Wellness

7 Scientifically-Proven Ways To Calm Down During A Panic Attack

Here's how to bring yourself back to reality.

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If you have an anxiety disorder — or are experiencing a lot of stress — then you're likely familiar with how difficult it can be to calm down during a panic attack. Once your mind starts racing, and your body fills with dread, it's really tough to relax and bring yourself back to reality.

Because a panic attack is anything but pleasant. "A panic attack is a sudden surge of distress that takes over and makes you feel loss of control and intense fear," Dr. Danielle Forshee, a psychologist, tells Bustle. It can cause scary symptoms, such as shortness of breath, a pounding heart, tingling sensations in the body, nausea, sweating, and even a sense that you're going to die, Dr. Forshee says.

While that's not going to happen — and panic attacks tend to quickly pass all on their own — these symptoms can be upsetting, especially if you're having a panic attack for the first time. It's not uncommon for people to confuse panic attacks with heart attacks. And the fear only makes things worse.

Luckily, there are quite a few science-backed tricks that help ease panic attacks, and make them easier to handle. If you have panic attacks regularly, you'll want to seek the help of a therapist, so they can address the underlying anxiety or panic disorder that's causing them.

In the meantime, tuck the tips below in the back of your brain, so you can utilize them the next time you start to panic.

1
Dunk Your Face In Cold Water

While it may sound strange, dunking your face into a bowl or sink full of cold water can help stop a panic attack in its tracks.

"Research in physiology suggests that the human heart rate slows down 10 to 25 percent when our face comes into contact with ice cold water," Forshee says. "This is affective during a panic attack because when we are experiencing panic our body physiologically becomes aroused (increased heart rate is one of the symptoms of physiological arousal)."

It may be tricky to come across a bowl of ice water while out in public, but this may be a good one to try at home.

2
Try A "Grounding Technique"

If your mind is spinning, you'll want to bring it back to reality with a few grounding techniques.

"I begin by focusing on anything and everything concrete," Mary Beth Cooper, a mental health expert, tells Bustle. "I notice exactly what’s in my view, taking note of the spectrum around me. I then choose one or two things to zone in on. I might notice a picture on the wall or an outfit that someone is wearing. I shift focus to what I see in order to move away from my thoughts."

By forcing yourself to notice your surroundings, it'll help get you "out of your head" where the panic is happening, and back into the real world.

3
Breathe From Your Diaphragm

It's helpful to take deep breaths to calm down during a panic attack. But it can be even more helpful to try diaphragmatic breathing, in particular.

"Forcing yourself to breathe through your diaphragm will trick your brain into believing that you are in a relaxed state," Forshee says. "When you are having a panic attack, your brain creates these physiological symptoms because it thinks that you are in need of protection (fight-or-flight). Diaphragmatic breathing will send signals to your brain that is not the case."

Here's how to do it.

4
Play A Game

When you're having a panic attack, the last thing you might think about are the collection of games on your phone. But you might want to open one up and start playing, as a quick and easy way to redirect your thinking.

"The idea is it can act as a distraction to the fear or the body symptoms of anxiety," Dr. Prakash Masand, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells Bustle. "Download some games that will distract you and get your mind off of the unpleasant symptoms you are feeling. You can also download relaxing music and guided relaxation sessions."

5
Squeeze A Stress Ball

If you're prone to anxiety attacks, it might help to keep your hands busy in moments when you feel panic creeping in. You might want to stretch and play with some putty, handle a smooth stone, or squeeze a stress ball, if you have one.

As Masand says, "Keeping something in your hands can help connect you with the present moment and also acts as a stress reliever."

6
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts

Changing your thoughts is always easier said than done, especially when you're in the middle of a panic attack. But the more often you practice replacing negative, scary thoughts with ones that are more positive, the easier it will become.

"People with panic tend to catastrophize or see the worst in things," Masand says. For example, if you're panicking while on the subway, it might be because you're vividly imagining something going wrong, even when everything's a-OK.

"Carry some positive mantras or sayings to bring you back to reality," Masand says. "Or better yet, prepare your own. When you have the negative thoughts of gloom and doom, write down some positive and more realistic rebuttals."

7
Ask Yourself Some Questions

Similar, you can push back against negative thoughts by asking yourself a few Qs, John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Mountainside Treatment Center, tells Bustle.

"Next time you are feeling anxious ask yourself: Is there a reason why I am feeling anxious? Am I exaggerating the problem?" Mull over these questions and you'll slowly start to calm down, he says, especially if you answer "yes."

Validating your feelings is always a good thing, he says. But asking these questions can also kill time, while your panic attack naturally winds down on its own.

If you're prone to panic attacks, or are having one for the first time, you can always sit down and wait for it to pass. But these tips ma.y help speed the process along.

Of course, if you're experiencing ongoing anxiety that's holding you back in life, you'll also want to seek out the help of a therapist, as soon as possible. In doing so, you can get to the root of your anxiety and eventually overcome your panic attacks, no matter how bad they might seem.

Experts:

Dr. Danielle Forshee, a psychologist

Mary Beth Cooper, mental health expert

Dr. Prakash Masand, MD, psychiatrist

John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC, licensed marriage and family therapist

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