They can happen to anyone at any time.  Your heart begins to pound out of your chest, and you feel like you can’t breathe.  You might even feel as if you are losing your sanity.  It’s called a panic, or anxiety attack.  Panic attacks are more common than you might think.  There are many triggers, such as stress, sleep deprivation, fear, to name a few. 


Because you already feel out of control, getting more upset will not help you.  Learning some emergency tips to help you get through an attack can ease your fear of having one. Here are some things to do, should you experience an attack:


Take deep breaths, inhaling through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth and nose.  Control your breathing, making a concentrated effort to inhale and exhale slowly and deliberately.


Relax your muscles.  Lie down on the floor, or a bed.  Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath and as you exhale, focus on relaxing one body part at a time.  For example, totally relax your right leg, then the left, etc.  The more that you take control of your mind, the more control you will have over your body.


Have a conversation. If you are not in a place where you can recline, such as an airplane or other enclosed place, have someone to begin to talk to you.  Ask them to keep the subject matter light, and don’t focus on the attack.  Sometimes, doing something normal can result in returning normalcy.


Take a walk. Once the attack has subsided, go for a walk and breathe some fresh air.


Rest!  Your body has just given you a signal that you need to slow down and take it easy.  Rest your body.  Get plenty of sleep, and avoid stressful situations.


Realizing that you can get through a panic attack will relieve some of the fear.  Recognize trigger factors, and do your best to eliminate them.  Many times they will disappear, once you discover what causes them in you.  If they are severe, or occur often, seek medical advice.   

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12 thoughts on “Getting a Handle on Panic Attacks

  1. These are wonderful suggestions. I don’t suffer from panic attacks myself but I can imagine they are awful and quite frightening. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I suffered panic attacks in the early 80s and it was a terrible time in my life. If you have never experienced one there is no way to explain what happens and often people around you give you all sorts of silly advice – or worse yet they just think you’re being dramatic!

    A panic attack triggers the “fight or flight” syndrome, raises your adrenaline levels (thus the increased heart rate), and causes a number of other physical responses to the increased chemicals coursing through your system.

    If your attacks are severe, do seek medical attention! The symptoms of panic attacks can mimic many serious medical conditions and you want to make sure you are not suffering from an actual physical medical emergency.

    Once my doctor told me what was happening I felt great relief that I wasn’t crazy or dying (yes, I actually thought I might be dying when I started to have these attacks.) I also started therapy. For me just the act of “doing something about it” helped alleviate a good deal of the worries and the additional stress those worries generated. Additionally, your doctor can subscribe medications that alleviate many of the physical symptoms and the attacks become less severe, allowing for quicker recovery.

    I am not a big believer in “pills” but the temporary and judicious use of the proper medication is something that can be very helpful in severe panic attacks.

    Knowing what it is happening does necessarily not stop the physical process that occurs but it does let you know that you’re not going crazy or having a heart attack (often the thought of those experiencing their first panic attack). Understanding what a panic attack is and what it does to your body can bring also you some peace of mind which could slow or stop the process.

    I would like to add a couple of techniques that worked for me:

    1. I did isometric exercises. Often these attacks occur in situations where you cannot get up and move around – or you feel like you can’t! Isometric exercises allow you to relax your muscles in an unobtrusive manner.

    2. Often my attacks would occur while driving alone. if I could not pull over I would start to talk out loud about my plans for the day or a new project, anything that interested me. Talking out loud forced me to concentrate on something other than the attack. This works the same way as having a conversation with someone.

    I would think that a support group online could be very helpful too. In those days I didn’t have that option but I wish I had.

    My sympathies go out to anyone experiencing panic attacks. I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt! And I came out on the other side safe and sound and you will too!

  3. Being in a stressful job and a stressful first marriage led to a lot of anxiety for me. Did I suffer any panic attacks? Probably. I just didn’t recognize it as that. I do know that the tips you offered really do work—even for MENOPAUSE.

  4. I suffer from panic/anxiety attacks. I have General Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. I have a two pronged approach. I have a psychiatrist who prescribes medication and a therapist who treats me cognitively Both work when used appropriately.

    My most recent panic attack was just a few days ago, when my husband left to fly his helicopter. It’s something he does but this time, it put me in panic mode. It was a full blown attack. The closed in feeling. The tightening chest, and sense of heart attack. That “tunnel sensation” where I can only focus on what’s in front of me, nothing else surrounding me. Somewhere in my mind, I heard myself say “panic attack, get your pills.” I took an Ativan. Then I called my mom and told her what I was going through and asked her to talk to me about anything until the pill took affect.

    Other things you can do is listen to soothing meditation music. That helps. Reading a book or watching a movie also helps to distract your mind from the anxiety.

    Pam, thanks for such a timely article and for understanding so much about panic attacks.

  5. What great step-by-step practical hints! I thought to myself, “I don’t get these, thank heaven.” However, I suspect it’s how you define it. I do have occasional moments of intense anxiety or panic where this check list will come in very handy. I keep a list of “Truths”–a file of things I forget under duress–a simple Word file linked on my desktop for quick reference when I feel like my life is not working. This 5-step procedure is “in!”


  6. Great advice Pam! I suffered from panic attacks and had to be put on medication. When they first started, I could talk myself into calming down. It is a a horrible feeling.

  7. Pam,

    Excellent article. The variations of Stress, Panic Attacks, Fear, Phobias, OCD, and more – those are my specialties when working with clients.

    People do not like to admit to their “weaknesses” and will go years before seeking help.

    Thank you for a clear and simple set of guidelines to feeling better. I am sure that it will really help a lot of people.



  8. Hi Pam,

    Great post…I suffered from these in the mid-1980’s, and at that time didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Panic Attacks. As time went on, I realized accepted that they were, and was surprised, when I started to open up about it to people that I knew, how many others quietly suffered from the same thing.

    I haven’t had one of these in many years now, thank the Lord, but also am much more careful, watching for the warning signs, and listening.

    God bless, Claudia

  9. I agree it’s a good article. I’m not quite sure how stress at work and anxiety/panic attacks are linked but I found a very good e-book that showed you how to interrupt the recurring cycle of panic attacks, where one attack seems to lay the groundwork for the next.
    I found that I could forestall an attack if I was aware what was going on in my mind. Others may find it useful too.


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