Distraction Techniques for Panic Disorder

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People with panic disorder are typically faced with a range of difficult emotions, such as worry, anxiety, sadness, and embarrassment. Panic attacks, the main symptom of panic disorder, often occur with strong emotions, including fear, uneasiness, nervousness, and apprehension.

To cope with these challenging emotions, many panic sufferers turn to maladaptive behaviors. For example, to try and deal with these emotions, one may avoid certain situations or possibly try to mask these emotions through the use of alcohol. Unfortunately, maladaptive ways of coping only temporarily make the emotions go away, increase anxiety, and can have long-term negative effects.

Distraction techniques can help you manage the symptoms of panic attacks.

What Is a Distraction Technique?

A distraction technique is simply any activity that you engage in to redirect your mind off your current emotions. Instead of putting all your energy into the upsetting emotion, you reset your attention on something else. When you distract yourself, you are able to manage your string emotions by bringing your focus elsewhere.

Distraction techniques are often used along with other coping mechanisms. For instance, one your attention has shifted elsewhere and the intensity of your emotion has dissipated, it is then time to cope with this emotion in a healthy manner. Additional coping can then occur through strategies such as relaxation or self-help techniques.

How Can I Distract Myself From Panic Attacks?

When a panic attack occurs, you may feel overwhelmed by any perceived uncomfortable physical sensations of the attack. Common somatic complaints include shaking, rapid heart rate, chest pain, tingling or numbness, shortness of breath, and trembling. These physical sensations may lead to a greater sense of fear and anxiety, as the panic sufferer worries that she will lose control, embarrass herself, or even possibly face medical issues due to her symptoms.

The next time you experience a panic attack or intense anxiety, try to keep emotions in check by temporarily distracting yourself. The following is a list of some distraction techniques you may want to try when faced with overwhelming emotions:

Use Entertainment: If reading doesn’t work, you may want to try watching T.V. or a movie to set your mind on something else. Listening to music may help you feel calmer. Read something of interest, such as reading a book or flipping through an enjoyable magazine.

Count Your Breaths: Inhale and exhale, counting as one then inhale and exhale and count two, etc. Continue counting each cycle of breath until you reach 10. If you lose count, go ahead and start over from one.

Try Some Form of Physical Exercise: There are many different exercises that are beneficial to panic disorder. When string emotions take hold, try participating in some form of exercise. You may want to take walk outdoors, hit the gym, or stretch through a few yoga poses. If crunched for time, you can always try doing some jumping jacks or other easy and quick exercises.

Engage in a Relaxation Technique: Relaxation techniques such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), or mindfulness meditation can help you re-center and find a sense of calm. These activities can help divert your mind and let you refocus on more pleasant thoughts. Plus, it is difficult to feel anxious and upset when in a relaxed state of mind.

Participate in a Creative Pursuit: You may find that string emotions are lessened when you get your creative juices flowing. Some activities may include making art or crafts.

Write It Out: Writing exercises can be another powerful tool for distraction. Through journal writing, you may find that your emotional self is able to refocus and adjust to managing your emotions through the writing process.

Talk to a Loved One: To distract yourself, consider calling a friend or loved one. Be careful not to spend your time talking about the negative emotions you are feeling. Rather, ask your loved one about his life and notice how it distracts you from your upsetting emotions.

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Article Sources

  • Burns, D. D. (2006). When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life. New York: Random House.
  • Burns, D. D. (2008). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., and McKay, M. (2008). The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger. 
  • Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C. (1995). Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think. New York: The Guilford Press.