How to Get Through a Panic Attack

Verywell / Cindy Chung 

If you have panic attacks, you know they can be a frightening experience with after effects that can be extremely challenging to manage. However, by following the steps provided here, you may be able to find some relief and get back on track after panic strikes.

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?

Imagine that you're driving to work when you're suddenly overcome with feelings of dread and fear. Your heart feels as though it's pounding out of your chest and you have difficulty breathing. You become increasingly afraid as you begin shaking and sweating. You feel tingling, like "pins and needles," in your legs and hands and you start getting nauseous.

You think, "This can’t be happening to me." You almost get a sense that you're watching yourself from a distance, feeling completely disconnected from yourself and your surroundings. You pull over to the side of the road, fearing that you will lose control of your car or possibly pass out behind the wheel.

Just as quickly as your symptoms set in, you notice that these sensations are gradually subsiding. But even when you realize the panic attack has passed, you still feel on edge or keyed up. It takes you a minute to refocus and get back on the road. The rest of your day is marked by a sense of nervousness and apprehension.

These attacks can have an emotional, physical, and cognitive impact that may affect you long after the attack has diminished. After experiencing a panic attack, you may find it difficult to pull yourself back together.

How to Get Through a Panic Attack

While panic attacks are distressing and debilitating, there are things that you can do that will help you get through them and calm your body and mind down afterward. Some strategies that can help include:

Stop and Breathe

During a panic attack, you may experience shortness of breath that causes you to feel like you're not getting enough air or like you're suffocating or choking. Shortness of breath can also cause chest pain that's common with panic attacks. This terrifying experience can cause you to feel anxious for the rest of the day.

If you feel like you can't catch your breath during a panic attack, doing a deep breathing exercise may help.

  1. Once you notice that your symptoms are lessening, begin to breathe slowly and purposefully.
  2. Take a deep, smooth, even breath through your nose.
  3. Once you have taken in as much air as you can, hold your breath for a moment or two.
  4. Gradually exhale through your mouth until you feel as though there isn't any air left in your lungs.

Try repeating this pattern of inhaling slowly through your nose, briefly holding your breath, and exhaling slowly out of your mouth. By practicing deep breathing exercises throughout your day, you may be able to manage your anxiety more often, leading you to feel a greater sense of calm.

Use Positive Self-Talk

Panic attacks can leave you feeling worried, nervous, and afraid. When the attack is occurring, you may have fearful thoughts about losing control or even possibly dying from the attack. Once the attack begins to dissipate, you may feel embarrassed or down about your experience with panic. You may even begin to ​stress about when the next attack is going to occur.

Try using positive self-talk and affirmations to enhance your mood and gain a sense of control. When the panic attack is ending, remind yourself that it will be over soon and that it cannot hurt you. If thoughts of self-blame arise, try your best to forgive yourself, counteract the self-blame with affirmations, and move on with your day.

Think empowering thoughts and affirmations, such as repeating silently to yourself, “I am in control of my anxiety,” “This will pass,” “I am a worthwhile person with a lot of great qualities,” or “I am stronger than my panic attacks.”

Talk to a Loved One

It may be helpful to contact a loved one to talk things through. You don’t even need to tell your friend or family member that you just had a panic attack. Rather, you can call your loved one up to merely chitchat. You may find that simply talking to someone you trust will make you feel better as your panic attack symptoms decrease.

If no one is available or it’s impractical for you to contact someone after your panic attack, then try to consider what a trusted friend or family member would say to you. Think about how a supportive friend may tell you that you will get through your anxiety or that they are proud of you for handling your panic attack so well.

Focus on Something Else

After a panic attack, your personal thoughts and energy may be overly focused on your anxiety and other symptoms. Instead of feeding your anxiety with more attention or worry, try to concentrate on something that brings you some happiness or a sense of peace.

For example, you may find it helpful to bring your awareness to something fun you plan on doing in the future or to joyful times from your past. If possible, try taking a walk in the fresh air or engage in an activity you enjoy to help clear your mind.

Some distraction techniques that can be effective include counting breaths, watching television, reading a book, meditating, or a creative hobby.

A Word From Verywell

Panic attacks can be upsetting, but finding ways to cope and get through them can build your confidence and reduce your feelings of anxiety. Work on controlling your breathing, finding distractions, and utilizing the power of positive self-talk in order to deal with the immediate symptoms of a panic attack. Talking to a friend or a mental health professional can also be helpful.

If you or a loved one are struggling with panic attacks, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

6 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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  2. How can panic disorder be treated? American Psychological Association

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  4. Eagleson C, Hayes S, Mathews A, Perman G, Hirsch CR. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety DisorderBehav Res Ther. 2016;78:13-18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017

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  6. Hall CB, Lundh LG. Brief therapist-guided exposure treatment of panic attacks: a pilot studyBehav Modif. 2019;43(4):564-586. doi:10.1177/0145445518776472

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.