What To Do If You're Having A Panic Attack, According To Experts
If you suffer from anxiety or often find yourself becoming overwhelmingly stressed, it's possible that you may have experienced a panic attack. Panic attacks often feel sudden and intense and can cause taxing physical effects on your body. And more than anything, they can be frightening. Panic attacks often happen without warning even when it may seem like there isn't anything causing them, which can make it difficult to try and control it. And if you don't know what to do if you ever have a panic attack, it may be hard to come out of it.
"A panic attack can be triggered by shock, anger, or outrage," Dr. Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, tells Bustle. "[This] can peak your heart rate, which will only exacerbate your feelings of a panic attack." This is why it's easy to feel like you're spiraling if you ever have a panic attack, and why it's important to try and ground yourself before you become overwhelmed. And though this may seem impossible in the midst of the sensations you feel in the moment, there are some actions you can take to help yourself calm down and alleviate the intensity of a panic attack.
Just like in any anxiety or stress-inducing situation, it's important to take a deep breath. "One of the quickest ways to immediately remedy [a panic attack] is to practice deep breathing exercises when you feel your body is overly stimulated," Silva says. Breathing can help your body feel at ease and target both the mental and physical symptoms of a panic attack, including shortness of breath. It's also a way of reminding your body that you're safe and not in any imminent danger. In a way, it's an easy tip to trick yourself into relaxing.
2. Ground Yourself In The Present
Panic attacks are caused by a false sense that something is wrong or dangerous, according to Mayo Clinic. This is why reminding yourself of where you are and that everything is OK is one way to calm yourself down in the middle of a panic attack.
Dr. Lindsay B. Jernigan, licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle, "Notice three things that you see, three things that you hear, and three things that you can physically feel, such as the soles of your feet on the ground, your back-side on the chair, or your interlaced fingers. You can say them out loud or simply notice silently to yourself, which you can do even if you are on a crowded bus! Then go through it again, noticing two things that you see, hear and feel; and then one thing that you see, hear and feel. If you are in a quiet place, you may find that you repeat the things you hear, and that is a-OK. Simply stay true to what you are perceiving with your senses, and this will ground your central nervous system back into the present moment."
3. Distract Yourself
The idea of doing anything during a panic attack might seem outrageous, but Jernigan advises that it can be your best bet to calming yourself down. "Distraction is your friend during a panic attack," she says. She explains that her method of counting things you see doesn't just ground people, but it distracts them, because it brings a person's attention from the panic attack to something else around them.
"You can try other active distractions, as well, such as word puzzles, playing solitaire, or making art or music," she says. Distracting yourself may not alleviate your panic attack entirely, but it can calm your enough so that you can try other methods or contact someone to help you.
4. Call A Friend
Jernigan says that anxiety can be exacerbated by isolation, and that one of the ways you can combat a panic attack is to phone a friend or family member. "We are social creatures, and we are biologically soothed by the feeling of safety of being in the pack," she says. "So try reaching out to a trusted loved one during a panic attack, or better yet, as you feel your anxiety building towards panic. The sense of connection may help calm your central nervous system and head the anxiety off at the pass." Just make sure that whoever you call is someone that is understanding of your anxiety and will only help alleviate the symptoms you're experiencing.
5. Write Down What You're Feeling
Panic attacks get worse when you continue to play negative thoughts inside your head. And although it may seem near impossible to just stop thinking negatively, Dr. Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, LCSW and counselor, tells Bustle that writing down your thoughts can help stop a panic attack in its tracks. "This will help you objectively see the content of your thoughts so you can read them and 'reframe' them; meaning, dispute the thoughts," she says. "Reframing will help you find more positive alternatives. If you have a friend that you can elicit to help you, ask them to listen to the thoughts you are having and help you reframe them." Writing can also simply act as a method of venting, by pouring out your thoughts. Either way, it can be helpful to calming yourself down.
6. Change Your Environment
Sometimes, the confines of your bedroom or whichever room you are experiencing a panic attack in could be making the problem worse. Jernigan suggests a change of scenery to try and alleviate the panic attack. "
Stand up, go outside, go for a walk, do some jumping jacks and push ups," she says. "Rhythmic movement is particularly healing because it activates your central nervous system in soothing ways, so consider a walk, jog, or bike ride. You'll get the added benefit of releasing the feel-good endorphins that come along with exercise, which can further treat the anxiety and lead to relief." If you notice a particular space is where you seem to get triggered with panic attacks, you might want to consider changing the look of it, or moving things around.
Panic attacks can be frightening and sometimes debilitating, but you can try and combat them so that you don't become overwhelmed. Whichever method you use, it's important to call or visit your mental health professional after having a panic attack so that you can take steps to avoid having any more in the future.
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.