Have you ever experienced a feeling of fear so intense that it caused your hands to shake and your
face to feel hot and flushed? As the panic set in, your mind wasn't the only thing escaping from your
body as your heart began to beat its way out of your chest.
Panic attacks are a common yet widely misunderstood phenomena - often confused with anxiety or
anxiety attacks. Although anxiety can be at the root of a panic attack, anxiety typically comes on
gradually — it grows in anticipation of a stressful or worrisome experience.
Panic attacks, on the other hand, aren't always prompted by stressors. Like a heart attack, panic
attacks come on suddenly. And with how they can tighten your chest and throat and shorten your
breath, panic attacks often feel like heart attacks too.
Whether a panic attack is expected or not, they typically involve severe, disruptive symptoms that feel
out of your control. This is because your body's fight-or-flight response takes over during a panic
attack. It's an autonomous response, meaning your body is automatically preparing you to either stay
and face the perceived threat or to flee to safety.
If you're experiencing panic attacks, it's important to understand what's happening in your body and
why. It's also helpful to know what you can do to find relief when it happens and feel a sense of
The next time a panic attack happens, here are a few things you can try:
Recognize and accept what you're experiencing - don't fight it.
It can be difficult to remember that what you're feeling is temporary and will eventually pass when
you're enduring a panic attack. This is why it's important first to accept and recognize what you're
The symptoms of a panic attack can be so overwhelming and seemingly inexplicable that it's hard to
make sense of them, which in turn only heightens the fear. Don't fight against the symptoms or tell
yourself that you shouldn't be feeling this way. Try to let yourself feel what you're feeling without
If you've experienced panic attacks before, practice saying to yourself, "this is only a panic attack."
You can minimize a panic attack's impact when you lean in and face the fear.
Breathe deeply and slowly.
One of the primary symptoms of a panic attack is shortness of breath. Short, shallow breaths often
make people feel even more panicked, exacerbating the problem. Try to take deep, diaphragmatic
breaths and exhale slowly.
It might help to count out each breath as you inhale and exhale to bring focus to your breath and slow
it down. You can also try closing your eyes to better focus on the sensation of breathing.
Focus on something else.
When experiencing a panic attack, it can be helpful to distract yourself with anything that can take
your mind off what you're feeling. This could be a mantra or affirmation that you repeat to yourself, or
it could be a physical object or a color that you focus on and describe in your mind.
Whatever you choose, the goal is to keep your mind occupied so that you're not as focused on the
When it comes to distracting yourself, here is a TIPP to remember:
Change your temperature by holding an ice cube, squeezing a frozen lemon, or
splashing ice water on your face. The cold temperature will calm you by activating the
parasympathetic nervous system. Remember, it's the sympathetic nervous system that drives your "fight or flight" stress response.
Increase your oxygen flow by doing some jumping jacks, high knees, or a similar
move ingrained in your muscle memory. Short bursts of intense exercise help release pent-up energy
and intense emotions.
Taking slow deep breaths soothes the nervous system. Breathe in for 4 seconds,
hold for 7, and exhale for 8. Manipulating your breath also activates the parasympathetic nervous
system, slowing your heart rate down. When you calm your body, your mind will follow suit.
Paired Muscle Relaxation
Tense one muscle group at a time. Do this with every muscle group in your body, from your shoulders and face down to your calves and feet. Once you release these muscles, they will be more relaxed, requiring less oxygen which means less stress on the heart. These steps can help your mental and physical state rapidly shift, returning you to a state of emotional regulation.
Maintaining relief from panic attacks
Panic attacks are like a physical manifestation of overwhelming fear that can make you feel you've
lost control. While the above ways to find relief are all things you can do on your own, that doesn't
mean you have to manage this alone.
Our compassionate team can help you develop a treatment plan to help you mitigate your symptoms.
Reach out today if panic-related symptoms are affecting your daily life so you can regain a
sense of control and calm.