I think I’m having a panic attack, what do I do?

Suddenly it feels hard to breath, your palms get sweaty, you become dizzy, your heart races... You wonder, “am I dying?” Chances are you’re not dying, but you’re experiencing a panic attack.  

Panic attacks are really scary. It seems like out of nowhere you’re consumed with fear, anxiety, and physical symptoms. You’re not alone and there is help out there! Here are some symptoms of a panic attack.

  • Racing heart
  • Feeling dizzy or weak
  • Intense terror, or fear of death
  • Tightness of chest, or chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling out of control (especially of your body) 
  • Sweating or chills
  • Tingling in extremities (fingers, hands, feet, etc.) 

Have you experienced this?  Again, you’re not alone! Here are a few basic tips to help get you through the panic attack.

  1. Recognize that you are not dying. You are having a panic attack.  Once you do that, you can begin taking steps to get through the panic attack. 
  2. Focus on your breath. Take a deep breath in through your nose as you count to 7. Exhale through your mouth and count to 7. Repeat this until you feel more in control of your breath. When we have panic attacks, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is bring oxygen to the brain! 
  3. Begin to notice things in the room. What color is the door? Is it cold or warm? What time is it? What day is it? Noticing things about your environment can help reorient yourself to where you are and begin to feel a little better. 
  4. Place your feet on the floor. This is a way to literally and figuratively ground yourself. It can also help remind you that you are okay, you’re in control, and you’re safe. 
  5. H.A.L.T. Ask yourself to “HALT”. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? If so, do something to address this problem as soon as you can. Grab a snack, take a catnap (avoid caffeine though!), find a friend, and take some deep breaths if you’re angry. Identifying triggers for panic attacks can help you avoid them in the future.
  6. Do some simple math! Weird, right? Not only does this distract you from what is happening, but it actually lights up a different part of the brain. When you have a panic attack, the part of your brain responsible for fear and survival lights up. If you start doing some simple math, you’re allowing a different part of your brain to light up and shift the functioning. Try counting backwards by 7s from 100. Try your time-tables from elementary school. Count as high as you can by 17s. 
  7. Go to your happy place. Take a second now to imagine a beautiful, scenic place. Maybe it’s the beach, the mountains, or a forest. What do you see? What do you hear? Do you smell anything? Are you cold or warm? Try your best to make this place as vivid as possible. Now assign a word to it. It could be “beach,” “joy,” “safe,” or any word that feels fitting! When you’re having a panic attack, say the word to yourself and let yourself be transported. Ask yourself what five senses your noticing in this happy place. 

These are some great ways to get through the panic attack itself. Chances are there are some deeper roots to the panic and anxiety. When you’re feeling that your new skills are falling short, it may be a good time to try therapy! A therapist can help you get to the root of this and reduce the frequency and intensity of panic and anxiety. You can schedule a free consultation here to see if therapy is right for you.

What are some of your favorite ways to get through a panic attack? Comment and share your techniques!