telephone: 202-969-2277         email: alicia@aliciaclarkpsyd.com         address: 1350 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036

How To Stop A Panic Attack Now

stop a panic attack now

To stop a panic attack now, you need to first know that you are having one. Sometimes referred to as an anxiety attack, a panic attack is a distinct physical form of intense anxiety.

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.

 

For more help with panic and anxiety, check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety:Making Anxiety Work for You In Life, Love, and All That You Do (debuted as #1 Amazon New Release), register for my free mini-ecourse by signing up for book bonuses, or check-out my anxiety blog.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

12 Comments

  1. Jack on July 8, 2017 at 4:38 am

    My wife suffers from anxiety for almost 3 months.I currently have a pit in my stomach that is very nauseous feeling .From my worry i think .I have been up all night again worrying about all this

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on September 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

      Hi Jack,

      Anxiety can be so tough to manage and tolerate, especially when someone we love is suffering. It can sometimes feel like we share their experience (and some science says we do). I hope you are gaining more awareness and control of your anxiety and are resisting the urge to panic about your feelings.

      Please feel free to access whatever resources on my site might be useful to you, and reach out directly if I can be of further help. Best, Alicia

  2. Ursula on March 20, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Thanks so much for this. I just found this page as I was having a panic attack and I really liked the 54321 game, it helped, plus the breathing. I feel calmer now. It also helps to read about others’ experiences. I really related to Jack’s ‘pit’ in his stomach. With me, it’s either a cold, heavy, doomy feeling in the pit of my stomach or a fluttering, rising feeling in my chest flying up towards my throat.

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on March 22, 2018 at 10:05 am

      Hi Ursula,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad to hear the 54321 game was helpful as well as breathing. Calming the breath is one of the most effective ways to trigger the part of our brain that signals things are ok. And even if it feels like things aren’t, when it comes to panic, our body simply thinks things are more dangerous than they actually are. Knowing what is happening and that you have choices is one of the most powerful ways you can tolerate panic when it flares, and take control of what you can to calm yourself.

      Hoping your panic attacks continue to become more manageable.

      All the best,
      Alicia

  3. Kairi Gainsborough on May 17, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks for the advice on how to stop a panic attack. My husband gets them from time to time, and I want to be able to help. The 54321 “game” sounds like an interesting way to clam your thoughts down. I would love to find some more idea like this. Maybe I can look around online for more material about anxiety.

  4. Kenneth A Harris on August 2, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    Mine only happens usually when I drive any suggestions.

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on August 13, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Kenneth,
      Not sure exactly what to suggest beyond trying to get clearer on what about driving frightens and triggers you… Additionally, I would suggest monitoring your secondary anxiety about driving – your fear that you will panic. Here is an article I wrote that might help. https://aliciaclarkpsyd.com/anxiety-about-anxiety-every-worrier-know/
      All my best,
      Alicia

  5. Rachel on February 3, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    I have panic attacks a lot and 54321 is starting to not work anymore. I’m in 10th grade and I get a lot in class. I got raped in the summer and when i’m with my current boyfriend I get a lot of these flash backs and I just really want to forget about everything. I takes over me and I don’t know what to do anymore.

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on February 4, 2019 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing your story. It sounds like you are experiencing a great deal of anxiety and managing it is getting more difficult. I’m sorry to hear the 54321 isn’t working as well as it used to. sometimes anxiety is simply not willing to take a back seat, and really wants to be understood. From what you shared, it sounds like you are processing a lot of scary thoughts and emotions related to your rape this past summer. I’m so sorry to learn this happened to you.

      You may consider asking your school counselor, or parents to help you find a counselor or psychologist, who can help you learn more anxiety management tools. It may also be helpful to have some professional assistance in processing the trauma that is getting triggered.

      You may also want to check out my book on managing anxiety, Hack Your Anxiety, which includes a chapter on soothing techniques as well as a complete toolkit at the end that helps walk you through managing anxiety.

      If I can help in any further way, please let me know.

      All my best,

      Alicia

  6. Rachel on February 11, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I will check out the book for sure! You’re really amazing for helping us all out. Thank you so much

  7. Jalynn on May 24, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    hi, i’m 16 years old and i suffer from severe anxiety & panic attacks. the 54321 thing helps me so much. i also like to repeat “smell in the sunflowers, blow out the candles” the quote itself said roses, but i love sunflowers, so it’s calming to say that. i have panic attacks, a lot, sometimes way too often. i have this bookmarked and i want you to know i thank you everyday for this. so thank you.

    • Alicia H. Clark, PsyD on May 26, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      Dear Jalynn,
      Gosh, thanks so much for taking the time to post, and let me know how helpful this is, especially the 54321. I’m so glad to hear you are getting control of your panic, even though it is happening far too often than you’d like. Keep up the good work, and know that panic — as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it is — will never own you.
      Keep up the great work!
      Alicia

Leave a Comment