Coping With Panic Attacks: A Guide

Whether they are triggered by a stressful situation or the thought of a scary imagined scenario, all panic attacks share three key traits: they arise suddenly, instill a sense of intense fear, and trigger strong physical reactions. Although there may be no real danger present, it often feels very much like the opposite to the person experiencing it. Getting therapy for panic attacks can help.  You can also read this guide to learn the signs of a panic attack and strategies for coping with panic attacks.

 Signs of a panic attack include:

  • Sense of impending danger
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Headaches
  • Cramping
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Chest pain

Fortunately, there are several practical ways to reduce the severity of these episodes in the moment. Here are a few strategies for coping with panic attacks to calm both body and mind if you ever feel yourself experiencing one.

Acknowledge What Is Happening

Part of what makes panic attacks so terrifying is the unknown; not knowing what is happening to one’s body, why it’s happening, or when it will stop.  By telling yourself that you are having a panic attack, you are taking the control back in your body, providing meaning to your symptoms, and reminding your body that this feeling is only temporary. Say to yourself, “this is only a panic attack. I am safe. This will pass.”

Deep breathing

Deep breathing has been shown to help slow down one’s heart rate and decrease feelings of anxiety. Take deep breaths by breathing in through your nose for four seconds and breathing out through your mouth for another four seconds. Do this multiple times. For an added sensory experience, put one hand over your heart and one hand on your stomach, focusing on the steady, gently rising and falling caused by your breath.

Mind distractions

Occupying one’s mind with other, neutral things can be helpful during a panic attack because it shifts the attention away from one’s anxiety-provoking physical and emotions symptoms. Here are a few mind distraction techniques:

Pick a color and find every object around you that is that color. When you are done, pick another color. You can do this exercise with different shapes, too. Do this as many times as needed.
Close your eyes and imagine that you are in a safe place. What does that place look like? What objects are around you? What do those objects feel like? What sounds do hear hear in your safe place? What does your safe place smell like? Try to be as vivid as possible.
ABC’s – Name an animal, food, etc. that corresponds with each letter of the alphabet.

Like any coping strategy, it is helpful to practice them when you in a state of calm. The more that you practice them, the more naturally they will come to you when you actively need them.

While panic attacks can be terrifying experiences, they do not have to control your life. If you would like therapy for panic attacks, schedule an appointment to meet with one of our therapists who specializes in anxiety.