Panic attacks can be sudden and overpowering. They can affect anyone and may be caused by general anxiety, panic disorder, or depression.
Physical and emotional symptoms can occur during an attack, often at the same time. Physical symptoms include sweating, rapid breathing, nausea, and a racing heartbeat. Emotional symptoms include feelings of fear and intense, repetitive worrying.
In this article, we look at ways to stop panic attacks and reduce the risk of their occurrence. We also look at how to help someone having an attack and describe the outlook for the future.
Ways to stop a panic attack
Accepting and recognizing panic attacks is an important part of reducing their impact.
Below are 13 methods that can help to alleviate the symptoms of a panic attack.
1. Acceptance and recognition
A person may have experienced panic attacks in the past. During an attack, it can help to remember that they pass and cause no physical harm, though they are unpleasant. A person should acknowledge that the attack is a brief period of concentrated anxiety and that it will end.
If a person is experiencing an attack for the first time, it is advisable to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Some symptoms of panic attacks can indicate other events, such as heart attacks or strokes.
2. Deep breathing
Deep breathing can sometimes bring a panic attack under control. Rapid breathing can increase anxiety and tension, so instead taking long, slow breaths can help.
A person should breathe steadily, counting slowly to four while breathing in and to four when breathing out.
A feeling of tightness in the chest can cause a person to take short breaths during an attack. It is a good idea to breathe deeply from the abdomen, filling the lungs slowly and steadily.
3. Inhale lavender
Lavender essences have long been used to relieve anxiety and bring about a sense of calm relaxation. Inhaling the scent of lavender oil during a panic attack may help relieve some symptoms. A person can rub a small amount of oil onto their wrist or hand and inhale.
This oil is widely available online. Purchase it only from trusted retailers.
An individual should avoid lavender if they have recently taken a benzodiazepine medication. The two together can cause heightened drowsiness.
When a doctor prescribes a medication for use as needed, rather than as a regular dosage, the medicine is referred to as a PRN. These medications typically work fast.
Depending on the severity of panic attacks, a doctor may prescribe a PRN containing a benzodiazepine or a beta-blocker. Propranolol is a beta-blocker that slows a racing heartbeat and decreases blood pressure.
Benzodiazepines commonly prescribed for panic attacks include Valium and Xanax. This class of drugs can be highly addictive. The body may quickly develop a tolerance, and a higher dosage will soon be needed to achieve the same effect. People should use them sparingly.
5. Limit stimuli
Sights and sounds can often intensify a panic attack. If possible, find a more peaceful spot. This could mean leaving a busy room or moving to lean against a nearby wall.
Closing the eyes can make it easier to focus on breathing and other coping strategies.
6. Learn triggers
A person’s panic attacks may often be triggered by the same things, such as enclosed spaces, crowds, or problems with money. By learning to manage or avoid triggers, a person may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks.
7. Light exercise
Light exercise can help to stop panic attacks. Exercise releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve the mood.
Walking can help to produce endorphins, and it can also remove a person from a stressful environment. The rhythm of walking may also help a person to regulate their breathing.
8. Mindfulness exercises
Panic attacks can make people feel detached from reality. The intensity of anxiety can overtake other senses. Mindfulness can help to re-ground a person and direct their focus away from sources of stress.
Below is one example of a mindfulness exercise. Each step should be completed slowly and thoroughly:
- Look at five separate things, thinking about each for some time.
- Listen for four distinct sounds, and examine what is different about each one.
- Touch three objects. Consider the texture, temperature, and uses.
- Identify two different smells. Do they trigger any memories?
- Taste something. This could be a fingertip or a piece of candy.
9. Focus on an object
Concentrating on a nearby object can help a person stop a panic attack. A person who experiences attacks regularly may want to carry something for this purpose.
Focusing on one thing can reduce other stimuli. As a person looks at the item, they may want to think about how it feels, who made it and what shape it is. This can help to reduce the symptoms of a panic attack.
10. Try muscle relaxation techniques
Another symptom of a panic attack is muscle tension. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help to limit an attack. If the mind senses that the body is relaxing, other symptoms, such as rapid breathing, may also diminish.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular technique for coping with anxiety and panic attacks.
11. Picture a happy place
A person’s happy place should be somewhere they would feel the most relaxed. Every aspect of it should be pleasing.
When a panic attack begins, it can help to close the eyes and imagine being in such a place. Think of how calm it is there. Imagine bare feet touching the cool soil, hot sand, or soft rugs.
Thinking about a relaxing and calm environment can help a person to become relaxed and calm.
12. Repeat a mantra
A mantra is a word, phrase, or sound that helps with focus and provides strength. Internally repeating a mantra can help a person to come out of a panic attack.
The mantra can take the form of reassurance and may be as simple as, “This too shall pass.” Or, it may have a more spiritual meaning.
As a person focuses on gently repeating a mantra, their physical responses can slow, allowing them to regulate their breathing and relax muscles.
13. Tell people
If panic attacks frequently occur in the same environment, such as a workplace, it may be helpful to inform others and let them know what kind of support to offer.
If an attack happens in public, telling even one person can help. They may be able to locate a quiet spot and prevent others from crowding in.
Nine ways to reduce anxiety
Taking time to focus on what triggers anxiety can help to improve mental well-being.
Everyone can benefit from reducing the impact of anxiety. Diminishing general levels of anxiety will also help to prevent panic attacks.
The following strategies can help:
1. Visit the doctor
Some people avoid getting needed medical assistance because they worry that a doctor will think they are silly or petty if they report anxiety. If anxiety regularly impacts a person’s life, they should contact a doctor.
Regularly meditating is a great way to relieve stress, promote peacefulness, and regulate breathing.
3. Breathing exercises
The rapid, shallow breathing often associated with panic attacks is called hyperventilating. Learning to breathe more slowly and deeply can help to combat the effects of hyperventilation.
4. Regular aerobic exercise
Regular aerobic exercise can promote deeper sleep, get rid of built-up tension, and produce endorphins, which make us happier and more relaxed.
5. Identify changeable triggers
Many factors can cause anxiety, and they vary from person to person. If possible, identify the things that cause panic attacks and work to avoid or alter these triggers.
6. Healthier lifestyle
Keeping the body in balance is a great way to lessen the impact of anxiety. The following strategies can help:
- avoiding or reducing smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
- following a healthful diet
- getting a good night’s sleep
- staying hydrated
7. Herbal remedies
People have used herbs to treat anxiety and depression throughout history. Some of the most popular herbal remedies are available to purchase online, including kava extract, passiflora, and valerian.
Results of studies have been varied, but research into the effects of herbal remedies is ongoing. Speak to a doctor before taking this type of remedy.
8. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT can give someone tools to reduce stress and avoid anxious thinking. It may be an effective treatment method for panic attacks.
9. Learning what works
Meditation may work well for one person, while exercise is better for another. Try different strategies and see what works best.
What to do when someone is having a panic attack
Knowing how to help someone when they are having a panic attack can make a difficult situation much easier to manage.
Here are some tips on how to help a person having a panic attack:
- Remain calm.
- Make sure that the person has enough space around them.
- Suggest moving to a quiet spot nearby.
- Remind the person that panic attacks always end.
- Help them to control their breathing.
- Avoid asking too many questions, and do not validate any negative statements.
- Never tell someone to calm down or say that there is nothing to worry about.
- Stay with them. If they insist that they need to be alone, make sure that they remain visible.
When to seek help
Panic attacks can be frightening and disorienting, especially the first time. Symptoms can be similar to those of other health conditions.
Seek medical advice if:
- a panic attack lasts longer than usual — most last between 5 and 20 minutes
- a panic attack is noticeably worse than usual
- panic attacks are inhibiting a person’s life, possibly by stopping them from working or socializing.
Seek emergency treatment if a stroke or heart attack is suspected.
Many tools can help a person to manage their panic attacks, from medical and psychological support to advice about nutrition and a healthier lifestyle.
It is essential to seek help, try different strategies, and be realistic about outcomes. It is unlikely that panic attacks will disappear overnight, but it is possible to limit their impact over time.
Every day, more information becomes available for people who want to feel less stress, become healthier, and be kinder to themselves.