If you want to know how to stop a panic attack fast, you’ve come to the right place! We’re sharing our best techniques to reduce the intensity of panic attack symptoms, along with strategies you can use to prevent future episodes from occurring.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is characterized as the sudden onset of intense feelings of fear or discomfort that trigger acute physical reactions in a person, even though the person isn’t in any actual danger. The physical symptoms of panic attacks, like a racing heart, chest pain, shortness of breath, feelings of choking, sweating, and dizziness, can make a person feel as though they are losing control. Many people compare the symptoms they experience to those of a heart attack – they are that intense and frightening.
For most people, panic attacks last less than 10 minutes, but some may experience symptoms for a longer period of time. Panic attacks can be triggered by a particularly stressful or traumatic event and disappear completely once the situation has been resolved, but for others, panic attacks can become a more serious, long-term challenge.
Since panic attacks are unpredictable, intense, and frightening, those who experience repeated episodes often develop a fear surrounding their panic attacks, leading to a condition called panic disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?
A pounding or accelerated heart rate is one of the most talked about symptoms of a panic attack, and while many of us experience a racing heart in response to feelings of stress, a true panic attack involves at least 4 of the following symptoms:
- Racing heart rate
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of choking
- Shaking and trembling
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea, upset stomach, and/or abdominal discomfort
- Numbness or tingling
- Feeling detached from self/reality
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks are more common than you might think, and some people experience one or more intermittently throughout their lives in response to stressful events. Others aren’t as lucky and suffer repeated attacks. When these episodes are unexpected and unpredictable, and the person spends a lot of time worrying about having a panic attack, he or she may have panic disorder.
What Causes Panic Attacks?
The exact cause of panic attacks is unknown, but the following risk factors may increase the likelihood of someone experiencing panic attacks:
- Family history
- Major stress, such as death, serious illness in a loved one, divorce, etc.
- Major life changes, like a new career, marriage, or the birth of a child
Smoking and caffeine consumption can also increase the risk of panic attacks, as can your temperament and ability to handle stress.
How to Stop a Panic Attack Fast: 11 Tips
Panic attacks may be a one-time occurrence, but for many people, they happen again and again. It’s important to get to the root of what causes your panic attacks so you can do your best to remedy them as quickly as possible. If you want to know how to stop a panic attack fast, these tips and techniques will help.
1) Recognize the warning signs and symptoms
Since the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense and frightening, one of the first things you should do if you’re trying to figure out how to stop a panic attack fast is to recognize the warning signs. After a panic attack occurs, take the time to write out the physical and psychological symptoms you experienced so you can look for consistencies over time. You’ll probably notice a lot of similarities, and will eventually be able to recognize the symptoms you are experiencing are a result of a panic attack and not something more serious.
Write your symptoms down in a notebook you carry around with you or as a note in your smartphone, and remind yourself to review your list each time you start feeling the symptoms of an impending panic attack. This will help you remember that you are not losing control or having a heart attack so you can focus on strategies to help bring yourself back to a place of calm.
2) Time your attacks
Most panic attacks peak within 10 minutes (or less) after the onset of symptoms, and while that can feel like a lifetime in the moment, it can be helpful to know there is an end in sight. If you feel this would be a helpful strategy for you, record the length of your panic attacks to see if there are any patterns. You can then set a timer once your symptoms start so you can count down the moments until you will feel better.
3) Figure out your triggers
Another great tip for those who want to know how to stop a panic attack fast is to figure out what triggers your panic attacks to begin with. This can take time, but can be very effective in helping you avoid the things that cause you to feel anxious, and to anticipate and minimize your symptoms when you can’t. Each time you experience a panic attack, take the time to write down the events that occurred beforehand, as well as the physical and psychological symptoms you experienced. Over time, you will likely see patterns, and can then formulate a plan to avoid (or manage) your triggers.
4) Retreat to a quiet place
External stimuli can sometimes add to the intensity of a panic attack. If you are in public when symptoms begin, consider retreating to a quieter place until you feel more calm. If this isn’t possible, closing your eyes and practicing deep breathing can help.
5) Practice deep breathing
If you’re searching for tips to help you learn how to stop a panic attack fast, you’ve probably read about deep breathing. It’s one of the most common breathing techniques for anxiety, but it’s not always easy for everyone. It does take practice, but when you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it with ease.
To get starteed, find a chair to sit down in and put your arms on the armrests. Take a deep breath in through your nose, lasting for about 5 seconds, hold your breath for 3 seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for 7 seconds. Repeat 10 times, and as you get more comfortable, you can repeat up to 20 times.
6) Try CO2 re-breathing
If panic attacks cause you to hyperventilate, CO2 re-breathing helps re-balance your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to reduce the severity of your symptoms. To use this technique, cup your hands over your mouth, and breathe into them slowly and deeply. Take normal-length breaths and repeat 5 to 10 times, or until your symptoms subside.
7) Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is our innate ability to be fully present in the moment – to focus on where we are and what we’re doing without allowing other, intrusive thoughts, worries, or fears to permeate our minds. When we’re practicing mindfulness, we’re impartial and non-judgmental to what’s happening around us, and when our minds wander, we redirect our thoughts back to the present moment.
Mindfulness sounds pretty simple in theory, but we live in a day and age where we are encouraged to overschedule our time as much as possible, and it can be surprisingly difficult to focus on the here and now without letting all of the things that are vying for our attention to take hold and send us into a stress-induced state.
If you’re looking for tips on how to stop a panic attack fast, mindfulness is an excellent strategy to learn. There are tons of great mindfulness resources and classes available online, and you may be able to find mindfulness instructors and classes within your area.
8) Use relaxation techniques
If you’re experiencing a panic attack, the last thing you feel is relaxed, but if you’re looking for tips on how to stop a panic attack fast, experimenting with various relaxation techniques will help. Here are 3 to get you started:
- Focus on an object. During a panic attack, find one object and focus all your attention on it. Note everything you can about it (patterns, colors, size, etc.) to yourself. This technique has the potential to take your mind off your panic attack and help your symptoms subside.
- Visualize your happy place. If you’re in a safe place where you can close your eyes, try to relax and take yourself to your happy place. Perhaps it’s on a white sand beach with the sun beaming down, or in your grandparents’ backyard cuddled up by a bon fire while watching the leaves fall. Wherever it is for you, take yourself there in your mind and picture as many of the details as possible.
- Muscle relaxation. Muscle relaxation techniques help to control your body’s response to a panic attack. Focus on one muscle at a time and consciously relax them, starting with something small like your fingers, then hands, then arms. Work your way through your body until all your muscles are as relaxed as they can be.
9) Use essential oils
If you’re looking for tips on how to stop a panic attack fast, essential oils are a great natural remedy to try. Lavender oil is perhaps the most popular for anxiety, but frankincense, bergamot, vetiver, peppermint, Roman chamomile, sandalwood, and ylang ylang all instill calmness and help you relax. If you feel a panic attack coming on, you can inhale any of these oils directly from a tissue or from the bottle to help you remedy it before it starts. Just make sure to close your eyes as some of them might sting.
10) Engage in physical activity
Exercise is a great way to help reduce and prevent the symptoms of a panic attack. You’ll have to be mindful of the type and intensity of activity you choose depending on the severity of your symptoms, but moving your body can be very beneficial in helping you gain control over the physical and psychological symptoms of panic attacks. Exercise decreases the production of stress hormones like cortisol and increases the production of feel-good endorphins, and engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce the incidence of stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. Walking, yoga, swimming, cycling, and running are all great options to consider.
11) Seek help
If you’re looking for tips to help you learn how to stop a panic attack fast, and none of the strategies and techniques discussed above are helping, you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss the pros and cons of each, and remember that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and courage.
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop a panic attack fast, I hope this collection of tips and techniques provides you with one or more ideas to help reduce the intensity of your symptoms and decrease the number of panic attacks you experience moving forward. Figuring out your triggers and symptoms is key as this will help you recognize the warning signs ahead of time so you can be proactive instead of reactive. Remember to be patient and to give yourself grace, and never be afraid to ask for help.
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