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How To Stop a Panic Attack

How To Stop a Panic Attack

by Dr Emma Gray - 29th September, 2014

The first part of this guide to stopping Panic Attacks focuses on reassuring yourself.

1. Reassure Yourself

A panic attack is your body’s response to adrenalin that has been released because your mind has detected danger.

So identify the danger and reassure yourself that you are safe. Usually the danger that people who have panic attacks detect is a physical symptom that indicates the start of a panic attack which they fear will result in them either fainting, going mad/losing their mind or embarrassing themselves. Use the following information to reassure yourself:

· Fear of Fainting during a Panic Attack

If you are worried about fainting bear in mind that fainting is the body’s way of getting blood to the brain when blood pressure drops. During a panic attack blood pressure is high to ensure oxygen is delivered to muscles to facilitate the fight/flight response (i.e. fighting the detected danger or running from it). So although you may feel dizzy, this is not because you are about to faint but in response to the adrenalin in your system. As long as you do not hold your breath during a panic attack it is physically impossible to faint.

· Fear of Going Mad during a Panic Attack

The experiences that you have during a panic attack are a direct result of the adrenalin in your body nothing more sinister. People who do ‘go mad’ or lose touch with reality do not worry about it for the simple reason that they have lost touch with reality. People who experience psychotic illness (commonly thought of as ‘going mad’) are largely unaware of their ‘condition, awareness in these individual’s is actually a sign of them getting better. During a panic attack, awareness in usually heightened so in this state you are as far away from ‘going mad’ as it is possible to be.

· Fear of Embarrassing Yourself during a Panic Attack

This fear if usually part of a bigger worry concerning the sufferer’s worth or value. People who worry about embarrassing themselves also tend to suffer from low self esteem. First, beware that people are internally focused, meaning that they are far more concerned about themselves so you would need to do something pretty dramatic to attract attention. Second consider how you would respond if you noticed someone struggling with a panic attack, wouldn’t you help them, reassure them, be kind to them and then get on with your day probably sparing them little more thought. Why would it not be the same for you?

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.

If you are suffering with any of the issues discussed in this article and would like to seek professional help then you may find our Anxiety Page helpful.


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 colleagues once described me as a 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.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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