When panic comes on in a rush, you need straight forward strategies for how to stop a panic attack. Though panic attacks can be brought on by various mental health issues, as well as environmental circumstances and stress, they generally all affect your body the same way, and that means you can use these techniques to stop a panic attack no matter what the source.

Am I Having a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety, often with no apparent cause. Most last from five minutes to an hour. They are not dangerous, but they can be very frightening, and can even lead you to believe you are having a heart attack, are about to pass out, or even think you are dying.

Panic attacks are often triggered by mental health issues, but they include physical symptoms as well, including:

  • Shaking
  • Disorientation or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeats
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Breathlessness

Internally, panic attacks are often driven by an overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety, worry, or terror. They may be fixated on a single issue or include rumination or catastrophic thoughts.

Panic attacks can be caused by mental health issues – like panic disorders, PTSD, or anxiety – medications, physical conditions –such as an overactive thyroid – or even an unexpected event in the environment. Experiencing a panic attack does not mean you have a mental health disorder, but many such disorders can cause or increase the frequency of such attacks.

Get Help to Stop Panic Attacks Today

Talk to a psychotherapist about the cause of your panic attacks and find out what you can do to stop them.


7 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack

There are several things you can do to stop a panic attack, or handle the feelings until they pass on their own, which they will.

1.      Recognize your feelings as a panic attack

The first step to stopping a panic attack is knowing you are having one. When you recognize your symptoms as a panic attack, remind yourself that panic attacks pass, and that you will be okay.

2.      Regulate your breathing

Hyperventilating is a symptom that can escalate your fear and keep the panic attack going. Count your breaths and use deep diaphragmatic breathing to interrupt that escalation. You can use an app, or simply just count to four on an inhale and six or eight on an exhale. This will slow your breathing, improve relaxation, and reduce anxiety.

3.      Remove stimulation

Some people experience panic attacks when they become overwhelmed with external stimuli. This is especially true for people with social anxiety, or certain types of autism. Closing your eyes or removing yourself from a fast-paced environment can reduce stimulation and help you handle your panic attack.

4.      Remain present and avoid dissociation

Panic attacks brought on by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and some phobias can often cause a person to experience flashbacks or dissociate from present events. One way to stop a panic attack’s dissociation is to focus on objects or sensations around you. This can be as simple as pressing your feet into your shoes or forcing yourself to describe a picture you are looking at. These actions interrupt the panic attack and give you something else to focus on.

5.      Relax your muscles

Panic attacks can cause your muscles to seize up. Even before the onset of a panic attack, anxiety can result in muscle tension, clenching your jaw, or grinding your teeth. Using muscle relaxation techniques can reduce tension and help you relax during a panic attack. Try focusing on one muscle at a time, like loosening your jaw or wiggling your fingers. Then work your way through the rest of your body.

6.      Remind yourself of positive places or experiences

Another technique for interrupting panic attacks is to visualize or remind yourself of a “happy place” or positive experience. This can flood your system with positive endorphins to combat the adrenaline brought on by the panic attack. Picture the most relaxing place you can think of – like a beach or a forest. If you experience panic attacks often, consider posting pictures of those places on your wall.

7.      Repeat a mantra

A mantra can be another good tool to stop a panic attack. This is a sound, word, or phrase you repeat in your mind to allow the event to pass. It should be something short, reassuring, and easy to repeat, like “I’ll be okay.” Simply repeat the phrase until you feel the panic attack subside.

How to Prevent Future Panic Attacks

If you have had one panic attack, you may well want to keep it from happening again. There are some relatively simple life changes, such as removing stimulants from your diet and engaging in exercise, that are good places to start. If you continue to struggle with panic attacks, you may want to speak to a psychotherapist. They can help you identify the cause of your panic attacks, and develop coping mechanisms to prevent and stop panic attacks before they take over your life.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults, teens and children with panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health concerns. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.