Panic attacks are sudden, intense surges of fear, panic, or anxiety. They are overwhelming, and they have physical as well as emotional symptoms.
Many people with panic attacks may have difficulty breathing, sweat profusely, tremble, and feel their hearts pounding.
Some people will also experience chest pain and a feeling of detachment from reality or themselves during a panic attack, so they make think they’re having a heart attack. Others have reported feeling like they are having a stroke.
Panic attacks can be scary and may hit you quickly. Here are 6 strategies you can use to try to stop a panic attack when you are having one or when you feel one coming on;
Use deep breathing
While hyperventilating is a symptom of panic attacks that can increase fear, deep breathing can reduce symptoms of panic during an attack.
If you are able to control your breathing, you are less likely to experience the hyperventilating that can make other symptoms — and the panic attack itself — worse.
Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again.
Close your eyes
Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you’re in a fast-paced environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack.
To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can block out any extra stimuli and make it easier to focus on your breathing.
Use muscle relaxation techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your body’s response as much as possible.
Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when you’ve practiced them beforehand.
Picture your happy place
What’s the most relaxing place in the world that you can think of? A sunny beach with gently rolling waves? A cabin in the mountains?
Picture yourself there, and try to focus on the details as much as possible. Imagine digging your toes into the warm sand, or smelling the sharp scent of pine trees.
Engage in light exercise
Endorphins keep the blood pumping in exactly the right away. It can help flood our body with endorphins, which can improve our mood.
Because you are stressed, choose light exercise that’s gentle on the body, like walking or swimming.
The exception to this is if you are hyperventilating or struggling to breathe. Do what you can to catch your breath first.
Benzodiazepines may help treat panic attacks if you take one as soon as you feel an attack coming on.
While other approaches to the treatment of panic may be preferential, the field of psychiatry has acknowledged that there is a handful of people who will neither respond fully (or at all in some cases) to the other approaches listed in above, and as such, will be dependent on pharmacological approaches to therapy.
These approaches often will include benzodiazepines, some of which carry FDA approval for the treatment of this condition, such as alprazolam (Xanax).
Because benzodiazepines are a prescription medication, you’ll likely need a panic disorder diagnosis in order to have the medication on hand.
This medication can be highly addictive, and the body can adjust to it over time. It should only be used sparingly and in cases of extreme need.