks. However, evidence-based treatment can eliminate them entirely.

Are you tired of dealing with panic attacks? Advanced Behavioral Health LLP in NYC offers holistic treatment for panic disorder and panic attacks. Schedule your free 15-minute consultation to get started.

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