How To Stop Panic Attacks – Part Two

How To Stop Panic Attacks – Part Two

by Dr Emma Gray - 30th September, 2014

The second part of this guide to how to stop panic attacks looks at breathing, perspective and behaviour.

1. Breathe

There are two complementary divisions of our nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system. When one is active the other is not. When we are relax the parasympathetic nervous system is active, during a panic attack the sympathetic nervous system is active.

By changing the way that we breath it is possible to initiate the parasympathetic nervous system and as only one system can be active at a time this means that the parasympathetic system will be forced to shut down, and the panic attack along with it. The most effective breathing for this purpose is diaphragmatic breathing, a pattern of slow deep breathing that engages the diaphragm. When practiced regularly diaphragmatic breathing can bring a panic attack to a end in minutes.

2. Ride the Wave

The effects of adrenalin are very short lived, no more than a few minutes, as a result a panic attack can be over very quickly if you allow it to be. The only thing that extends a panic attack is your mind and the ongoing perception of danger (see part 1 of this blog).

The effects of adrenalin (and the accompanying panic attack) can be thought of as a wave that swells in the sea, rises, crashes onto the beach and then slips away as foam. Thinking of a panic attack in this way and following its course with this image in mind can enable you to step back a little from the experience and allow the effects of adrenalin to dissipate without causing additional amounts of the hormone to be released and the panic attack to be unnecessarily prolonged.

3. Behave as if you are fine

The mind and body are inextricably linked meaning that what we do with our body affects how we think and how we feel. Behaving ‘as if’ we are relaxed, calm and confidence can have a surprisingly strong effect on anxiety levels, almost as if we were tricking ourselves that everything is ok. Over time this approach will also build your confidence that you can cope, even when having a panic attack, and the stronger your confidence the less of a problem panic attacks become.

To recap the previous part of this article. Click below to navigate.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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