How to Stop a Panic Attack

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Panic attacks can be extremely difficult to deal with. They typically come on suddenly, bringing on escalating feelings of dread and anxiety. Many people with panic attacks may also have bothersome physical symptoms, such as shaking, rapid heart rate, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain.

Although not life-threatening, panic attacks can be frightening, disorienting, and mentally and physically exhausting. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can use to try to stop them—or at least lessen their effect.

Let Panic Run Its Course

During a panic attack, you may experience feelings of depersonalization and derealization, in which you feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. You may become fearful that you are "going crazy,” losing all ​control, or having a stroke or heart attack.

When you're going through a panic attack, it can be difficult to focus on anything else but your symptoms. You may try to push away your upsetting thoughts and physical sensations, but resisting your panic attacks can actually intensify your anxiety. You may also fear your attacks because you don’t understand them.

The next time a panic attack takes hold and those feelings of dread set in, try to surrender to your symptoms and allow the attack to run its course. Remind yourself that your symptoms cannot hurt you and know that it will soon pass.

Take Deep Breaths

Hyperventilating and shortness of breath are symptoms of panic attacks that can make your feelings of anxiety worse. Learning to breathe deeply and slowly is essential in controlling your panic attacks and reducing your fear.

When panic attack symptoms start to escalate, try to focus on your breath. It can help to put your hand on your abdomen and feel it rise each time you inhale and fall when you exhale all the air out.

Taking slow, deliberate breaths will help you calm down and bring your awareness to your breathing instead of your symptoms.

Relax Your Muscles

When you're experiencing a panic attack, your muscles tense up as you prepare to go into "fight or flight" mode. Letting go of tension throughout your body can really help you remain calm during a panic attack.

While using a deep breathing technique, mentally scan yourself. Bring awareness to every part of your body, noticing any tension, and intentionally relax that area. For instance, maybe your shoulders have migrated up to your ears. Try rolling your shoulders to loosen them up. If your jaw is clenched, touch the tip of your tongue to your front teeth and lower your jaw.

Continue to go through each muscle group, making your way down to your center, your arms, hands, legs, and feet. When you are finished, take a few breaths and repeat, this time starting at your feet and making your way back up to the crown of your head, releasing deeper with each breath.

Distract Yourself

If you're feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, try distracting yourself. You might, for instance, call a friend or loved one. Changing your environment can also put you in a better headspace. Find another room to be in or go for a quick walk while focusing on your breathing.

Mental distractions such as counting can also help you escape your panic symptoms. You might try counting from one to 10 out of order. You can also combine your counting with your breathing exercise. Start by counting "one" on the inhale, "two" on the exhale, "three" on the inhale, and so on. You can even try something a bit more challenging, like counting backward from 100 by threes.

Try a Mantra

You can also shift your focus by repeating positive affirmations to yourself. During a panic attack, you may think to yourself, “I’m scared,” “I can’t get through this,” or “People probably think I’m insane.”

Replace these types of thoughts with more encouraging statements. Try to repeat to yourself affirmations like “I am safe,” “I will get through this,” or “I am strong.”

Follow Your Treatment Plan

If you have been experiencing persistent panic attacks, make sure you discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Panic attacks are rarely associated with a serious health issue, but your clinician will be able to rule out the possibility of different mental health and medical conditions.

Depending on your symptoms and needs, your treatment plan may include prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Your doctor will be able to assist you in using effective ways to cope with your panic attacks.

Take Care of Yourself

You may need to make some lifestyle changes to lower your overall feelings of stress and anxiety. Take time for self-care by participating in activities that bring you a sense of balance, relaxation, and well-being.

For example, regular exercise has been found to help lower stress and anxiety levels. You may want to consider a variety of activities you can participate in to boost your physical self-care, such as walking, dancing, or biking.

Also, consider other areas of life that you can incorporate into your self-care routine, such as hobbies, nutrition, or spirituality. Adding relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, to your daily routine can also help you reduce your anxiety. Plus, by practicing these techniques even when you're not feeling anxious, you will be better prepared to use them when panic strikes.

Tending to your needs and nurturing your sense of wellness can help you be better equipped to deal with your panic and anxiety symptoms.

Track Your Progress

When you have started to work on managing your panic attacks, it can be beneficial to start tracking your progress. This can be done through the use of a panic diary, personal journal, or mood and anxiety chart.

Write down potential triggers, successes, and setbacks. Keeping a record of your progress can help you determine what has been working for you and where there may be more potential for growth.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.