How to Stop a Panic Attack

What is a Panic Attack?


If you've ever had a panic attack, you know they can be terrifying. A panic attack can lead you to frightening thoughts like “I'm dying”, “I'm losing my mind” or “I'm out of control”. They can occur “out of nowhere” or be brought on by a stressful situation.

A panic attack (or anxiety attack) is a sudden and intense onset of apprehension, fear, or sense of impending doom coupled with an overwhelming physical response.  Symptoms of panic are intensely physical, and often mimic symptoms of serious physical problem (such as a heart attack). It's always a good idea to see your doctor if you're experiencing these symptoms to rule out a serious physical condition, and to address your concerns about your physical symptoms. If your doctor believes you're suffering from panic and anxiety, they can help you take steps to find help.

Panic attacks can indicate that you're struggling with Panic Disorder, but panic also accompanies depression, anxiety and PTSD. Having one panic attack does not necessarily mean that you have a diagnosis, but they can be your mind's way of trying to tell you that something needs your attention.

Learning to recognize how you respond to stress and anxiety

The first step to overcoming panic is to recognize your symptoms and the situations that may trigger them. Anxiety and panic have three main parts, affecting your body and mind, and influencing your behavior. It's important to notice how you're responding to stress and anxiety in these three areas, so that you can take steps to help yourself. Knowing that you're experiencing anxiety can help you regain some control and develop a better understanding of what you're going through.

Symptoms of Panic:

  • numbness or tingling
  • racing heart
  • feeling short of breath
  • feeling of choking
  • nausea
  • trembling
  • tightness or discomfort in your chest
  • feeling weak or dizzy
  • fear of dying
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of “going crazy”

Another symptom of panic is avoidance.  It's common to try to cope with anxiety and panic by avoiding situations that may trigger anxiety. For example, you may stop driving on highways, or avoid situations where a quick exit is not easy; or you may make an effort to avoid thoughts and feelings that can trigger panic and anxiety.

What to do if you're having a panic attack

Panic attacks can be scary and confusing, but there are things that you can do to begin to help yourself cope:

Do the opposite of avoidance. Accepting your symptoms helps you get prepared to take preventive and proactive steps to cope with anxiety and stress. Avoidance is a natural reaction to unpleasant, painful experiences. But resisting or fighting against symptoms usually makes them worsen. How you talk to yourself during a panic attack is very important. As difficult as it can be, try to label your experience as anxiety; acknowledge how your anxiety makes you feel; and remind yourself that you've gotten through this before. This is my anxiety making me feel this way. It can really upset my day, but I've gotten through this before and I'm safe.

Concentrate on your breathing. To help you bring your focus to your breathing, experiment with simply counting (out loud or to yourself) as you breath in and out.

Check in with your senses. What do you see or hear? (for example what color is the carpet, how many framed pictures are hanging on the wall,is someone talking, can you hear the birds chirping). Can you hug a pillow or feel the upholstery on your chair? Or chew some gum or a mint and focus on the taste.

Learn some grounding techniques. Grounding refers to things you can do to help you feel fully present in your body in the present moment. Some simple grounding techniques include holding an ice cube in your hand, rub some fragrant lotion into your skin, check the time and date, counting backwards from 100 in a different language, move your body(exercise).

Remember that new skills take time to learn, and it's important to figure out what coping skills are right for you. What works for someone else may not be what's best for you.

Getting Help for Panic Attacks and Anxiety

If panic is interfering with your life, you understandably want relief. The good news is that panic is treatable. I offer therapy for anxiety disorders, and for unresolved trauma and depression which commonly occur along with panic attacks. Anxiety takes many forms and effects each person in unique ways. I integrate traditional talk therapies (Psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as well as EMDR, (a therapy developed for the treatment of trauma) to create an approach that's responsive to your needs and experience.

If you'd like to learn more about how I can help you overcome anxiety, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or