How to Manage Panic Attacks With Meditation

woman meditating

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Anyone who has had a panic attack will tell you that one of the most awful aspects of the experience is how trapped you feel. As the waves of panic wash over you, it can feel as though there is no way to make the feelings go away—that there is no relief in sight. You wonder if you’ll ever feel normal or in control again.

All panic attacks end eventually, and to some extent, you just have to ride out the waves of your panic attack until it’s over. But there are ways to manage panic attacks, so they resolve sooner, and even ways to stop panic attacks from happening in the first place.

One of the most powerful methods for coping with panic attacks is meditation. Numerous studies have shown that meditation can decrease anxiety and stress symptoms.

Rest assured, you don’t have to be a meditation “expert” to reap the benefits. Research from 2018 found that people with anxiety can begin to find relief even after a one-hour introductory meditation session.

Let’s look at how meditation can help with panic attacks and some simple ideas for getting started with panic attack meditations.

Signs of a Panic Attack

About one in every 75 people has panic disorder, and almost all of us have experienced a panic attack at one time or another, often during a time of intense life stress. One of the most frightening things about a panic attack is that it often feels like it comes out of nowhere. People who experience panic attacks may feel completely fine one minute and then an intense feeling of panic the next.

Panic attacks are experienced differently by different people, but the defining symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Labored breathing
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Panicked, racing thoughts
  • Feeling like you are going to die
  • Feeling an impending sense of doom or terror
  • Feeling like you are “going crazy”
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Feeling nauseous or dizzy
  • Stomach aches and other digestive upsets

How Meditation Can Help With Panic Attacks

Many of the symptoms of panic attacks—racing heartbeat, fast breathing, feelings of terror—can be attributed to the “fight or flight” response that is triggered as a panic attack begins. During fight or flight, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released, tricking your body into thinking that you are in danger, even if you aren’t.

Meditation, on the other hand, can trigger the body’s relaxation response. Meditation techniques such as breathing, mindfulness, visualization, and grounding your body in the present moment, all work to tell your body that you are safe now. This helps quiet down the flight or flight response.

Meditation can be used preventatively, as part of your daily wellness routine, to decrease the amount of stress in your life, and make panic attacks less likely to happen in the first place. But meditation is also a powerful tool to help you manage your panic attacks as they are happening when you are looking for the most relief.

Meditation Ideas for Panic Attacks

Many of us think that meditation is something we are incapable of doing. “How can I quiet my mind when my thoughts are spinning out of control?” we may ask ourselves.

It’s important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to meditate and that anyone can do it. In essence, meditation uses techniques to become aware of what is happening in your body and mind. Simply recognizing that you are having a panic attack and what sensations you are experiencing in your body as you are having a panic attack is a significant first step.

As you try these panic attack meditation techniques, keep in mind that they might not make your panic attack go away immediately. Panic attack meditations can help you cope with your symptoms a little more easily and help you wind down from the panic attack more quickly. Remember, it can take a little while for the fight-or-flight response to quiet down.

Here are some panic attack meditations and meditation techniques you can use when you are in the middle of a panic attack:

Five Senses Meditation

One of the things that happens when you have a panic attack is that you become overwhelmed by the thoughts that seem to race through your mind. You may often feel detached from your body, and some people feel as though they have no control over what is happening in their body and mind.

Grounding yourself in your somatic senses is a great technique for de-escalating the symptoms of a panic attack. Here's how:

  • Find a place to sit or lie down
  • Go through each of the five senses (touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing) and identify each one in the present moment
  • As you identify each sense, concentrate on that sensation for a minute or two
  • For example, ask yourself what you are touching right now, or what your body is resting on, and then concentrate on that sensation before moving on to the next sense (smell, taste, sight, hearing)

Breathing Meditation

During a panic attack, our breathing can become tight and shallow. We may even find it difficult to catch our breath. Slowing down our breathing and becoming more mindful of it is a great way to counter the feelings of panic and begin to induce the relaxation response.

While you are in the middle of a panic attack, you might feel that it’s impossible to slow your breathing, and that’s okay. Even just trying a little can help!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Mindful Breathing

Lie down and place your hands on your chest. Don’t try to control your breathing in any way. Just notice the rise and fall of your breath against the palms of your hands.

Lengthening Your Exhales

Take as deep a breath in as you can, but concentrate on your exhales, making an “O” with your mouth and then exhaling as much breath out as you can.

Square Breathing

Inhale for a count of four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and then hold the breath for another four seconds.

Belly Breathing

Lie or sit down in a comfortable spot. Place your hand on your belly and inhale deeply until your belly expands with your breath. Next, exhale from the bottom of your belly, all the way out of your mouth, until your breath is released.

Body Scan Meditation

Awareness of what is happening in your body during a panic attack can help you move through it faster and cope with what is happening. Doing a full body scan can help you become more mindful of your body during a panic attack and also help you redirect your thoughts.

Body scans can help when you are in the middle of a panic episode and is also a wonderful meditation to practice on a daily basis. Research has shown that doing regular body scans can have a positive overall reduction in stress and can decrease your body’s cortisol levels.

How to Do a Body Scan Meditation

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable spot, and close your eyes.
  • Starting with your toes, move up through your legs, thighs, belly, chest, back, arms, neck, and face.
  • Rest your attention on each part of your body. Visualize it in your mind, and then consider how it feels. Does it feel tight, relaxed, hot, cold, tingly?
  • Don’t judge each sensation, just observe it.
  • Do this as you move through each part of your body until you finally get to your face and head.

Walking Meditation

Sometimes panic attacks make you feel as though you can’t sit still, and that’s understandable. If you can, sometimes going out for a walk is one of the best ways to unwind from a panic attack. You can even do what is referred to as a “walking meditation.”

How to Do a Walking Meditation

  • In a walking meditation, rather than focusing on your breath or your body sensations, you focus on the steps you are taking.
  • As you put one foot before another, you observe how that feels, its rhythm, and the sensation of your feet tapping the ground.
  • You can also observe the sounds around you and the smells and sights that you see as you walk.

Guided Meditations

Many of us feel a little lost when we start meditating and find it helpful to have a voice guiding us in our efforts. These days, you don’t even need to leave your home to partake in guided meditation.

You can connect to a meditation app, plug in your headphones, and start. Many meditation apps even have meditations that are specifically geared to people who are in the middle of a panic attack. These can be immensely helpful and can feel like a lifeline for people who experience regular panic attacks.

Some meditation apps with panic or anxiety-related meditations include:

Mantra Meditation

A mantra is a word or phrase that is chanted or sung. A common example of mantra meditation is when a yoga instructor leads participants in a chant of the word om at the end of a class.

You can create your own mantra by choosing a word or phrase that is meaningful to you. Find a quiet place to sit with your eyes closed, and focus on the word or phrase as you chant or sing it out loud. Mantra meditation is linked with improving focus, reducing stress, and helping people manage unwanted thoughts.

The act of chanting or singing may help to ground you in the present moment when you're having a panic attack.

You may also try using positive affirmations. Similar to a mantra, a positive affirmation is a phrase that you repeat to yourself in response to anxious or negative thoughts. If you find your thoughts are racing during a panic attack, having a go-to positive affirmation can help to slow them down.

During a panic attack you might be thinking, "I feel out of control," or "I'm scared." A positive affirmation in response to these nervous thoughts might be, "I am grounded and safe," or "This is just my anxiety talking—I know I'll be OK soon."

Repeating positive affirmations to yourself silently or out loud can help to disrupt the stream of negative thoughts you're experiencing and lessen your anxiety.

A Word From Verywell

Meditation is an impactful way to manage panic attacks, either when you are in the middle of one, or as a way to reduce your stress levels and make them less likely to happen in the first place. However, it’s important to recognize that meditation is just one way to help you manage your panic and anxiety.

Often, people who experience panic attacks need more than one tool to help them. Besides meditation, therapy and medication are very useful tools to help combat panic attacks. Often, therapy and medication can be used successfully in conjunction with meditation.

Most of all, remember that there is hope for you if you experience panic attacks. It’s possible for you to live a more peaceful, balanced, and less panicked life.

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7 Sources
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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