If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know how scary they can feel. Panic attacks can make you feel like time is moving very fast and yet very slow at the same time. Your heart feels like it may beat right out of your chest, and breathing feels impossible because you’re hyperventilating and can’t catch your breath. You feel paralyzed with fear and freeze up, trying to protect yourself from your panic.
Panic attacks are different than general anxiety because of how intense they are. When your brain goes into panic attack mode, it turns off the logical part of your brain in order to pour all its energy into fight or flight. That’s why saying “calm down” doesn’t always help! Panic isn’t logical. It’s chemical!
Fortunately, there are many ways to stop a panic attack in its tracks. Here are some skills to try if you find yourself in the midst of a panic attack.
[Related: 10 Tips to Help Someone with Anxiety]
Recognize You’re Having a Panic Attack
First thing’s first: the sooner you’re able to recognize that you’re having a panic attack and you’re not actually in any danger, the easier it will be to pull yourself out of it. Say to yourself out loud, “this is a panic attack, and it won’t last forever.” Don’t skip this part! Hearing the sound of your own voice can be incredibly soothing in the moment because it pulls you out of your thoughts. Remind yourself that you’ve had panic attacks before and they’ve always gone away. You’ll survive this.
Sit on the floor, if possible. The closer you are to the floor, the safer you will feel. Sit with your back against the wall and your feet flat on the ground. Keep your eyes open and look around you. This is called “grounding.” Grounding can provide some instant relief from panic symptoms because it can slow or stop that whirlwind, out-of-control feeling.
[Related: Being Mindful with Body Scans]
Find a Distraction
I’m talking a really, really good distraction here. Think intensity. You want a distraction that is equal intensity to your panic attack. Because a panic attack is, for the most part, a sensory experience, try to find sensory distractions. Drink a glass of cold water, do some jumping jacks, eat something spicy, or splash some water on your face. The goal here is to snap you back to what is immediately going on around you and pull you out of your panic.
Write Down your Thoughts
Get some distance between you and your thoughts. When you write them down (or if you have no words, draw or scribble!), you create distance between your thoughts and reality. Don’t worry about making your writing sound a certain way. That’s not the point of the exercise. Just get it out so you’re not ruminating about it any longer.
[Related: How my Dog is Helping Me Conquer Anxiety]
Think about it. When you have a cold, you don’t sit and berate yourself over how crazy you are for having gotten sick do you? Instead, you’re probably drinking lots of tea and water, curling up on the couch, sleeping, and eating chicken noodle soup. If you’re having a panic attack, treat yourself the same way and take care of yourself! Grab your favorite blanket, make some chamomile tea, and make yourself feel safe. Try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. A quick way to do this is try to tighten your whole body up like board and hold for five seconds, then let your body relax like a rag doll. Chill your breathing out by using the 4-7-8 method of breathing (inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and exhale for 8 counts.)
[Related: 30 Self-Care Ideas for Mind, Body, and Soul]
Bonus: Prep Before a Panic Attack
If panic attacks are something that you deal with more than you’d like, consider creating a panic attack kit! Gather up some items that you can use to help calm yourself down during a panic attack. Put in some soothing lotions, a soft pillow, a journal and pen, and a tea bag or hot chocolate packet in there. Write yourself some notes to remind you how to calm down. Write down people you can talk to that can help you out. Helplessness is one of the worst feelings to have when you’re in the middle of a panic attack. Preparing ahead of time is a smart idea that will keep you one step ahead of your panic.
What do you do to pull yourself out of a panic attack? Let me know in the comments!