If You Are Having A Panic Attack, Here Are 8 Things To Do in The Moment
While it might be an obvious thing to say, having a panic attack is terrifying. They can pop up out of nowhere, and make you feel like this are crumbling around you. If you experience this, know first of all that you are not alone. And one thing to do as a helpful way of coping is to have a toolbox of things to do during a panic attack as it arises.
As Carrie Krawiec, LMFT at Birmingham Maple Clinic tells Bustle, panic attacks can be triggered by a combination of things like stress, physiological symptoms, or a traumatic experience that caused our body to trip its natural flight or fight response. Certain medical conditions and or medications can also trigger panic.
"Panic attacks can be intense fear mixed with increased heart rate, lightheadedness, and shallow breathing," Krawiec says. "In some cases the presence of one of these symptoms can cause a person to fear passing out or heart attack which can actually cause a panic attack [to increase]."
She says that she tells her clients that a panic attack is when the body and mind misreads it’s natural fire alarm system and treats a drill or false alarm like it’s the real thing. But once we recognize what is going on, we can start to shift that response.
Below, take some pro tips on what you can do the moment the panic arises to help you cope with the intensity. Help is out there, my friends.
1. Acknowledge What Is Happening
As impossible as it may seem, there is a moment where you can create a little space between the panic-driven thoughts, and some calm and logic.
Dr. Sharone Weltfreid tells Bustle that when thoughts like, "I am having a heart attack" or "I am losing control" are intruding, you can recognize that these statements are not facts and allow them to pass as quickly as they arose.
While it might be difficult, reminding yourself that you know what is happening, and that this panic will eventually stop can be a helpful way to gain calm in the moment, and also help give you a long-term strategy for preventing attacks in the future.
2. Wrap Yourself In A Blanket
Psychotherapist Rev. Connie L. Habash tells Bustle that for some people, being wrapped up in something warm and cozy is calming and can offer some relief in the moment. "It’s much like a baby is soothed by swaddling," she says.
Ultimately, it's figuring out the tricks that work for you and your body.
3. Give Yourself A Moment To Practice Breathing
Dr. Danielle Ibelema tells Bustle when panic starts, engage in deep breathing. It starts to slow down the central nervous system. And try to exhale longer than you inhale.
"You can engage in deep breathing solo, but there also apps that you can use for guidance too. Calm is my favorite app for this purpose," she says.
Dr. Ibelema also says that significant anxiety or panic symptoms tends to warrant the help of a mental health professional for counseling or medication if it starts to interfere with your life.
4. Remove Yourself From The Situation If Possible
Perhaps you are at work or at dinner at a fancy restaurant. Wherever you are, Dr. Laura Dabney tells Bustle that she encourages clients, the moment they are having a panic attack or serious feelings of anxiety, to somehow remove themselves from the situation if possible.
Feeling safe and without fear of judgment can help to alleviate some extra sense of fear.
"Once they are removed and safe I have them start really thinking about what has been happening leading up to that point," Dr. Dabney says.
If you are somewhere like a train or car, try to close your eyes and put in headphones to create some personal space.
5. Focus On What's Going Out Outside Your Body
It can feel impossible to consider anything other than the overwhelming feelings in the moment, but psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson tells Bustle that as much as you can, try to focus outside of yourself and on your environment.
"Focus on what is going on outside of your body," Scott-Hudson says. "Count all of the green objects in the room. Practice grounding, feel your feet on the floor. Feel the chair supporting your body."
Anything that can lift your thoughts and perspective from feeling the current state of panic.
6. Create A Calming Playlist
Dr. Ibelema says that if you already know that you experience anxiety or panic attacks, create a relaxing or inspiring playlist that you can access quickly when needed as a great option for distraction.
"There are times when these options are not enough," she says. But the more choices you have in the moment, the better.
7. Don't Fight The Fear
It seems counterintuitive, but instead of trying to calm yourself down, consider taking a mental stance of "inviting" the panic in. It often has the effect of helping you feel like you have some power Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving Target, tells Bustle.
"If a person who feels the anxiety building toward a panic attack says, 'Come on panic. Give me all you've got' and means it fully, this will often cause the panic to subside," she says.
It is difficult to convince people to try allowing the thoughts and body sensations to come and go without fighting them, she says, but it can be really helpful.
8. Get Yourself To Move Around
Dr. Kim Peirano, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine tells Bustle that it is helpful to remember that anxiety can be a by-product of anger, there may be fear present with the anxiety of course, but many times the underlying cause is actually unexpressed anger.
"Think of it like a kettle boiling but with no steam release, the kettle will boil but without the outlet for the excess energy from the heat, the kettle will begin jumping and bouncing around, this is a perfect metaphor for anxiety," says Dr. Peirano.
"So when we’re in the midst of a panic attack, going against all of our instincts to retreat and shut down, what can be really helpful is to actually move around and release some physical energy," Dr. Peirano says. This can be some calisthenic movements, boxing moves, going for a run, or anything that gets the blood moving and heart pumping.
There is no doubt that panic attacks are incredibly difficult to experience. But knowing how to reach out for help, and figuring out ways that can bring you relief during in the moment can truly get you on the road to recovery.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.