A panic attack is best described as a sudden episode of intense physical symptoms. It is usually caused by a perceived fear of something—even if you aren't exactly in any danger. But the cause of a panic attack can also be unknown to the person experiencing it.
Common panic attack symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, sweating, increased heart rate, feeling disoriented, and shaking.
And if you've ever experienced a panic attack, then you know how frightening or embarrassing it can feel, especially if you've had a panic attack in public.
Here, we explore 10 effective ways to manage panic attacks.
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1. Deep Breathing
A panic attack is often the result of our fight-or-flight response or sympathetic nervous systems being activated. Deep breathing can be incredibly helpful in slowing down the sympathetic nervous system.
If you are aware of any physical symptoms that occur right before a panic attack, this would be a great time to start deep breathing. It can also help you return to your baseline quicker.
2. Engage Your Senses
If you feel increasingly anxious or become aware of any of the physical sensations that occur before a panic attack, try to engage your senses to prevent or decrease the intensity of the panic attack.
Splash cold water on your hands, neck, or face. Place an ice cube in your mouth, or try gliding it over your forearms or hands. Moving your focus over to the cold sensations on your skin will help keep your mind distracted.
3. Distract Your Thoughts
Stopping your anxious thoughts can be a very effective way to prevent or shorten a panic attack. There are many grounding exercises you can try to help distract your mind and stop any anxious thoughts. And as a plus, they can also help you sleep better.
One really helpful tool is called the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. This is done by focusing on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste when you start feeling anxious.
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4. Do Body Scans
Body scans involve becoming aware of the physical sensations that occur in your body.
This means tuning in to what your body is feeling, slowly scanning each body part, starting from your head, and moving down to your neck/shoulders, arms, mid-sections, buttocks, legs, feet, and toes.
Doing a body scan can help distract your thoughts. It also creates a sense of awareness of how each body part is feeling.
You can learn to do this by watching a guided body scan video or reading a body scan script.
5. Picture Your Happy Place
Something else that can be helpful is understanding that most emotions, even panic attacks, are like waves—both will reach a peak of intensity and eventually retreat. The crest of a wave doesn't last forever. It eventually crashes down, just like our emotions.
It might be helpful for you to picture a happy place when you are feeling anxious or on the brink of a panic attack. Maybe that happy place is a quiet, calm field near the mountains, or perhaps it's on a sunny beach with palm trees.
As you visualize the waves crashing on the shore, remind yourself that this feeling will peak and then recede—just like a wave.
6. Find Space to Be Alone
Sometimes we experience panic attacks when we become overstimulated. This can happen anywhere—even at work or home—if too much is going on.
If you feel yourself becoming overstimulated because there are too many sounds, lights, or movements around you, try to move to a place where you can be alone without noise or bright lights.
Once you're alone, practicing a grounding exercise or deep breathing may also be helpful.
7. Adopt a Mantra
Sometimes panic attacks can happen when our thoughts are racing, and we can't figure out how to slow them down. If that happens, try to stop your panic attack by using a mantra.
During a panic attack, some people feel as if the sense of panic will never end. If this happens to you, try using a mantra like: "I'm safe," "I'm going to be okay," or "This is only temporary."
When we focus on these phrases, it prevents us from being able to think other anxiety-producing thoughts and keeps us focused on one thing at a time.
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8. Reach Out for Support
Sometimes reaching out for support can help decrease our anxiety. As mentioned, anxiety attacks can occur when your mind perceives something as frightening.
If you have someone in your life that you feel safe with, it may be helpful to reach out to them. Talking with someone when we're feeling anxious can help distract our anxious thoughts and help prevent panic attacks.
9. Utilize Medications
If you've been experiencing frequent panic attacks for a long time, it might be helpful to seek support from a prescriber. They will be able to suggest different medication options that could help with panic attacks.
Medications can be a useful option with relatively quick results. Still, you will likely see the best results when pairing it with grounding exercises, deep breathing, and other coping skills.
10. Seek Counseling
Talking to a therapist can be one of the most beneficial tools for preventing or reducing panic attacks. Learning coping skills on your own is great, but having the support of a professional can be life-changing.
A therapist can help you determine if anything is triggering the panic attacks. They can also help you explore ways to reduce panic attacks' frequency, intensity, and duration.
Fill Your Toolbox with These Important Skills
The best way to start living a life free of panic attacks is to create a toolbox full of various tools to manage them. So, try using some of the skills mentioned in this post.
But if you find that nothing seems to be working, remember that reaching out for support is one of the most courageous and loving things you can do for yourself.