What Do You Do When You Have A Panic Attack



Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your body’s response as much as possible.

Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.

Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when you’ve practiced them beforehand.

How To Help Someone Having A Panic Attack

A panic attack is a brief but intense rush of fear.

These attacks involve symptoms similar to those experienced when facing a threat, including:

Panic attacks differ from a typical fear response because there’s no actual threat involved.

“The body is saying there’s danger, when in reality there’s none present,” explains Sadie Bingham, a clinical social worker who specializes in and provides therapy in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Panic attack aren’t always easy to identify, so people who have one attack often worry about having more, especially in public.

Panic attacks usually feel very uncomfortable and cause significant distress. Many people believe they’re experiencing a heart attack or other life-threatening issue.

If you know someone who experiences panic attacks, there are several things you can do to help them in the moment.

Mental Health Treatment Program Locator

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at .

You Answered Yes To Question

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you might have panic disorder or panic symptoms. Panic attacks can be very scary, and it is normal to feel initially concerned about these sensations. Panic disorder affects about 2-3% of people in the United States per year, so you are not alone. The good news is that panic disorder can be successfully treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which will help you learn how to effectively manage your panic disorder. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, and they are negatively interfering with your life, it might be time to seek help.

It will be important to begin with a structured psychiatric evaluation by a professional to see if you meet criteria for panic disorder, which will inform your treatment plan. Our mental health impacts many aspects of our lives, such as our physical health and our quality of life, which is why it is so important to address any mental health problems with effective treatments.

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a licensed professional. To begin your search for a mental health professional, go to the ADAA’s Therapist Directory.

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How To Get Help After The Panic Attack

Many people with panic disorder distance themselves, fearing others won’t understand. They may be embarrassed by their panic attacks or other anxiety symptoms. There are also many myths about the disorder that may contribute to a panic sufferer’s feelings of shame.

This means that you may need to remind your loved one, family member, or friend that they are not alone and that while you may not understand their experience exactly, you do understand that they have unique experiences that you wish to be supportive of.

It can also be helpful to encourage them to spend time doing self-care and using strategies that help to combat feelings of loneliness and reduce panic disorder symptoms. 

For example, physical exercise for panic disorder can help reduce stress hormones and decrease muscle tension. It may be worthwhile to invite the person to exercise with you or a small group to relieve some of the anxiety. Also, it is important to remember that on average it takes 5 weeks for the brain to produce endorphins as a result of exercising so it will take more than one or two trips to the gym to feel results!

Another way to help someone overcome the feelings of isolation related to panic attacks is to gently encourage them to put themselves out there by getting involved in classes, groups, clubs, or organizations. Providing a supportive and understanding group of people can help eliminate loneliness.

What Causes Panic Attacks

When we feel we’re under threat, our body activates our ‘fight or flight’ response. It automatically releases hormones that help us act faster and make our hearts beat faster. This is helpful when we’re in danger because we can fight back or escape. Panic attacks happen when our ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered but we aren’t in any danger.

Panic attacks happen at different times and for different reasons for everyone. You might notice you experience them when life is stressful, or that particular places or activities trigger them. Or there might be no obvious trigger for them at all.

Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia was traditionally thought to involve a fear of public places and open spaces. However, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks and panic disorder. Although it can develop at any point, agoraphobia usually appears within a year of your first recurrent panic attacks.

For example, you may begin to avoid:

  • Crowded places such as shopping malls or sports arenas.
  • Cars, airplanes, subways, and other forms of travel.
  • Social gatherings, restaurants, or other situations where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack.
  • Physical exercise in case it triggers panic.
  • Certain food or drinks that could provoke panic, such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or specific medications.
  • Going anywhere without the company of someone who makes you feel safe. In more severe cases, you might only feel safe at home.

Consider Getting Covered By The Ada

A stigma still remains with brain-related medical disorders including panic disorder, other anxiety disorders, and mood disorders. You may be treated differently by people if word gets around the office that you have panic disorder. It’s an unfortunate reality that employees have faced. Although information about your medical condition is supposed to be kept confidential, you can’t guarantee that someone in the office isn’t going to gossip to someone else. Contact an attorney to see if you can be covered by the ADA and if the benefits of doing so outweigh the risks.

Close Your Eyes And Breathe

Whenever you find yourself having a panic attack, take a moment to lie down, close your eyes, and take a deep breath in. Then out. In. Then Out. In. Out. Breathing deep naturally helps slow your heart rate to help you calm your anxiety. Taking the time to focus on your breath helps move your mind into the present inside of the past or future. Find time each day to get that quiet moment to yourself just to breathe. The more you practice mindful breathing, the fewer panic attacks you’ll have. 

Acknowledge The Panic Attack

People spend most of their time in the two wrong places: the past or the future. In the past, you drown yourself in depression. In the future, you’re scared for your life. But in the present, that’s where you can find the most joy. While having a panic attack can be wildly unpleasant, it’s important to sit with yourself in the present moment and acknowledge it.

Tell yourself, “Right now, I’m having a panic attack. I feel scared, anxious, and worried that something will go wrong. However, right now nothing bad is happening right now. I am safe. I feel myself taking a deep breath in. I feel the oxygen entering my lungs. I feel my toes grounded on the floor. I’m shaking my arms back and forth. This moment isn’t perfect but it will pass. Good moments are up ahead. All I need to do is feel this present moment.”

Theres No Clear Cause Of Panic Attacks

Not every person who struggles with anxiety also has panic attacks, but there can be a genetic predisposition to them. People with anxiety disorders and mood disorders are at a higher risk, and panic attacks do tend to run in families.

Panic attacks are also associated with major life transitions , severe stress , and certain medical conditions. Panic attacks can be triggered by stimulant use, including caffeine, and withdrawal from medication.

What To Do When Someone Else Is Having A Panic Attack

This section will provide some tips on how to help a person having a panic attack.

First, try talking them through a few of the methods above. For instance, help them find a peaceful spot, encourage them to take slow, deep breaths, and ask them to focus on a nearby object.

If you do not know the person, introduce yourself and ask them if they need help. Ask them if they have had a panic attack before, and if so, what helps them regain control.

People can also try the following tips when someone else is having a panic attack:

  • Try to remain calm. This will help them relax a little more.
  • Suggest moving to a quiet spot nearby and help them find one. Sitting down in a comfortable place can be very effective, as it allows them to focus on their breathing.
  • Remind the person that panic attacks always end.
  • Stay positive and nonjudgmental. Avoid validating any negative statements.
  • Try having a gentle, friendly conversation to distract them and help them feel safe.
  • Avoid telling them to calm down or telling them that there is nothing to worry about, as this devalues their emotions.
  • Stay with them. If they feel that they need to be alone, make sure they remain visible.

The Power Of Unconscious Procedural Memory

Though the thinking part of your brain is incapacitated by panic, another part functions fine under stress. It is called ” procedural .” It is a huge storage area in your subcortex that can memorize the steps of things you do repeatedly. Once it has memorized the steps, it can carry you through the steps as if you are on autopilot.

Here’s an example. When you first learned to drive, it took all your . Now, you can drive your car while having a conversation. While your conscious mind is having the conversation, your unconscious procedural memory does the driving.

Technically, if you had been calmed reliably enough in the first 18 months of your life, your unconscious procedural memory would already have the steps needed to activate your calming system, the parasympathetic nervous system. About 60% of us were calmed consistently enough for that to happen. Unfortunately, about 40% of us were not calmed consistently enough to build anti-anxiety and anti-panic steps into our unconscious procedural memory. There is a new video on this by Harvard University.

Go Home If You Need To

Some panic attacks are more intense than others. If you feel it is difficult to continue working, take the rest of the day off. It is better for you to go home and take extra care of yourself rather than try to “tough it out.” Panic attacks are exhausting, and staying at work afterward rarely results in any work getting done. If you are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act , you cannot be fired or demoted for needing to take time off due to having panic disorder, with some exceptions. To learn more about the ADA, continue reading.

How To Stop A Panic Attack: 5 Psychology

A psychologist provides key steps to get through these scary times.

We are living in scary and uncertain times, so it’s hardly surprising that a new study has found the number of Google searches for “anxiety� and “panic attacks� has increased since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Some degree of anxiety about the current situation is normal. After all, anxiety is one of the most functional human emotions we have. It’s like our very own built-in alarm system that keeps us safe, warns us of danger and sends signals to our body to get ready to respond.

The global pandemic has seen a rise in threat and danger in the outside world. As a result our alarm system is switched on more than ever. We rarely get the opportunity to feel completely safe, as even in our own homes we are constantly reminded of the threat outside with the news, limits to socializing and local lockdowns.

While some anxiety is normal and helpful, it can become a serious difficulty for some, taking over every aspect of day-to-day life. In these instances, our brain tells us that everything is dangerous – making even the most normal of tasks, like going to the supermarket, or even leaving the house, seem .

Krakenimages.com/ Shutterstock

During a panic attack you might notice some common physical sensations including racing or pounding heart, feeling sick or having an upset stomach, sweating or feeling hot, shaking, hyperventilating and feeling faint.

What Is An Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. They usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger—getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give—but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.

Anxiety attacks usually peak within 10 minutes, and they rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during that short time, you may experience terror so severe that you feel as if you’re about to die or totally lose control. The physical symptoms are themselves so frightening that many people think they’re having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may worry about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isn’t available or you can’t easily escape.

I’ve Had Panic Attacks For 19 Years Here’s What’s Helped Me

Rebecca Brown

If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you might feel that, aside from the attack itself, the hardest thing was trying to then explain it to someone. Frequently, psychologists and psychiatrists will prompt you to do this, often asking you to describe to them just why a panic attack is terrible. For years, the best I could come up with was “it’s just awful.”

But recently, I started becoming better at articulating what it truly feels like to have a panic attack: I’m drowning, I can see the surface just above me, and I want to get to the top as fast as possible to find relief. This need for fast relief is typically what has made my brain shut down so I can “escape” what’s happening.

Is Someone Else Having The Panic Attack

If your friend or family member has panic attacks, some things that you can do to help include the following:

  • Stay calm to let the person know that everything is and will be ok. The person might be scared – try to remember that a panic attack is just an intense response to stress. Don’t act panicked or voice their fears – instead be a soothing voice of encouragement
  • Stay with the person as they ride out the panic attack – remind them you are there to support them and that it will pass
  • Be understanding and empathetic – don’t act embarrassed, ashamed or ask them to stop, as they can’t help what they are going through. Instead be positive, tell them how well they are doing and that you know they can get through this
  • Try to help through deep breathing or guided imagery to help redirect a person’s focus

Panic Attacks Dont Last As Long As They Feel Like They Do

Panic attacks feel like an eternity to the sufferer, but the reality is that your body can’t sustain them for very long. The brain goes into fight or flight mode when people experience panic attacks.

Panic attacks typically reach their peak within ten minutes and resolve within thirty minutes. They rarely last more than an hour. That thirty-minute period is so physically and emotionally overwhelming, however, that it feels like much longer and requires a significant recovery period after. Panic attacks are very draining and it’s difficult to jump right back into school, work, or family fun immediately following an attack.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder may have:

  • Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
  • A feeling of being out of control, or a fear of death or impending doom during a panic attack
  • Physical symptoms during a panic attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea
  • An intense worry about when the next panic attack will happen
  • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past

Help Them Stay Grounded

Grounding techniques can have benefit for a range of anxiety issues, including panic attacks.

“Grounding techniques can help contain panic attacks after they begin,” explains Megan MacCutcheon, a therapist in Vienna, Virginia.

These techniques help the person focus on what’s actually happening, not their fear of the attack. They’re often most helpful once the intensity of the attack has faded a bit.

What Is A Panic Disorder

According to the DSM-5, a person must have recurrent and often unexpected panic attacks and at least one of these attacks needs to be followed by one or more attacks or the fear of more attacks.

This is a disorder that requires a professional diagnosis. This will help rule out other causes of some symptoms like: drug use, medication side effects, other mental disorders such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder , etc.

Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have the disorder. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop the disorder.

Having experienced one panic attack is usually a sign that a person can expect to have more. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, can cause significant problems in various areas of life.

A person with panic disorder may experience interference with their everyday life and activities due to panic attacks. For example, they may spend time worrying about future panic attacks. Many people will also actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Additionally, many people with the disorder deal with loneliness and isolation.

If you want to learn more about panic attacks and the disorder, we suggest you take a look at our panic disorder page.

Focus On Your Senses And Surroundings

When you are having a panic attack, you can feel out of touch with things around you. One way you can feel back in touch with your surroundings is by picking out five things you can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. This is called a grounding exercise. You can pick a couple for each sense, or focus on one sense, like finding five things that you can see. This can help you feel connected with your surroundings and in control.

I struggle with panic attacks. Before they begin, I usually feel like there are too many voices and they’re all trying to talk at once and it gets messy. When I’m having a panic attack, I cry and I become really quiet. I struggle with talking about my feelings. Usually, I just write them down and hideaway.

We all have moments like this sometimes, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. But, sometimes it can be easier if you want to say ‘I just popped to the loo.’

So How Can We Hit The Brakes

To be classed as a panic attack, symptoms must come on rapidly, or within a few minutes, says Aaronson. And there’s good news: Attacks typically peak and subside within 10 or 15 minutes, and there are a handful of solid techniques that can help you ride them out.

Chief among those is recognizing your experience as a panic attack and not a more serious medical crisis, and gently reminding yourself that there’s nothing physically unsafe about it. “Just knowing what it is helps people,” says Aaronson. Just to be sure, double-check that you’re not experiencing any heart-attack specific symptoms such as pressure in the chest or pain that builds or radiates into the arm or jaw.

Once you’ve ruled those out, remember: Panic always passes, and focusing on that belief can send it on its way.

Of course, this is easier said than done when you feel like you’re suffocating or losing control. “It takes practice,” says Aaronson. “But the more you do it, the better you get at doing it.”

You might tell yourself: “Everything my body is doing right now is designed to keep me safe and protect me.”

If you can, find a quiet spot where you can talk yourself through why you’re feeling what you’re feeling.

For example, you might tell yourself: “I’m feeling light-headed because my blood is being redirected to my limbs. I’m breathing hard because my body is responding in an evolutionarily honed way to adrenaline. Everything my body is doing right now is designed to keep me safe and protect me.”

When Should I Call The Doctor

Some panic attacks have signs that can be confused with a physical problem like a heart attack. If you have chest pain or trouble breathing or lose consciousness, seek emergency medical care.

You should call your healthcare provider if you have panic attacks and experience:

  • Chronic anxiety that interferes with daily life.
  • Difficulty concentrating.

Who Gets Panic Attacks

At least 6 million Americans suffer from panic attacks and panic disorder both conditions classified as anxiety disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America , about 2-3% of Americans experience panic disorder in a given year and it is twice as common in women as in men. Panic disorder typically affects individuals when they’re in their 20s but is also seen in young children, adolescents, and older adults.

Teach Your Children About Panic Attacks

Anxiety attacks usually last for about 10-15 minutes however it can feel like a lifetime for both you and your child.  After your child has his or her first panic attack, it is important to educate them on the signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks so if another one occurs, they can understand what is happening. Teach your children that panic attacks are a false alarm in their bodies. Let them know the physical sensations associated with a panic attack so that when they experience them, it won’t be as scary.

Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You’re Having A Hidden Panic Attack

Unless you’ve experienced a panic attack, you might assume it just looks like someone visibly “freaking out” — but not everyone who experiences panic attacks show noticeable symptoms. Some people have panic attacks that don’t outwardly display common signs like crying or hyperventilating, while others have symptoms you might not associate with anxiety at all. 

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because they’re having a “hidden” panic attack. Because panic attacks look different for everyone, but whether a panic attack is visible or not, it is still valid.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. “I completely shut down. I stop talking, I don’t look at anymore and my thoughts are going really quickly. I wonder how I’m going to get through this again. Then I isolate and stay alone for a while.” — Emilie J.

2. “‘Tidying up’ — if I feel panicked I start busying myself, finding things to put away or clean. It’s always small stuff, but it keeps me from meeting anyone’s eyes or having to talk, which can exacerbate a panic attack.” — Courtney L.

3. “I pick at my nails and my skin. Sometimes, if my nails are long, I’ll even scratch at myself until I bleed. I don’t notice any of it until someone points it out or I snap out of it. Panic attacks sometimes make me dissociate and then self-harm.” — Beau M.

10. “Talking really fast and digressing a lot.” — Keith E.

Can you relate?


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