Between 1-2% of the population experience panic disorders every year in the United States. Panic attacks can happen to anyone and if you know how to deal with panic attacks when they happen, you won’t be caught off guard.
Read on for my guide on how to deal with a panic attack.
1. Recognize a Panic Attack for What It Is
While it may seem obvious, one of the most important things to do when you’re having a panic attack is to acknowledge what it is. I am having a panic attack.
You may be experiencing a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that mimic other conditions like a heart attack or a stroke. If you’re able to recognize that you are having neither of those, then you can begin to use coping mechanisms to calm yourself.
2. How to Deal With Panic Attacks in the Moment
The first thing you should do is get to a safe place. Your home, car, a quiet room, or another private place are just fine. If you have a loved one who has agreed to help you through a panic attack or an emotional support animal, find them and meet them in your safe place.
Once you’re safe, the best way to deal with a panic attack at the moment is to have a prepared checklist of coping tools to use. Perform each task one at a time until the panic attack has passed and repeat your list if needed. Here are some of the most common tools used.
A. Deep Breathing Exercises
Many panic attacks are accompanied by hyperventilating which can worsen other symptoms. Deep breathing is a great way to make sure you’re getting enough oxygen and to slow your heart rate.
Square breathing is a simple exercise where you breathe in for 4 seconds and then out for 4 seconds repeated 2 times. As you breathe, close your eyes and imagine that every 4 seconds you are drawing one side of a square until it closes.
You can repeat this or another deep-breathing exercise until you start to notice yourself calming.
B. Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness practices are a way to occupy your thoughts with reality so that your panicked thoughts are pushed away. There are many different mindfulness practices. One that is common is to identify what each of your 5 senses are experiencing in that exact moment.
What can you see right now? What do you hear? What can you smell in this spot? Do you taste anything? What can you physically feel right now (the ground is hard, my shirt is itchy, etc)?
Another practice is to count backward from 100 by increments of 7.
C. Sensory Exercises
A common practice used to treat panic attacks is to use your hands to rub from your shoulder down to your hand, using pressure. You can do the same with your legs starting at the hips and pushing your hands down to your feet.
Physically, this stimulates blood flow which delivers oxygen to your extremities. This can lessen the severity of the physical symptoms of a panic attack.
This practice also can be used to visualize yourself pushing the stress, anxiety, and fear out of your body.
Another common practice is to tightly hug yourself or ask a loved-one to tightly hug you for several seconds.
If any of these practices make your panic attack worse, discontinue them, and continue on to another coping tool.
3. How to Prepare for Potential Future Panic Attacks
Having a plan for future panic attacks is vital to your ability to survive them. If you are lacking any of the things listed above then arrange for them.
- Create a safe space in your home and workplace where you will go during an attack
- Identify a loved one who can provide support during or after an attack
- Get an emotional support animal
- Write down on a paper or on your phone the list of coping skills and tools you’ll use and in what order
You can talk to a therapist if you need help completing these tasks. And you can get an ESA letter that really works here.
Panic attacks can and may happen to everyone. The important thing is identifying how to deal with panic attacks so that if it happens to you, you’ll be okay.
Contact me today with your thoughts and questions.