How to Calm Down During a Panic Attack

“I was around 19 when I had my first big panic attack… I thought I was having a heart attack!”

I THOUGHT I WAS HAVING A HEART ATTACK!

Panic attacks are truly terrifying, something anyone who has suffered one will attest to.

Your heart beats out of your chest, breathing becomes more difficult, and everything you feel is impending death. Luckily there are ways to keep attacks from happening, or even riding one out while remaining relatively calm.

I was around 19 when I had my first big panic attack, relatively late by most standards I will admit. Let me try to paint a quick picture of the event that set it off:

Three strangers came into my apartment and caught me half-naked in my bedroom…

No.

I wasn’t being burglarised, and nobody held me at gun point. But if anxiety disorders were rational, they probably wouldn’t be called disorders. Would they well?

The whole point is of course that anxiety attacks are completely irrational, caused by seemingly unremarkable events.

(In the spirit of not leaving anyone wondering, the strangers were inspecting the apartment. I even knew as much, but didn’t expect them to burst into my room while I was changing).

The inspection itself took no more than 5 minutes, and another 5 minutes passed before I started panicking. Completely irrational! Trembles, pain and pressure in my chest, heart beating a million times a minute…

Long story short: I thought I was having a heart attack! 

But it eventually subsided, as all panic attacks do.

ACCEPTING YOUR ANXIETY

If there is one thing that can and will spell disaster when facing a panic attack, it’s having the wrong mind-set.

The number one thing to remember and to keep securely in your mind is this: Symptoms of anxiety might be uncomfortable, but they are not dangerous!

You know this is nothing to fear. You should know that very well in fact.

Can I assume you have had a panic attack before? Did you think you were going to die?

But you never did, you survived every time. You didn’t even take damage, although your whole body felt like it was falling apart.

Your anxiety cannot hurt you.

The moment you stop trying to fight the panic attack is the moment you will regain control. Accept what your body is trying to do, and just go with the flow.

I understand that this sounds like a horrible idea, but hear me out.

By trying to fight the anxiety away, you are putting further strain on your mind. You are introducing more stress to the situation, making the panic attack worse!

Instead, let your fight or flight response run its course uninterrupted.

Ask your body:

“What comes next?”

“Going to give me some more adrenaline?”

“Sure, go right ahead!”

GIVE YOURSELF SOME ROOM TO BREATHE

Let me preface with a sensational piece of information before we continue. Completely involuntarily and unbeknownst, you might be fueling the fire.

Dizziness, confusion, chest pain and difficulty breathing, all common side effects of a phenomenon called hyperventilation.

You might have heard that you breathe in oxygen, and out carbon dioxide. Although you might assume more oxygen is great and less CO2 is a-ok, having too little of either is actually very troublesome.

The consequence of hyperventilation is too much oxygen, and a lack of CO2. It means you are breathing out more than you are breathing in.

Hyperventilation will cause mild signs of anxiety, this will lead to more hyperventilation, causing more anxiety, and on we go. Before you know it, you are spiralling directly into a panic attack.

Stop it in its tracks before it gets to that point!

Always be aware of how you are breathing, especially if anxiety starts creeping up on you.

The treatment for hyperventilation is almost ridiculously simple.

  1. Breathe in slowly through your nose
  2. Hold the air for 5 or more seconds
  3. Slowly exhale through your mouth

Repeating these three steps should have an almost immediately relaxing effect as your CO2 levels return to normal.

LET’S GET MOVING

If you are looking to diminish the frequency and severity of your panic attacks, this is the trick for you.

It’s not exactly news that exercise has amazing effects on depression and anxiety alike. You might even have heard that a good workout gives you a natural high.

Aerobic exercises like running, cycling, swimming, etc. will reduce anxiety and depression over time. Less anxiety means fewer panic attacks.

Let me repeat that sentiment with added emphasis:

Regular exercise WILL reduce anxiety and depression over time.

There is  even a possibility of exercise increasing your tolerance toward adrenaline, making you less susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks!

I really cannot overstate how important exercise has been in my own recovery, and that’s with me usually skipping cardio!

On setbacks

Know that setbacks are completely normal.

We can’t reasonably expect to control all anxiety and every panic attack from the very first day! Recovery is never a straight road, it has bumps and turns. Sometimes we fall down, and we need to choose to get back up, always knowing we’re moving forward.

Some days we won’t have the energy or motivation to stand up and fight, so we take a loss and learn from it! That’s the way recovery is for everyone, but it will get easier and easier over time!

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7 thoughts on “How to Calm Down During a Panic Attack”

  1. Thank you for this article. My 13 year old is starting to show signs of having panic attacks. When I’m there – this is what I’m asking her to do. I plan to read your article to her in the hope it gives her a strategy she can do without me.

    1. Hey there, ArtyQuiltyMamma!

      I am sorry to hear that your daughter is experiencing signs of panic attacks. However this article is likely neither as comprehensive nor specific as one would like. I will be sending you an email with tailored information later today.

      – Tom

  2. My husband and I suffer from anxiety. My panic attacks are more biting nails, picking lips, and realizing that I am not breathing. I have a 2 year old son, I know that mental illness is a disease and we have accepted it a long time ago. I don’t want my son to pick up my anxiety habits that I use. How can I make sure, outside of being aware, that my son does not pick up those habits?

    1. Tom | TheAnxietyLad

      Hey, Yolanda! Thank you for your comment and question.

      Mental illness, disease, or both. Whatever you prefer to view anxiety as, remember that it is also highly manageable/curable and definitely not something that must be passed on to your son.

      Instead of not passing on the habits, you and your husband can choose to not pass on any anxiety. I believe that teaching healthy coping mechanisms and encouraging children to be open about their feelings and opinions will go a long way.

      Aside from that, there are many pitfalls that anxious parents can fall into, like being overprotective, not setting clear boundaries, or as you mentioned, promoting anxious habits. I encourage you and your husband to seek all the information you can on these (and related) subjects, I am actually very proud of you for being here asking this question. That alone amounts to a lot.

      Good luck to you both going forward.

      As ever, Tom

  3. Tom,,,,thank you,thank you for this information!! I have had panic attacks on and off for 52 years. I am now with out meds and trying to deal with this in ways you so excellenty describe. Blessings to you.

  4. My first panic attack was yesterday (funny enough I I’m 19) and I I’m so glad that I have this information sooner rather then later✨

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