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How To Calm a Panic Attack


Have you ever experienced a panic attack? If so, I am sure you can feel what I am talking about right away – the tightening in your chest, racing thoughts, rapid pulse rate, and a quick shortness of breath. And the worst part is…you never see them coming. Therein lies the “panic.” They sneak up on you and will often paralyze you in seconds. It’s not something anyone likes to think about, but if you are someone who has experienced those surprise attacks, here are a few pointers that should get you through it.

Before you can calm a panic attack, you have to be aware that it is in fact happening. This involves recognizing triggers and tracking your feelings.

For some people, panic attacks are triggered by specific events – flying in an airplane, speaking in public, being in a crowded space, etc. For others, panic attacks are triggered by specific thoughts – the anticipation of losing a job, thoughts of being alone, or thoughts of dying or the death of a loved one. These are tough subjects, but by understanding your triggers, you can minimize the surprise aspect of a panic attack and ease your mind to a path back.

In order to track your feelings, I suggest you look at anxiety on a scale from 1 to 10. One being no stress, 10 being full-on panic. I often recommend that people work to function between 3 and 4 – after all, we have to have some sort of anxiety in our lives, otherwise we’d never get anything done!

When you begin to recognize your stress levels at a 5 or 6, try to calmly work towards lowering the stress and changing some things. If your stress continues to rise and you reach a 7, that is when you need to actively take steps to minimize the anxiety. If you wait to do anything until your anxiety is at an 8 or 9, chances are, your brain is too much involved in the panic thoughts to be thwarted at that point.

Now that we know how to recognize these triggers and track our feelings, how do we calm them?!

Here are five quick suggestions:

Meditate – Meditation is a great way to bring yourself back to a calming space. Sometimes this is done by listening to soothing music and focusing on a singular object or thought. This takes your mind out of the stressful cycle and allows you to take back control of that thought process. A web search of the terms “guided meditation” and “guided imagery” will give you ideas on how this is done. You can also find videos and even mobile apps to help with meditation.

Distract – You know when a child is focused on playing with something that is potentially dangerous? An easy way to remedy that satiation is to district him or her with someone fun or interesting. I propose you do the same thing with your brain. When your brain wants to focus on that stressful thought or situation, distract your brain with another activity. You can change what you are doing. If you are working on a project, switch to a new task. If you are able to physically move, do it. Go for a walk, go to the gym, take the dog for a walk. All of these are ways to distract your brain from that panic state.

Engage – This technique is similar to distraction. The difference with this technique is that you interact or engage with others. This can be done by simply picking up the phone and calling a friend. You don’t need to tell the person that you are experiencing a panic attack; all you have to do is talk to them. When you talk with someone else, your brain is forced to focus on the conversation at hand which in turns, breaks the panic cycle.

Experience – Believe it or not, I’m recommending you actually experience it and walk through it! Most often, a panic attack will last between five to twenty minutes. Think of this as the monster in the closet. You know it’s there, just waiting to jump out and gobble you up. However, once you get up, fling the door open, and scream, you realize there was nothing there at all. The same goes for a panic attack. If you just buckle up and follow the thought process all the way through, you may be surprised that the panic attack loses power pretty quickly.

Treat – In some cases, panic attacks just won’t go away. At this point, it is time to get some treatment. Sometimes, panic is caused by an actual physical problem so a medical or psychiatric evaluation is in order. In other cases, therapy or counseling will help work through those uneasy thoughts. A frequently used therapeutic approach for panic attacks is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT works to change our patterns of thinking by challenging specific thoughts and thought processes.

Panic attacks are no fun! However, they don’t have to keep you down. By following some of these pointers, you can quickly minimize and possibly even eliminate these crippling attacks.