When a panic attack occurs, it feels like the world is ending. Or at least that yours is. If you've ever experienced a full-blown anxiety attack, you're probably willing to do almost anything to avoid another one and to stop one in its tracks when and if it does occur. There's no guaranteed method for ending a panic attack when it starts, but there are a few things that can really help stop one when it's happening to you. Everyone is different, so different things work for all us! The next time panic creeps in, try these tips for getting through it.
1. Breathe slowly in and out.
One of the first things that usually happens when a panic attack begins is feeling that you can't breathe. This may be because it feels like your throat is constricting (it isn't) or that you can't catch your breathe (you can). Concentrate on each breath in and out. Block out thoughts like "I can't breathe" or panicked feelings like you are going to die, and simply focus on the motion of your body as the air enters and exits. Sometimes it helps to have someone breathing with you; have them breathe slowly and match your breath with theirs. Continue doing this until you're able to feel like you can take a huge deep breath. This will remind you that you can, in fact, breathe just fine, and that you're going to be OK.
2. Distract yourself.
Once a panic attack begins, it's easy to focus on the impending terror that comes along with it. Sometimes it helps to do something that distracts you, because the more you focus on the horrible feeling, the worse it can become. Turn on an episode of your favourite TV show, or have a friend tell you a funny story or rattle off about their day or something trivial — just keep them talking and focus on their normalcy. They are OK, and you can be too.
3. Recognise that it's a panic attack.
Even though it's hard in the moment, try to objectively understand and recognise that despite the fact that you may be convinced you're having a heart attack or dying, this is actually a panic attack. When you're panicking, the adrenaline in your body can truly cause a physical reaction, but you're not in danger even though it feels that way. Try to remind yourself of this over and over again until the feeling of panic subsides.
4. Focus on your senses.
Much like in a dream when you want to wake up, focusing on your senses can help ground you during a panic attack. Pinch yourself, hug yourself, or go outside in cold air. Focus on the breeze touching your cheeks or the goosebumps on your arms. This will redirect your attention to another place so that you can focus on something neither good nor bad, just real and tangible.
5. Tell someone what's happening.
Sometimes when you're panicking, you may want to run away or isolate yourself. The problem with this is that it allows you to continue to get inside your head and can often allow the panic to grow. Try talking to someone you trust, and letting them know to some extent what is happening. In some cases, hearing yourself say, "I'm having a panic attack," out loud can be a helpful reminder in the moments that you are convinced you're dying that you are actually having an attack that you can and will control. Sometimes thinking this can make you more stressed out — so avoid that thought if it does!
6. Remind yourself that it will pass.
Panic attacks are horrible. They are all-consuming and they feel like they will never end. But they will end, and they do. If you're in the mindset and able to, try repeating the thought: this will pass. It will be better soon. Breathe through it and believe that you will make it out on the other end. You will!