Calm Your Mind: Effective Strategies to Stop a Panic Attack

Calm Your Mind: Effective Strategies to Stop a Panic Attack

Calm Your Mind: Effective Strategies to Stop a Panic Attack

Understanding panic attacks: What are they, and why do they happen?

A panic attack is a sudden and intense surge of fear, anxiety, and physical symptoms that can feel overwhelming and terrifying. These episodes are characterized by a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, and a sense of impending doom or loss of control. While panic attacks may seem to strike without warning, they are often triggered by specific situations, thoughts, or physical sensations.

Panic attacks occur when the body’s fight-or-flight response is activated unnecessarily. This natural survival mechanism, designed to help us respond to real threats, can become dysregulated in some individuals, leading to an overreaction to perceived dangers. The exact causes of panic attacks are not fully understood, but they are believed to involve a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

It’s important to understand that panic attacks are not life-threatening, although they can feel terrifying in the moment. They are a manifestation of intense anxiety and do not cause physical harm. However, the experience can be so distressing that it may lead some individuals to avoid certain situations or activities, potentially impacting their quality of life.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a panic attack

Panic attacks can present with a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms, which can vary from person to person and even from one episode to another. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of choking
  • Sweating or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Feelings of unreality or detachment
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying

It’s important to note that not all panic attacks involve all of these symptoms, and the intensity of the symptoms can vary greatly.

How long does a panic attack last? The duration and intensity of panic attacks

The duration of a panic attack can vary significantly from person to person and from one episode to another. Most panic attacks reach their peak within 10 minutes and typically subside within 20 to 30 minutes. However, some individuals may experience prolonged or recurring panic attacks that can last for hours or even days.

The intensity of a panic attack can also vary widely. Some individuals may experience mild symptoms, while others may feel overwhelmed by the severity of the physical and emotional sensations. The intensity of a panic attack is often influenced by factors such as the individual’s level of anxiety, the presence of triggering situations or thoughts, and the person’s ability to cope with the symptoms.

It’s important to remember that even though panic attacks can be intense and frightening, they are not life-threatening and will eventually pass. With proper coping strategies and support, individuals can learn to manage and reduce the intensity and duration of their panic attacks.

What does a panic attack feel like? Personal experiences and common sensations

Panic attacks can be a terrifying and overwhelming experience, leaving individuals feeling like they are losing control or even dying. The sensations and emotions associated with a panic attack can be intense and varied, making it difficult to describe the experience accurately.

Here are some personal accounts and common sensations that individuals often report during a panic attack:

  1. “It felt like I couldn’t breathe like an elephant was sitting on my chest. My heart was racing, and I thought I was having a heart attack.”
  2. “I felt like I was going crazy or losing my mind. Everything around me seemed unreal, and I felt disconnected from reality.”
  3. “My hands were shaking, and I was drenched in sweat. I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up.”
  4. “It was like a wave of intense fear and dread washed over me, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen.”
  5. “My body went numb, and I felt tingling sensations all over. I thought I was having a stroke or something was seriously wrong.”

While the specific sensations and emotions may vary, the overwhelming sense of fear, physical discomfort, and loss of control are common threads that run through most panic attack experiences.

Panic attack triggers: Identifying and managing them

Panic attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Stress and anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can increase the likelihood of panic attacks, as the body remains in a heightened state of arousal.
  2. Specific situations or environments: Some individuals may experience panic attacks in certain situations, such as crowded places, enclosed spaces, or during public speaking.
  3. Physical sensations: Certain physical sensations, like a racing heart or shortness of breath, can trigger a panic attack, especially if the individual fears these symptoms.
  4. Caffeine and stimulants: Caffeine and other stimulants can increase heart rate and physical arousal, potentially triggering a panic attack in susceptible individuals.
  5. Medications and substances: Some medications and substances, such as certain antidepressants or recreational drugs, can increase the risk of panic attacks.
  6. Health conditions: Certain health conditions, such as thyroid disorders, low blood sugar, or respiratory problems, can contribute to panic attack symptoms.

Identifying and managing triggers is an essential part of panic attack prevention and management. By recognizing the situations, thoughts, or physical sensations that precede a panic attack, individuals can learn to implement coping strategies and avoid or minimize exposure to triggers when possible.

How to stop a panic attack: Effective strategies and techniques

When faced with a panic attack, it’s essential to have a toolkit of strategies and techniques to help regain control and calm the mind and body. Here are some effective methods to stop a panic attack:

  1. Deep breathing exercises: Slow, deep breaths can help counter the rapid breathing and physical symptoms associated with panic attacks. Try inhaling through your nose for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, and exhaling through your mouth for a count of six.
  2. Grounding techniques: Engage your senses by focusing on your surroundings. Look around and identify objects by colour, texture, or shape. Alternatively, you can press your feet into the ground or hold a comforting object to anchor yourself in the present moment.
  3. Muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation can help release tension and calm the body. Start by tensing and releasing different muscle groups, working from your toes to your head.
  4. Positive self-talk: Challenge negative thoughts and remind yourself that the panic attack is temporary and will pass. Use positive affirmations like “This too shall pass” or “I can get through this.”
  5. Distraction techniques: Engage in an activity that requires focus and concentration, such as counting backwards from 100 by threes or playing a simple game on your phone.
  6. Visualization: Imagine a peaceful, calming scene or a place where you feel safe and relaxed. Visualize the details, using all your senses to enhance the experience.
  7. Seek support: If possible, reach out to a trusted friend or family member who can provide reassurance and support during a panic attack.

Remember, different techniques work for various individuals, and it may take some trial and error to find the strategies that are most effective for you.

Helping someone having a panic attack: Dos and don’ts

If you encounter someone experiencing a panic attack, your support and understanding can make a significant difference. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind:


  • Remain calm and patient, as panic attacks can be frightening for the person experiencing them.
  • Speak gently and reassuringly, and remind them that the panic attack is temporary and will pass.
  • Suggest deep breathing exercises or other grounding techniques to help them regain control.
  • Offer to accompany them to a quiet, private area where they can feel more comfortable.
  • Validate their feelings and let them know that you understand how overwhelming panic attacks can be.
  • Encourage them to focus on the present moment and their surroundings.


  • Don’t minimize or dismiss their experience by saying things like “It’s no big deal” or “Just calm down.”
  • Don’t try to rationalize or argue with them, as this can escalate their anxiety.
  • Don’t take their panic attack personally or assume it’s directed at you.
  • Don’t crowd or overwhelm them with too many people or excessive stimuli.
  • Don’t leave them alone unless they explicitly request it and assure you they’ll be okay.
  • Don’t try to physically restrain or hold them unless they are in immediate danger of harming themselves or others.

Remember, your role is to provide compassionate support and help them feel safe and understood until the panic attack subsides.

Dealing with panic attacks while sleeping: Signs and management tips

Panic attacks can occur at any time, including during sleep. These episodes, known as nocturnal panic attacks, can be particularly distressing and disruptive to sleep patterns. Here are some signs and management tips for dealing with panic attacks while sleeping:

Signs of a nocturnal panic attack:

  • Waking up with a racing heart, shortness of breath, or intense fear
  • Feeling disoriented or confused upon waking
  • Sweating or trembling during sleep
  • Experiencing chest pain or tightness
  • Having nightmares or vivid, disturbing dreams

Management tips:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques before bed: Engage in activities like deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to promote a calm state before sleep.
  2. Establish a consistent sleep routine: Maintain a regular sleep schedule and create a relaxing bedtime routine to help your body and mind prepare for rest.
  3. Avoid stimulants and heavy meals close to bedtime: Caffeine, nicotine, and large meals can disrupt sleep and potentially trigger panic attacks.
  4. Keep a journal: Record any nighttime panic attacks, triggers, and coping strategies to identify patterns and develop personalized management techniques.
  5. Use grounding techniques: If you wake up during a panic attack, engage your senses by turning on a light, feeling the texture of your bedding, or focusing on a calming object or image.
  6. Seek professional help: If nocturnal panic attacks persist or significantly impact your sleep quality, consider seeking support from a therapist or mental health professional.

Remember, panic attacks during sleep can be unsettling, but with proper management strategies and support, you can regain control and improve your overall sleep quality.

Calming down from a panic attack: Self-soothing techniques and coping mechanisms

After experiencing a panic attack, it’s essential to engage in self-soothing techniques and coping mechanisms to help your mind and body recover fully. Here are some effective strategies to calm down after a panic attack:

  1. Practice mindfulness and meditation: Engage in mindfulness exercises or guided meditation to bring your attention to the present moment and cultivate a sense of calm.
  2. Use positive affirmations: Repeat positive, reassuring statements to yourself, such as “I am safe,” “This will pass,” or “I can handle this.”
  3. Listen to calming music or sounds: Soothing music, nature sounds, or guided audio recordings can help relax your mind and body.
  4. Engage in gentle physical activity: Light exercises like walking, stretching, or yoga can help release tension and promote relaxation.
  5. Write in a journal: Expressing your thoughts and feelings through writing can be a cathartic release and help you process the experience.
  6. Practice self-care: Engage in activities that bring you comfort and joy, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or spending time with a pet.
  7. Seek support: Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or support group to share your experience and receive understanding and encouragement.

Calming down after a panic attack is a process; being patient and kind to yourself is crucial. With time and practice, you’ll develop a toolkit of coping mechanisms that work best for you.

Home treatments for panic attacks: Natural remedies and relaxation exercises

While professional treatment may be necessary for some individuals with panic disorders, there are various natural remedies and relaxation exercises that can be practised at home to help manage panic attacks. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Herbal remedies: Certain herbs, such as chamomile, lavender, and valerian root, are known for their calming and anxiety-reducing properties. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any herbal supplements, as they can interact with medications or have side effects.
  2. Aromatherapy: Essential oils like bergamot, clary sage, and ylang-ylang can soothe the mind and body when inhaled or used in a diffuser.
  3. Yoga and tai chi: These ancient practices combine gentle physical movements with deep breathing and meditation, promoting relaxation and mindfulness.
  4. Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups, helping to release physical tension and promote a sense of calm.
  5. Guided imagery: Visualizing peaceful, calming scenes or environments can help redirect your focus and reduce anxiety.
  6. Biofeedback: This technique involves using sensors to monitor bodily functions like heart rate and breathing, allowing you to learn how to control and regulate these functions through relaxation techniques.
  7. Lifestyle changes: Healthy habits like regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can help reduce stress levels and improve your ability to manage panic attacks.

It’s important to note that while these natural remedies and relaxation exercises can be helpful, they should not replace professional treatment if panic attacks are severe or interfering with daily life. Always consult a healthcare professional before trying new remedies or making significant lifestyle changes.

When to seek professional help for panic attacks: Therapy and medication options

While panic attacks can be managed with self-help strategies and lifestyle changes, there are situations when seeking professional help is recommended. Here are some instances when it’s advisable to consult with a mental health professional:

  1. Frequent or severe panic attacks: If you experience panic attacks frequently or if they are particularly intense and disruptive to your daily life, professional intervention may be necessary.
  2. Persistent avoidance behaviour: If you find yourself avoiding certain situations, places, or activities because you fear having a panic attack, it’s important to address this avoidance behaviour with professional help.
  3. Comorbid conditions: If you have other mental health conditions, such as depression, substance abuse disorders, or trauma-related disorders, seeking professional treatment can help address these issues alongside your panic attacks.
  4. Suicidal thoughts or self-harm: If you experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harming behaviours, it’s crucial to seek immediate professional help.
  5. Lack of improvement with self-help strategies: If you’ve tried various self-help techniques and lifestyle changes without significant improvement, seeking professional guidance may be necessary.

Professional treatment options for panic attacks include:

  1. Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are effective in treating panic disorders by helping individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and gradually expose themselves to feared situations in a controlled environment.
  2. Medication: Certain medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or beta-blockers, may be prescribed to help manage panic attack symptoms. However, discussing the potential risks and benefits with a healthcare professional is important.
  3. Combination treatment: In some cases, a combination of psychotherapy and medication may be recommended for optimal management of panic attacks.

Remember, seeking professional help for panic attacks is not a sign of weakness. It’s a proactive step towards improving your mental well-being and quality of life.

The dangers of untreated panic attacks: Long-term effects and complications

While panic attacks themselves are not life-threatening, untreated or unmanaged panic attacks can have significant long-term effects and complications. Here are some potential dangers of leaving panic attacks untreated:

  1. Development of panic disorder: Frequent and uncontrolled panic attacks can lead to the development of panic disorder, a chronic condition characterized by recurrent panic attacks and persistent anxiety about experiencing another attack.
  2. Agoraphobia: Some individuals may develop agoraphobia, a fear of situations or environments where escape might be difficult or embarrassing if a panic attack occurs. This can lead to severe avoidance behaviours and social isolation.
  3. Substance abuse: Some individuals may turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with or self-medicate their panic attacks, which can lead to substance abuse problems and additional health complications.
  4. Depression and other mental health issues: Panic attacks can contribute to the development or exacerbation of other mental health conditions, such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  5. Physical health problems: Chronic stress and anxiety associated with panic attacks can take a toll on physical health, increasing the risk of conditions like heart disease, digestive issues, and chronic pain.
  6. Impaired quality of life: Untreated panic attacks can significantly impact an individual’s ability to function in daily life, affecting relationships, work or school performance, and overall well-being.
  7. Increased risk of accidents and injuries: During a panic attack, individuals may experience impaired judgment or decision-making abilities, potentially leading to accidents or injuries.

By seeking appropriate treatment and learning effective coping strategies, individuals can reduce the long-term impact of panic attacks and improve their overall quality of life.

Conclusion: Finding peace and managing panic attacks

Panic attacks can be overwhelming and disruptive, but with the right tools and support, it is possible to regain control and find peace. Remember, you are not alone in this journey; effective strategies and professional resources are available to help you manage and overcome panic attacks.

By understanding the nature of panic attacks, identifying triggers, and practising coping techniques, you can empower yourself to face these episodes with resilience and confidence. Whether through deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, or professional therapy, the key is finding the best approach for you.

It’s essential to be patient and compassionate with yourself throughout this process. Healing takes time, and setbacks may occur, but with perseverance and a commitment to self-care, you can create a life where panic attacks no longer hold you back.

Embrace the journey towards better mental health, and know that every step you take, no matter how small, is a step towards reclaiming your inner peace and living life to the fullest.

If you or someone you know is struggling with panic attacks or anxiety, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. I am here to support you on your journey towards better mental health. Take the first step today by scheduling a consultation:

Remember, you are not alone, and there is hope for a life free from the grip of panic attacks.


author avatar
Federico Ferrarese Federico Ferrarese - Chartered Psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist
I am deeply committed to my role as a cognitive behavioural therapist, aiding clients in their journey towards recovery and sustainable, positive changes in their lives. This involves strategising to maintain long-term mental well-being and identifying and mitigating the risks of relapse or the return of issues. My approach is empathetic, warm, inquisitive, and collaborative, creating a secure and comfortable environment for clients to delve into their difficulties. I am proficient in delivering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) online and hold accreditation from the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). I provide CBT sessions in both English and Italian. With several years of experience in the NHS and my private practice, I am a qualified CBT Therapist treating individuals with moderate to severe depression and anxiety disorders. My expertise includes the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Phobia, Health Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Low Self-Esteem, and Stress Management. I am currently pursuing an MSc programme in Applied Neuroscience at King's College London. Prior to obtaining my postgraduate diploma in cognitive behavioural therapy from Queen Margaret University, I earned a three-year degree in neurocognitive rehabilitation and a five-year degree in psychology from the University of Padua. I am a Chartered Psychologist and a British Psychological Society (BPS) member.