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How To Stop a Panic Attack

Ask anyone who experiences panic what they wish for most, and you bet they say:

“To be able to control and stop my panic”

To define panic: Panic is a second layer on top of anxiety. Panic is when you feel dizzy and faint, shaky, tight in your chest, experience blurred vision and hyperventilate… in addition to feeling anxious – heart racing, feeling hot and sweaty, tense muscles, increased blood pressure.

If you experience panic, life itself can feel terrifying. Simple moments can be scary, as you fear the next panic attack. You may be doing the supermarket shopping, driving, catching up with a friend or going to work; and these moments may feel threatening.

Your fear of panic may be so intense that you do everything you can to prevent another attack. You may avoid doing certain things to lessen the likelihood of panic. Or, you may put things in place to escape or minimise your chances of another panic attack – for example, you may sit near the door of a lecture theatre or movie cinema, or you may pre-plan excuses to allow for a quick exit (“I feel sick”).

However, despite putting these things in place, you may still experience panic, which often seems like it comes out of the blue!

What’s worse, is when panic comes on, well… YOU PANIC!

You may fear you’re having a heart attack or going to die.

You may think you’re going crazy.

You may even take yourself to emergency.

The good thing is, panic is harmless. You’re not going to have a heart attack or die, and whilst you may feel crazy, you’re not actually going crazy! But let’s face it- panic sucks!

How to Stop a Panic Attack

By understanding what underlies panic you can actually stop panic!

While there are a few drivers to panic (read blog post, Anxiety: What Makes It Worse?), the main one is your breathing. If you’re panicking you’re actually hyperventilating. And the hyperventilating itself – quick, short breaths – is what gives rise to panic. Hyperventilating causes an imbalance in your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood, which then creates: dizziness, pain in your chest, shakes and blurred vision. You will also feel you’re gasping for air, as your body demands some oxygen.

Put quite simply: If you do a breathing exercise you will maintain your oxygen levels and prevent panic.

Sure, you may still experience anxiety, but you won’t panic. Doing a breathing exercise has the added benefit of reducing anxiety, as calm breathing sends a message to the brain saying “all is ok”, thus slowing the release of adrenaline.

There are lots of different breathing exercises out there, so test out what works for you. A personal favourite of mine can be read in blog post – Anxiety, Help I’m Drowning!

How Can a Psychologist Help with Panic?

Panic is driven by a few factors. A psychologist can educate you and help you put strategies in place to prevent panic and reduce anxiety (using Cognitive-behavioural Therapy for Anxiety). Whilst mastering a breathing exercise is the first main preventative step in reducing panic, there are other tips and tricks you can learn to say “goodbye panic”.