If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you’ve likely experienced a panic attack.
Categorized as a “sudden, brief feeling of fear”, panic attacks are no joke; they manifest in psychosomatic reactions such as shortness of breath, a racing heart, and prolonged sweating. A panic attack can feel as serious as a heart attack. According to the Cleveland Clinic, approximately 11% of Americans have experienced a panic attack.
There’s no particular science to what triggers a panic attack. Factors like family history, mental health issues, and substance abuse problems have notably played a role in people having recurring panic attacks. Symptoms of panic attacks can also include chest pains, chills, nausea, numbless, and shaking. While terrifying to experience, there are ways to combat panic attacks in the moment. Below are 5 ways to stop panic attacks, according to experts.
(Note: it’s important to seek long term treatment for your panic attacks if they become a recurring problem. You should consult with a doctor for ways to manage anxiety if your panic attacks start to interfere with your daily life.)
One of the most common symptoms of panic attacks is the feeling of not being able to breathe. But deep breathing is one of the best ways to get a panic attack under control. Breathe slow and deep and count out your breaths. A reliable breathing technique is the 4-7-8 tactic where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds (and repeat). If you struggle with this, you can also find follow along videos on YouTube or on medication apps like Calm and Headspace.
When you’re having a panic attack, it’s important to ground your senses and shock your body out of its current frenzied state. One way to do this is by biting into a lemon wedge. While this may sound odd, the combination of texture and taste will focus all of your attention on the sensory overload of the lemon versus the panic attack.
Similarly, your sense of smell is also one of the ways to stop a panic attack. Lavender is a common remedy to treat anxiety and it’s frequently used to create a sense of calm. If you have a lavender oil available (make sure to keep away from pets), you can hold it under your nose and inhale gently, or put it on your wrist. Other scents can also work, so long as they’re strong enough to give the body something to focus on.
The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a grounding technique meant to train your mind into focusing on the present. It’s a way to get back into the real world. The method is: look around for 5 separate objects and name them in your head, listen for 4 sounds and how they’re different, touch 3 items and note their textures, identify 2 smells, and name 1 thing you can taste.
5. Snap A Rubber Band
Physical movement can help with a panic attack, but it can also be hard to get yourself into exercise in the middle of one. A good compromise is to do small, repetitive movements that can shock your body out of its current state. If you have a hair tie or rubber band, you can snap it lightly against your wrist so your body can focus on the sensation instead of the panic attack.
Ultimately, the important thing to remember about panic attacks is they are temporary and cannot actually harm you (despite what your mind is telling you). Every panic attack will eventually subside and pass, so your only responsibility is to keep a sense of safety and calm throughout it to the best of your ability. Panic attacks are serious and if they persist, it’s absolutely worth seeing a professional about ways to help in the long run.
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