Panic episodes may be frightening and occur spontaneously. Here are 12 ways to help you stop or manage panic attacks. Some may help you in the short term, while others may serve you long term.
Medically reviewed by Dr K on 3rd June 2022.
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12 Ways to Prevent A Panic Attack
Xanax comes with boxed warnings. These are the Food and Drug Administration’s most significant warnings (FDA). Boxed warnings alert doctors and patients about potentially serious medication side effects.
Even when used as directed, benzodiazepines can cause physical dependency and withdrawal if abruptly discontinued. Withdrawal symptoms might be catastrophic.
Benzodiazepines can potentially be abused and become addictive. Misusing benzodiazepines raises your chances of overdoes and death.
Take these medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you have any concerns about using a benzodiazepine safely, see your doctor.
Seek Professional Help
People who suffer from panic attacks and panic disorders may benefit from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and other forms of counselling. CBT plans to help you modify the way you see difficult or scary events and to help you develop new strategies to deal with them when they happen.
CBT is for people or groups, online or in-person, and the duration of therapy can also vary. Your therapist will expose you to anything that might provoke a panic attack and help you work through it in exposure-based CBT.
In addition to modifying behaviour, there is evidence that CBT may impact brain areas involved in panic episodes.
Some researchers found evidence in 2018 that individuals who participated in four weekly sessions of exposure-based CBT had improvements in the brain networks implicated in panic episodes. However, this was a preliminary study, and additional research is required.
In 2018, 37 adults in Korea participated in a mindfulness-based programme once a week for four weeks to explore whether short therapy may help lessen panic disorder symptoms. One part of therapy was to pay attention to their heart rate since some patients have cardiovascular symptoms during a panic attack.
The results showed that individuals might better control their symptoms following therapy by utilising their cognitive processes. This was, however, a small study with no control group. More study is required to determine the efficacy of short-term treatment.
Take Your Meds
When panic attacks occur, benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax) may help relieve the symptoms.
However, they will not help to address an underlying anxiety issue and may swiftly develop to dependency. As a result, doctors only advise using them briefly during a crisis.
Because benzodiazepines are a prescription medicine, you’ll most likely require a panic disorder diagnosis to get it.
A doctor may prescribe antidepressants for long-term usage in some cases. Here are several examples:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as escitalopram (Lexapro) or fluoxetine (Prozac)
- serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- anti-anxiety drugs, for instance, azapirone (Buspirone)
- Some anti-seizure drugs, such as pregabalin and clonazepam, may also be used to treat anxiety
Acknowledge That You Are Experiencing A Panic Attack
Recognising that you’re enduring a panic attack rather than a heart attack allows you to convince yourself that this is just temporary, that it will pass, and that you’re OK.
Erase the idea that you are dying or about to die, both of which are indications of a panic attack. This might free up your time to concentrate on other methods of symptom relief.
It is not always possible to prevent the causes of a panic attack, but knowing what causes it might help you recognise that it is a panic attack and not anything else.
Shut Your Eyes
Some panic episodes are brought on by stimuli that overwhelm you. If you’re in a high-stress setting with many distractions, this might worsen your panic attack.
Close your eyes during a panic episode to decrease the amount of stimulus. This might help to filter out any distracting inputs and allow you to concentrate on your breathing.
Mindfulness can help you stay grounded in the reality of your surroundings. Because panic attacks often produce a sense of detachment or separation from reality, this might help you manage your panic attack as it approaches or occurs.
- concentrating your attention on the present
- acknowledging your emotional condition
- meditating to decrease stress and help you relax
Concentrate on familiar bodily cues, such as pressing your feet into the ground or feeling the texture of your pants on your palms. These precise feelings anchor you to reality and provide you with something objective to concentrate on.
According to experts, mindfulness practices, such as meditation, may help control anxiety symptoms, but it’s unclear if they can cure an underlying anxiety condition.
In 2015, American Family Physician suggested mindfulness as an approach for coping with panic and anxiety, stating that it may be equally effective for stress reduction as CBT and other behavioural treatments.
According to some studies, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may benefit individuals with anxiety disorders who are getting medical treatment but have not found the pharmacological treatment effective.
Find A Viewpoint
Some individuals find it beneficial to identify something to concentrate all of their attention on during a panic attack. Choose one object in plain sight and take careful note of all you can about it.
For example, you may notice that the clock shakes as it ticks and is somewhat uneven. Describe the object’s patterns, colour, forms, and size to yourself. Concentrate all of your energy on this thing, and your panic symptoms may go away.
Use Muscular Relaxing Methods
Anxiety causes muscular tension, and muscle relaxation exercises may help decrease pressure and improve relaxation during an episode. Progressive muscle relaxation attempts to relax the whole body by releasing tension in one set of muscles at a time.
Muscle relaxation methods, including deep breathing, may help halt a panic attack in its tracks by regulating your body’s response as much as possible.
If you go to muscle relaxation treatment, your therapist may guide you through the following steps:
- It would be best to learn how to tighten your muscles before relieving the tension.
- Then you’ll learn how to relax your muscles without first tensing them.
- You may also learn how to calm particular muscle groups, such as those in the shoulders, for usage in daily settings.
- Finally, you may learn how to practise fast relaxation, which involves identifying areas of tension and releasing them as required.
To begin relaxing your muscles at home, actively relax one muscle at a time, starting with something basic like your fingers in your palm and working your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation methods are most effective when practised beforehand.
Imagine Your Happy Place
Guided visualisation methods may aid in the reduction of stress and anxiety. According to research, both spending time in nature and imagining nature may help treat and manage anxiety.
What is the most relaxing place in the world that comes to mind? A sun-kissed beach with softly crashing waves? A cottage in the woods?
Imagine yourself there and try to pay attention to the details as much as possible. Envision sinking your toes into warm sand or inhaling the pungent aroma of pine trees.
This setting should be peaceful, serene, and pleasant – no New York or Hong Kong streets, no matter how much you like the cities in person.
Light Exercise Is Essential
According to research, frequent exercise keeps the body healthy and improves mental well-being.
Exercise at 60 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate for 20 minutes three times a week, according to experts, can help reduce anxiety.
If you are not accustomed to working out, see your doctor before commencing. There is evidence that restarting aerobic exercise might cause more anxiety in those suffering from anxiety disorders. Gradually increasing the intensity might help your body acclimate and minimise respiratory difficulties. Aerobic exercise includes activities such as treadmill running.
If you’re worried, hyperventilating, or having trouble breathing, take a break or select a more moderate activity, such as walking, swimming, or yoga.
Keep Lavender On Hand
Lavender is a traditional treatment that many people use to help them relax and decrease tension.
According to research, it has a relaxing effect but does not lead to dependency or withdrawal symptoms. Using products containing diluted lavender oil may help decrease or manage anxiety symptoms.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate essential oils, and their effectiveness and composition vary greatly.
If you use lavender essential oil, make sure you do the following:
- Purchase your oil from a reliable retailer, such as a drugstore.
- Follow the use instructions.
- Avoid applying concentrated oils to your skin.
- Lavender should not be used with benzodiazepines since the combination may trigger extreme sleepiness.
Repeat A Mantra
Internally repeating a mantra may be calming and comforting, and it can provide you with something to hold onto during a panic attack.
Whether it’s as simple as “This too shall pass" or a mantra that resonates with you particularly, repeat it in your thoughts until the panic episode subsides.
What Is A Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are brief bursts of acute dread, panic, or anxiety. They are overpowering, with both physical and emotional symptoms.
When you experience a panic attack, you may have trouble breathing, sweat heavily, shake, and feel your heart racing.
During a panic episode, some individuals may suffer chest discomfort and a sense of disconnection from reality or themselves, leading them to believe they are experiencing a heart attack. Others have said they feel like they’re suffering a stroke.
Panic attacks may occur for a variety of causes, and they can also occur for no apparent reason.
You’re more likely to experience them if you:
- have panic disorder
- have another anxiety disorder
- use certain substances or have a substance use disorder
- use certain medications
- have a medical condition, such as an overactive thyroid
- have a condition that involves psychosis
A panic attack often occurs when you are exposed to a trigger, yet triggers differ greatly between individuals. In other circumstances, there may be no obvious cause.
However, some individuals believe that the following things may set off an attack:
- social events
- public speaking
- situations that remind you of past or current stress in your life
A panic attack is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort.”
They usually begin without notice and reach a climax within minutes.
Here are some of the symptoms you might feel if you have a panic attack:
- a pounding heart, palpitations, or rapid heart rate
- shaking or trembling
- difficulty breathing or feeling as if you are choking or being smothered
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or stomach upset
- feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- feeling unsteady
- chills or feeling hot
- numbness or tingling
- feelings as if things are unreal
- feeling detached from yourself.
- fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- fear of dying
Can you prevent a panic attack?
Although it is not always possible to prevent a panic attack, the following suggestions may be useful:
- do breathing exercises every day
- get regular exercise
- follow a diet that is low in added sugar and eat regularly to avoid glucose spikes
- avoid caffeine, smoking, and alcohol, as they may make anxiety worse
- seek counselling and other professional help
- ask your doctor about local support groups
Avoiding certain triggers may help avoid panic attacks, although this isn’t always practical or acceptable. Some specialists advise folks to “ride out" the assault and keep going as long as possible.
However, if a scenario is likely to cause considerable discomfort, consider deferring action until you’ve worked with a professional to build coping skills and techniques.
When to see a doctor
If you’re worried about panic attacks, see a doctor.
- If you’ve had one or more panic attacks and have been worried about them for a month or longer.
- Following an attack, you find yourself adjusting your behaviour.
- Your worries, fears, or anxiety are interfering with your employment, study, or everyday life.
Many individuals have panic attacks, in which they feel uncomfortable and out of control of a situation for no apparent reason.
It might be terrifying to feel out of breath or as if you are experiencing a heart attack.
Panic attacks may happen abruptly and have a big influence on your day-to-day life, but there are strategies to deal with them. Treatment is also available for panic and anxiety disorders, which may be a symptom of a more serious problem.
Consult your doctor if you are concerned about panic attacks. They may assist you in developing a proper approach for managing symptoms and minimising their effect. Medication, such as antidepressants, may be used in conjunction with counselling.