Chances are, we’ve all had a panic attack at some point or know someone who has—your heart races, you can barely breathe or catch your breath, and you (obviously) panic.
Maybe you suffer from anxiety and have them often, maybe you’ve only had one in your life. However many you’ve had, here’s how to tame one when it happens, because, like many things in life, you never know when it’ll occur.
An ex-boyfriend of mine had them often, so I started to explore what, exactly, they are and how they can be controlled. And, as someone who’s had bad bouts of anxiety (mainly in the form of OCD), I learned a lot about relaxation techniques and getting rid of unwanted thoughts through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and hypnosis via some amazing therapists.
I know that when it comes to relaxing (i.e., not panicking), a lot of therapists suggest changing your breathing technique. In this Lifehacker article, Clinical Psychologist Jeffrey DeGroat, Ph.D., suggests a breathing exercise where you breathe in for four seconds, then out for six seconds, and to repeat it until your panic attack is gone.
Tony Robbins is also a big believer in the way we breathe and has great examples online. For instance, in this YouTube video, he says to breathe in for five seconds, hold for 20 seconds, then breathe out for 10 seconds. (YouTuber Chris Downham posted the video, and I like the way he guides you through Tony’s technique.)
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2. Stop Negative Thinking
In her blog post, Pati McDermott, CHT, recommends shouting “STOP!!!” very loud—inside your head, that is.
My friend’s therapist says to shout this aloud, though I guess it depends where you are when your panic attack happens. In any case, saying “Stop” does stop your brain from thinking of the worst case scenario again and again.
3. Use Coping Statements
McDermott also suggests using coping statements—in other words, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones like, “I’ve gotten through this situation many times before and I can get through it again” or “I am fine, everything is fine.”
Personally, I find these very helpful when my negative thinking gets on a loop.
4. Listen To Music
When music is available to me and I need to calm the heck down, I listen to Michael W. Smith’s beautiful song, “Breathe.” I not only listen to it whenever I need to chill out, but also if I just want to decompress or reflect on the day. You can also find tons of apps on your phone that will have the same meditative effect.
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5. Do The “AWARE” Concept
A – Acknowledge & Accept
Acknowledge that you are afraid and not in danger—work with the panic attack and accept it like a headache.
W – Wait & Watch (and maybe, work)
Stay and see how the panic works, even keeping a panic diary during the attack (not after). Dr. Carbonell has one you can download that’s an amazing resource. The “work” part comes in if you are in action during the panic attack, like driving your car, Dr. Carbonell says, so you may have to keep doing that action.
A – Actions (to make yourself more comfortable)
Dr. Carbonell suggests things like:
- Belly breathing (i.e., diaphragmatic breathing)
- Talking to yourself, asking: “Is it danger or discomfort?”
- Be in the present (not in “What if…?”-land)
- Working with your body (relaxing various body parts, one at a time)
R – Repeat
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Dr. Carbonell says to repeat all of the above if you feel more panic setting in.
E – End
Remind yourself that the panic attack will end. “And maybe the next time you panic, when you notice yourself thinking, once again, ‘Will this ever end?’ you’ll find yourself answering, “YES!’” says Dr. Carbonell.