Do you know how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening?
When you know how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening, living with panic attacks is a lot easier. Any time that one occurs, you can simply turn off the crippling panic anxiety. Actually, it isn’t usually that simple, but stopping them is possible.
Panic attacks can be horrifying. Symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pains, and trouble breathing can be so intense that sufferers feel like they are going to die. Luckily, that is hardly ever the case, and most people can stop these attacks.
How do you stop a panic attack once it has struck? There are various methods for dealing with panic attacks when they’re already in progress. Some techniques work very quickly and are surprisingly effective. While panic attacks can be hard to shake in some cases, the majority of panic sufferers can get rid of panic attacks fast without any drugs or medications. You just need to know how.
How do you stop a panic attack when it’s already happening?
1. Recognize panic attack symptoms
The first step to learning how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening is recognizing the symptoms and signs of a panic attack. This is important because it enables panic anxiety sufferers to rule out a heart attack, which is a medical emergency that has numerous overlapping symptoms. It’s also important because it makes possible to take control of panic attacks when they occur.
Symptoms that may occur with a heart attack include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure that radiates throughout the upper body, and pain or discomfort in the arms (especially the left arm). There may also be pain/discomfort in the neck, jaw, stomach, or back, with abdominal discomfort that feels like heartburn. Other heart attack symptoms include sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness.
With panic attacks, any or all the above symptoms can occur. In addition, one may experience heart palpitations, hyperventilation, and sensations of choking or smothering. Some individuals have difficulty moving and experience loss of body control and derealization. Tunnel vision, hot and cold flashes, and burning and tingling sensations (paresthesia) are other panic attack symptoms.
2. Slow and control your breathing
Once you’re sure that what you’re experiencing isn’t a heart attack (call 911 or have someone drive you to an emergency room if unsure), concentrate on breathing. For panic sufferers looking to learn how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening, slow, deep breathing is key. It is one of the best ways to control the fight-or-flight stress response and calm the sympathetic nervous system.
Hyperventilation (aka overbreathing) is a common symptom of panic attacks that causes the release of too much carbon dioxide. When carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream drop too low, then symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, and confusion worsen. Breathing slowly and deeply conveys to the brain that there is no danger, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in.
To stop a panic attack, one should aim to slow breathing down to at least 8 to 12 breaths per minute, with a focus on breathing steadily from the diaphragm rather than the chest. As you count to 5, inhale through the nose. Then, hold for 2 counts and exhale through the mouth for 5 counts. Imagining releasing tension and fear with each deep breath will help to clear up the panic anxiety.
3. Acknowledge facts relating to panic attacks
Step three of how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening involves replacing emotional, fear-driven thoughts with thoughts that are rational and factual. One can replace negative thoughts by acknowledging the facts of the current situation. These can be written down or said out loud or in your mind as you breathe – whichever is possible or most convenient at the time of the attack.
You are breathing. People do not die from panic attacks. Panic anxiety attacks are a stress response by the body that causes symptoms. The panic will subside. Panic attacks normally only last a few minutes. It is possible to get rid of panic attacks while they’re happening. These are all facts that one can acknowledge during a panic attack to replace anxious and negative thoughts.
Panic anxiety attacks take place when the body goes into fight-or-flight or hyperarousal mode. This is a natural process that prepares humans for fighting or fleeing from danger for survival. However, with panic attacks there is no real danger. Rather, physical changes occur (for many different reasons) that trick the body into perceiving that there is a threat, triggering the flight-or-fight response.
4. Ground yourself using your senses
Still reading up on how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening? After acknowledging and stating positive facts related to panic anxiety, it’s time to engage the senses. Plant yourself in reality by perceiving and connecting with your physical surroundings using the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This is a grounding technique that is simple and effective at relieving stress, anxiety, and panic.
During a panic episode, put the 54321 technique to work by naming 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you can taste. Carrying a few favorite items in a bag or purse can be helpful to facilitate the process, but this is not essential. It can be anything that the sufferer is able to perceive with his or her five senses.
Another grounding technique that can aid in stopping panic attacks is object focus. Having a specific object to focus on engages the brain’s more logical processes and can help to restore the mental clarity that panic attacks tend to take away. For best results, the focus object should be an item that is practical and one can use, preferably something with unique textures that is easy to carry.
5. Wait it out
By the time that steps one through four on how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening have been completed, any panic attack symptoms will likely have subsided. If they haven’t, then just try to be patient. Do not flee from your location or situation. Instead, repeat the steps above for overcoming panic attacks and ride it out. Certainly, one can also incorporate other relaxation methods.
Jacobson’s relaxation technique can be particularly helpful during times of acute panic. Known as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), it involves systematically tightening and relaxing isolated muscle groups. This can relieve anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration. PMR is often combined with mental imagery and deep breathing exercises by health professionals.
Many panic sufferers find yoga and meditation to be useful in dealing with panic attacks. Yoga can ease tension in the body, improve mental focus, and induce relaxation. Meditation offers similar benefits. These may not be practical options in public settings, though. Ultimately, anything that can distract and provide relief while a panic attack runs its course may be worth practicing.
How long do panic attacks last?
It depends on the individual and other factors, but panic attacks typically peak within 10 minutes and dissolve within 30 minutes. Most attacks last around 5-10 minutes. They rarely last longer than an hour. In cases of rolling panic attacks, severe panic attacks lasting hours, and very frequent attacks that interfere with life, cognitive-behavioral therapy and medications can be helpful.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy usually involves exposure therapy, where panic attack symptoms are induced repeatedly until they no longer feel threatening. This is commonly prescribed for frequent/prolonged panic attacks and panic disorder. Then, there are treatments like neuro-activation therapy, which teaches how to get rid of panic attacks fast using simple gestures.
Medications for overcoming panic attacks include SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, SNRIs such as Effexor and Cymbalta, and MAOIs like Nardil. Doctors may also prescribe beta blockers and benzodiazepines, although these drugs may be better suited for how to stop a panic attack when you feel it coming on soon rather than how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening.
How long does a panic attack take to recover?
Again, it varies from person to person. It generally takes around 30 minutes to recover from a panic anxiety attack. However, one may feel physically tired and emotionally drained for several hours following a full-blown attack (especially a prolonged attack), and there may be feelings of nervousness, apprehension, and depression. These feelings can last for days or weeks afterwards.
To recover from the immediate after-effects of an acute panic attack, there are a number of things that a person can do. Drink fluids and eat a healthy meal to replace any lost nutrients. Go for a walk to improve circulation and breathing. Take a short nap (or just get some rest) to restore energy levels and clear up anxiousness and confusion. Telephone a friend or family member for moral support.
In the longer time, practicing breathing and relaxation techniques can relieve anxiety, while performing regular exercise can combat depression. Studies show that low-impact exercises such as walking, cycling, and swimming are effective mood enhancers with numerous health benefits. Positive self-talk and affirmations can further enhance mood and help sufferers gain a sense of control.
What else should you know about panic attacks?
Knowing how to stop a panic attack while it’s happening can be life changing, but the best panic attack treatment remains panic attack prevention. Many times, panic attacks are triggered by stress, environments, and certain foods and stimuli. By writing down everything that happened before and during an attack, one can identify triggers. Thus, one can prevent future attacks.
Did you skip a meal or consume alcohol or caffeine? Were you in a crowded place? Perhaps you had an anxious thought? These are common panic triggers. Even sleeping too little can trigger attacks. When you know your triggers, you can take steps to avoid them. Of course, sometimes there are no triggers and panic attacks occur out of the blue. Or, they occur due to underlying health problems.
A variety of medical conditions and disorders can cause panic attacks. These include Wilson’s disease, OCD, and hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, mitral valve prolapse, and many others. Often, it is the symptoms of these conditions that trigger panic episodes. Whatever the cause or trigger, it’s important to get early treatment to stop panic attacks before they cause other problems.