To stop a panic attack now, you need to first know that you are having one. Here are a few of the most common symptoms of panic.
- Shortness of breath
- A fast beating heart (some say they can hear beating)
- Tightness in the chest
- Sweating or chills, trembling
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Blurred vision
- Numbness, tingling
- A sense of losing touch with reality or going crazy
- A sense of terror, fear you might die.
You don’t have to have all of these symptoms to experience the sheer terror of a panic, and on top of feeling petrified and disoriented, it can be hard to know what is happening, and more importantly, what you should do.
Here are 6 key strategies to stop a panic attack now.
1. Rule out Heart Attack and need for emergency medical care: Seriously, could you be having a heart attack? One of the most common fears people have when they experience panic symptoms is the fear of dying – specifically of a heart attack. This is NOT a fear to dismiss, since there are so many overlapping symptoms.
According to the American Heart Association, these top symptoms of a heart attack can come on suddenly or slowly:
- Chest pain or pressure that radiates throughout your chest and upper body.
- Discomfort or pain in other areas, such as one or both arms, the neck, jaw, back, or stomach
- Shortness of breath (in women with or without chest discomfort) lightheadedness, nausea, or sweating
- Abdominal discomfort that may feel like heartburn
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and believe you could be having a heart attack, you should call 911 or have someone take you to the ER immediately.
2. Get safe: If you have ruled out the possibility of a heart attack, note that you are safe; this is simply your body experiencing terror. Find a safe place to be – the floor, your bed, the bathroom – and if possible, go there. If you are in public, find a place to sit or lie down.
3. Notice your feelings without fighting them: Panic is fueled by fear – not just the fear of whatever has triggered you, but the fear of your fear response itself. This anxiety about your experience is called secondary anxiety, and it can be a powerful escalator of emotions, including anxiety itself. The more you resist your anxiety, the more anxiety you will feel, and the opposite is true as well: the less you resist your anxiety, the less anxiety you will feel. Sure, anxiety is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to be scary. You can handle this, and believing this will help you deescalate your panic symptoms.
4. Observe the present, rather than focusing on the future, where your anxious thoughts most likely are. Grounding techniques help bring your attention to the present moment rather than the racing thoughts of your mind. It is hard to escalate anxiety when you are actively focused on the present moment. A popular exercise is the 54321 “game”
- Name 5 things you can see around you now, and describe them.
- Name 4 things you can feel with your body
- Name 3 things you can hear right now
- Name 2 things you can smell, or enjoy smelling
- Name 1 good thing about yourself
5. Take control of your breathing if you can. Now that you are safe, your parasympathetic system needs to take control of your stress response to calm it down. Deep, slow belly breathing is one of the most powerful ways we can take control of our stress response and calm the autonomic nervous system. Breathe in through your nose on a count of 5, hold for 1-2 counts, and breathe out through your mouth on a count of 5. Aim for no more than 8 breaths per minute.
6. Be patient: While the acute phase of panic generally doesn’t last more than a few minutes, it can take longer for your body to fully recover from a panic attack. Everyone’s experience of panic is slightly different – the most important thing is to be patient with yourself and your anxiety as you wait for your symptoms to pass.
Just like storms, panic attacks always pass. The trick is to learn how to predict them, the best strategies to weather them, and what you can do to stop them.