I've worked as an RN for over 25 years in several specialties, including mental health. I've also completed a Master's in nursing research.
Remember that Panic Attacks are a Problem of Perception, Not a Medical Condition
As an intensive care nurse, and then a clinical educator in mental health, I have learned that anxiety is a result of a missed connection between mind and body. Panic and anxiety attacks truly fall between the two disciplines, somewhere between psychological and physical causes. The normal sensations experienced by the body are misinterpreted by the brain as harmful. Sufferers experiencing panic attacks may believe that they are going to die, call 911, or seek out medication to reduce the awful experience. It is helpful to know that anxieties are a problem of perception, not a medical condition.
Yes, it's all in your head—but that doesn't mean it isn't real! It's very real. In this article, you will find several tricks to help you convince your mind and body to handle it.
5 Steps to Stopping a Panic Attack
Before we get to the lengthier explanations, here are the five simple steps for addressing a panic attack in the moment:
- Recognize the symptoms. The first thing you have to do is to recognize that you're having a panic attack. There's no use in fighting it, because that will only make it worse. No, it's not a heart attack, and even though it might feel like you're going to die, you need to remind yourself that no, this is not a medical emergency, no need to call 911: it's just a panic attack.
- Stop what you're doing. Don't just soldier on, because it just won't work. A panic attack will suspend your ability to do anything for awhile, so don't even try. The first thing you need to do is stop what you're doing and find a quiet, private place, if possible. This might be easier to manage if you're sitting at your desk at work, but if you're driving your car, you'll need to pull over as safely and as quickly as possible.
- Watch and wait. Do nothing but focus on your breathing, massage your pressure points, and stretch any muscles that are tense. Think of nothing but making yourself more comfortable. Don't let yourself think about the past or the future or anything else but taking care of yourself at this moment. A panic attack is sort of like a roller coaster ride: No amount of struggling or screaming or trying to escape is going to make it end any quicker.
- When you can, redirect your focus to one simple task. For example, you might perform a simple, repetitive motion like tearing a paper napkin into tiny shreds, rubbing an ice cube against the back of your neck, or lifting a heavy book twenty times. Try to imagine that you are floating above yourself, watching yourself perform this repetitive task. Focus on the small steps.
- If you can, pick up where you left off. Your job now is simply to do the next step of whatever it was that you were doing when the panic attack started, but instead of thinking about the larger picture (I am driving home for a family reunion where I will have to interact with so-and-so), focus only of the next step in the process: I am starting the car, I am putting on my turn signal, I am merging into traffic....
This is Your Brain on Adrenaline
Everyone has heard about the tiny woman that lifted a car off of her loved one, or the man that ran in front of a speeding car to save a child from certain harm— that is the awesome power of adrenaline. Adrenaline allows your body to quickly run away from a dangerous situation.
When the brain “thinks” anxiety, the body responds with “danger,” and your adrenal glands pump you up with adrenaline. The more panicked you become, the more adrenaline is released, and those feelings of impending doom become more severe. The job of adrenaline is to provide you with a way to escape danger, even if you don't know what that danger may be.
Unfortunately, your body sometimes tells you to run even when there is no real danger, and in those cases, you'll need tricks to convince your body to stop. Follow these steps to help stop your panic attack.
I Hear a Buzzing Sound in My Ears
When you’re hearing that distracting “buzzing” sound in your ears, your brain is reacting to increased adrenaline and the buzzing is the result of “beta brainwave activity.” It may be disorienting and confusing, as the brain is on overdrive and the thought process is overwhelmed by the “speed” effect. Your body is experiencing a natural response to adrenalin and not a physical or mental disease. Distract yourself with external sounds:
- Put on soothing music (not too loud) and try earphones.
- Have a conversation with yourself or someone you trust.
- Distract yourself with a favorite movie or video.
I’m Feeling "Pins and Needles" in My Arms and Hands
Normally, you breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. When your breathing is faster, you exhale more carbon dioxide and it makes you dizzy and may induce the “pins and needles” sensation in your arms, hands, lips, or facial areas.
- First, don't get alarmed. It is not going to hurt you.
- Take slow, deep breaths into a paper bag or cupped hands to restore your carbon dioxide levels and these strange sensations will cease and you will feel better within minutes.
My Heart is Pounding in My Chest
Adrenaline is speeding up your nervous system and heart rate to provide you with the extreme energy to “run!” In modern society, people rarely need to run from anxiety-producing situations. You can’t run away from your angry boss or the fear of your checking account being overdrawn. Stress in modern times does not always benefit from the “flight or fight” response of adrenaline, and you may interpret the natural disturbances as impending doom.
- Don't let your pounding heart scare you even more. It's no different than if you were playing tennis or running a race. Your heart is designed to accommodate the oxygen supply your body demands with ease, and the adrenaline is making your heart beat faster so you can escape an undesirable situation.
- Place both hands in a sink full of water as hot as you can stand it (but not hot enough to burn you). Alternatively, trying placing ice cubes on your forehead, face, or the back of your neck. This will distract your nervous system and slow the flow of adrenaline.
I Can’t Breathe Normally
Normally, people don’t feel themselves breathing. It is a highly evolved action that requires little energy. But during a panic attack, adrenaline expands your lungs so you can take in more oxygen to run away from danger. You perceive the expanded chest as the sensation of difficulty breathing.
- If you can hold a conversation or speak, you are breathing just fine.
- Sit down and rock yourself gently back and forth and inhale and exhale slowly with each movement, this will help you feel your breathing.
- Breathe in through the nose and out through a straw; you will begin to feel the movement of air and sense your breathing.
I Want to Run Away from My Body
In response to adrenaline, your mind is telling your body to run away from danger. The panic response is confusing, and you may feel that your own body is the danger you must run from. Try to be as calm as possible so the adrenaline stops getting the signal of danger. Hold on, your anxiety will be over quickly. Use pressure points to distract the central nervous system.
- Push your thumb on one hand into the space between your thumb and index finger on the other, hard enough to cause discomfort.
- Pinch the bridge of the nose with the thumb and index finger, hard enough to cause discomfort.
I am Trembling and Shaking
The surge of adrenaline is giving you a “rush” and causing you to shake. It is perfectly normal and your body is responding to the chemical. The more fear you experience, the more adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, and the more trembling you will have.
- Your body is reacting in a natural way to fear and it is not going to hurt you.
- Fortunately, the trembling of the body is usually a sign that the adrenaline effects are almost over. So in that sense, the trembling might be a good sign.
Can I Die from a Panic Attack?
People who experience a panic attacks sometimes mistakenly believe they're having a heart attack, and sometimes that worry contributes even further to the stress. Heart palpitations are not necessarily signs of a heart attack. The vague feelings of tightness in your chest are due to the increased supply of adrenaline “speed” and not a malady. Your healthy heart is equipped to beat fast and pound as if you were jogging for exercise, were surprised with a birthday party, or were just notified that you won the lottery.
- You're not going to die. It's just a panic attack.
- Sit down and place your head between your knees and breathe slowly. This will slow your heart rate and relax the chest muscles.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks
Determine the Cause
Unfortunately, anxiety is a necessary evil. Too little creates a person that isn’t motivated enough to take precautions to survive. They generally don’t feel the pressure to find a job, take care of their future, or expend energy to learn new ideas and opportunities. On the other hand, too much can prevent people from learning anything or experiencing new opportunities for growth and success. High anxiety is debilitating and crippling to people that develop phobias and social anxieties that prevent them from enjoying their lives. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Moderate anxiety helps people safely gauge the risks and the rewards. A certain amount is necessary to stay alert and to push passed fear and find the courage to overcome adversity and pursue our dreams.
However, if you find that your anxiety is getting the better of you and holding you back, it's time to take note of your triggers. Knowing what people, places, and situations stir you up will allow you to premeditate and control your reaction to them.
See a Doctor
Get a check-up from your healthcare provider and discuss the anxiety you’re experiencing. There are many anxiety medications available today. If you see a doctor, you will have less worry about your physical health, be able to understand the effects of anxiety, you may opt for a prescription medication, and you'll be less likely to misinterpret the sensations as illness.
Avoid Stimulants and Eat Regularly
If you are prone to panic attacks, you need to take care of your body and achieve a healthy lifestyle that will keep you calm and relaxed. Avoiding certain foods and beverages will reduce the chances of stimulation causing an anxiety attack.
- Avoid caffeine in coffee and cola products.
- Don’t drink alcohol due to the initial stimulant effects.
- Stop smoking: Nicotine is a powerful stimulant.
- Eat protein every four hours and avoid drops in blood sugar.
- Exercise daily: Power walking is an excellent deterrent. Any kind of regular exercise will help.
- Meditate daily and find a higher power that makes you feel safe.
- Get massages that relax you and release natural “feel good” chemicals.
Seek a Therapist Who Understands
If you feel anxiety is overwhelming your life, find a therapist that works extensively with anxiety disorders. It is important they are someone you can trust, and they can help you how to cope in a positive way.
Please Leave Feedback for the Author
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
AL on January 17, 2019:
Clearly written by someone who does not have anxiety or panic attacks. This was a useless article and almost even condescending.
rose on December 05, 2016:
i have just read this and will try everything when i do have a panic attack i have been so worried about what is wrong with me, i am running mad or something but its reliving to know that its not a heart attack. i dread especially the breathlessness while sleeping
L Smith on May 05, 2016:
I was told that panic attacks are because of an imbalance in brain chemistry which I believe is a medical condition!
Dee on March 28, 2016:
I have suffered with Anxiety going on about 5 years now. I am overcoming it with Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Just stared the therapy a few months ago and it is working wonders for me!! If anyone would like some advice, Please let me know. I would love to help. My Anxiety was so bad. I wish I had sought out help sooner but I just did not know what to do!! There is Hope everyone!!
MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 23, 2016:
This is a nice article. Panic is something that just comes on. Excellent coverage.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on March 23, 2016:
This is a very helpful article from someone with personal and professional experience with panic and anxiety. Along with some suggestions for immediate, practical interventions was the suggestion to seek a good therapist should anxiety be overwhelming in one's life.
Ruth Ann on January 28, 2016:
The first panic attack I ever experienced was while driving on a 2 lane bridge over a river. My 2 children were in the back seat and had been bickering; plus we were running late to a doctor's appt. for one of my children. I'm very afraid of water and can't swim, so I just knew I was going to pass out, run into the side of the bridge and go into the water. Needless to say I made it to the other side. Kept having the same feeling for part of a year when I had to go over that bridge. I've had several other attacks over the years; all the attacks were in busy traffic on interstates or while in the city. I've either been on an overpass or somewhere that I couldn't pull off the side of the road. What do you recommend to do until I can pull off the road? One time I was on the way to my son's house about 2 hours away; I was on an interstate with lots of overpasses when I had an attack and pulled off on the side of the interstate. I sat there a long time, but just couldn't get back on the interstate. Finally I had to call my son & his wife to come get me. I have been taking Sertraline for years. I think it helps since this kind of thing doesn't happen often.
Deborah Reno from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on January 22, 2016:
This is a great article. I have struggled with panic attacks for a number of years.
Although I practice yoga and meditation daily, I am still overcome by panic occasionally.
Thanks for the tips.
ghftf on December 13, 2015:
my worst time is in the mornings. I have a hard time making myself face the day.
Marie from Western Australia. on December 10, 2015:
I have suffered from Anxiety attacks on and off for the the last twenty years, ever since I left my husband of 35 years.
I spent most of those years living in denial of the fact that his lies and excuses would never change. In the end I had to leave as we had lost every home we bought because of his debts and lies.
Now I see him for what he was and it's usually late at night in bed when an incident in our marriage suddenly comes to mind and I see what was really happening at the time and how I was fooled.
It's awful, and when I acknowledge how that situation really was, 0ther situations from back then start rushing in to my mind at a faster and faster rate, and I see them in a different light and I can't stop it.
It's a terrifying and overwhelming experience and eventually I had to resort to a mild medication because it was so exhausting and I couldn't sleep.
I'm a lot better now, perhaps because I've re-lived and re-evaluated so much and it doesn't happen so often.
The only thing I can do when it happens is to get up and play silly games on the computer and have a hot drink until I just feel I can get to sleep.
So I have to say that none of the suggestions made would make any difference to me when an anxiety attack starts. I have to shift my mind onto something totally mindless but absorbing.
No on October 07, 2015:
A panic attack definitely can be a sign of a "medical condition." Panic disorder is a real illness and often needs medication and/or therapy to remedy. Don't give people your opinion and pretend that it is fact. You have some good remedies for panic attacks, but overall, you gave bad advice.
Denise on June 19, 2015:
I think the writer doesn't understand that most people who have panic attacks are actually dealing with PTSD. It is impossible to understand unless you have lived through a traumatic experience where you nearly died and could have died...possibly others did die.
It is a nice thought to think that sticking your hands in hot water would stem a panic attack but honestly it doesn't even come close to working. I believe you have to have meds and a good counselor experienced in dealing with PTSD. We, in the USA, have very little idea in the health care profession how to deal with this. It's sad to me to see someone treat it like its a minor over active stress experience when it really is an overwhelming and uncontrollable reaction to a stimuli that a lot of times the suffering person doesn't even realize it there...a smell. a color, or in one case a laundry basket. Once you experience a PTSD attack you will know that pinching your hand will never stop, or even slow down or lessen an attack. It's like throwing a bottle of water on a house fire...you won't even notice it!
Linda Kessler on April 12, 2015:
This and another by this writer are not sincere but insulting to people who know more, and care far more than this writer does, about this topic. I could suggest something like writing about cheese or something.
Trudy Cooper from Hampshire, UK on December 01, 2014:
Very interesting hub, I have also written about anxiety and panic attacks, we agree on many areas.
Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on August 07, 2014:
Here we see the typically great responses you have had from your outstanding articles. So now I have to believe you took joanwz's hub on the subject of what to do at home when you are bored, and are still busily checking off the items from her list, or you retired and went to the Bahamas and forgot all about us left behind in Huberville?
feelingcrazy on June 18, 2014:
So, what is one to do if a supposed panic attack occurs occasionally during sexual activity with a trusted partner of years? Heart feels very cold, very tight, vision becomes obscured, very confused, unstable when I try to stand (i have fallen before), throat feels completely obstructed, very vigorous trembling and seizure like shaking. Involuntary muscle twitching, fingers bend in ways I can't willingly bend them. This will occur after only minutes of activity. Also, happens at work with zero exertion. Any ideas?
Jacqui from New Zealand on June 15, 2014:
As someone who has a mild panic issue - this is useful. Thank you for sharing.!
kerlund74 from Sweden on February 17, 2014:
So important, many people suffer of Anxiety and panic attacks. I "only" suffer from Anxiety from time to time. In times of changes and when I feel down, there it is. So a teriffic hub, that can help a lot!
Lisa from WA on September 05, 2013:
I've experienced a few anxiety attacks over the years but never been too concerned about them since they aren't that frequent. The only time it really scared me was once when I was in school and I suddenly had an attack for what seemed like no reason. It was close the beginning of the semester so I wasn't too stressed at the time. Just as I walked to the door of my classroom, it hit me and I had to go to my car and try to calm down. Talking to a loved one on the phone really helped me at the time, although I'm still not sure what triggered it.
While I have heard of a few of the remedies you mentioned, there is quite a bit of useful tips here I never knew about before. I will definitely keep a few of these in mind next time I feel like I may be having a panic attack or feeling extreme anxiety. I think this is probably one of the most informative hubs I've read on this site so thank you for the time and effort you put into this.
DanielleFaith on August 02, 2013:
I think in this day and age mental health is so easily overlooked. This hub is a good reminder not to forget about taking care of ourselves because, if we don't maintain our wellbeing we end up in panic situations that need emergency care!
Okhita on April 15, 2013:
Ehealer, thank you for the time you put to write such a valuable article. I have been having these panic attacks for 2 months now. Even in my sleep. The worst is the uncontrollable shaking. I will have an appointment with shrink tomorrow but don't want to end up 10kg heavier. I know it's quite soon for a reply from all of you but I need anyone's opinion. What has cured you totally? I've heard of Panic Away and Linden Method. Or shall I go for Paxil or Effexor?
I'm really scared. Thank you Ehealer for your tips which I will print and have at hand. God bless you all.
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on March 02, 2013:
I had pretty severe panic attacks for more than a decade. Panic attacks are awful! Thankfully, I have not had one for more than seven years now. I always enjoy your articles. Voted up, shared and inserting link in healing from a narcissistic mother hub. Panic attacks are so often an issue for adult children of narcissists.
Missy Mac from Illinois on December 17, 2012:
I came across this hub and love the informative tips and information. Like many comments, exercise helps tremendously and diet. Thanks again.
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on December 16, 2012:
eHealer, this is an excellent article with tips I wish I'd known years ago when I did have anxiety attacks that made me hyperventilate. I used the "breathe into a paper bag" trick suggested by my doctor, but often the situation went from bad to worse before I could find a paper bag! (Nowadays, paper bags have given way to plastic, so it could be even more difficult to use that method.)
In my late 20s, I learned to recognize the signs of an impending anxiety attack and use relaxation techniques to calm myself. Although I still don't like crowds and avoid them as much as possible, I rarely suffer the discomfort caused by heightened anxiety any more.
However, I know other people who do, so will share your article with them.
Thanks. Voted Up++
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on December 16, 2012:
Hello FreezeFrame, it's so nice to meet you. I really appreciate your supportive comments thanks for reading my hub!
FreezeFrame34 from Charleston SC on December 15, 2012:
Great, insightful information! Thanks for sharing! I love the tips! I love the idea of breathing through a straw!
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on November 06, 2012:
Thanks Phdast, I am so glad you don't have panic attacks. Many people do, it's a human thing. Pass on the info to those you know that do suffer. Thanks for you comments and I absolutely love your hubs!
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on November 05, 2012:
Absolutely fascinating (and informative). I don't suffer from panic attacks (at least, I don't think I do) but I have a couple of family members who do. Very useful suggestions and very well written. Thanks.
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 04, 2012:
Thanks Vicky, people who suffer from panic attacks should have all available options to find the best solution. Thank you for your supportive comments, and I appreciate it!
Victoria P from Orlando, Florida on October 04, 2012:
Very insightful, most of these remedies I have never heard of. I have been dealing with panic attacks for years now, and there is one natural solution that calms me down and relaxes me. It's called the linden method program. It's a book that comes with a video and audio mp3s, the audio portion helped me so much! He does relaxation and visualizations and walks you through a panic attack. This tape got me through some tough times, so check it out if your still suffering from panic attacks! Thanks for the article though, gonna try these next time!
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 04, 2012:
Thank you gsidley, I am so glad you found it useful.
Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on October 04, 2012:
A quality hub packed with accurate and useful information.
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 03, 2012:
Thank you so much epigramman, your kind words made my week! I am truly grateful for the balance that hubpages provides, I don't know where I would be without the graceful story telling that allows me to escape the real world once in a while and relax in a state of "wow." Thanks for your much appreciated comments. Take care and see you soon on hubpages.
epigramman on October 03, 2012:
Thank you Deborah for you reassuring vote of confidence but it takes a great writer to recognize a great writer - and it's ironic that I live in the fantasy world , if you will, of writing because I am a storyteller first and foremost and you live in the reality of the world with your writing.
And that's what gives such a great balance to a forum/website like Hubpages - certainly most of us have probably experienced panic attacks - so it's helpful to know the symptoms and the signs and how to deal with it . This is really important to know. You are an essential writer; you can literally save lives - hubbravo to you and it's my please entirely to follow you - sending you warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 5:19pm
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 02, 2012:
Thanks Rajan, you have educated yourself out of responding to the panic, that is the best way to overcome them. Thanks for reading my article and see you soon at your great hubs!
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on October 02, 2012:
Fantastic hub, Deborah. I can relate to some of these symptoms at sometime in my life. However I knew they were a response to those particular situation.
Voted up, useful and shared.
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on September 28, 2012:
Thanks Glimmer, I appreciate the support. I find the breathing part helpful when I do my panic thing, it really does work. Hope you never have to use it, but if you do, it's here for you! See ya soon!
Claudia Mitchell on September 28, 2012:
Good hub eHealer! Really useful info. I found the breathing section very helpful.
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on September 27, 2012:
Thank you Deborah, I am so glad you find it helpful. Panic is the most debilitating condition on the planet and probably just as misunderstood. I hope this article helps you and bless you to.
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on September 27, 2012:
this a great hub,, .. sometimes.. i feel like panic attacks... are major part of my life..... sometimes worse than others. bless you for posting this hub
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on September 27, 2012:
Hello Annerivendell, thanks for your kind comments. Meditation does help anxiety attacks, but as you stated, not during an attack. See you soon on hubpages.
annerivendell from Dublin, Ireland on September 27, 2012:
Another knowledgeable and well written Hub. Meditation is also a great way to help with anxiety, though not when in the middle of a panic attack of course!
Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on September 26, 2012:
Tips, LOL! Exercise is a great way to stay in shape and work off that "anger" in a positive way! Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate it!
tipstoretireearly from New York on September 26, 2012:
Exercising is a wonderful way to decrease anxiety and prevent panic attacks. After an invigorating run, it just doesn't matter so much what your boss might say!