How to Handle a Panic Attack in 5 Steps

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During a panic attack, it’s incredibly difficult for someone to access logical thinking and calm down. These 5 steps make it easy to recall coping skills when a panic attack occurs: bring it on, observe, engage, relax, and self-talk!

How to Handle a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are frightening for anyone…

The symptoms of a racing heart, feeling out of control, difficulty breathing, and shaking make some people feel like they’re losing their mind or dying. During a panic attack, it’s incredibly difficult for someone to access logical thinking and calm down. These 5 steps make it easy to recall coping skills when a panic attack comes on.

1. Bring It On!

This might sound odd, but radical acceptance of a panic attack is the first and most important part of decreasing its intensity. What tends to increase the frequency and intensity of panic attacks is fearing the panic attack itself.

2. Observe

Step outside of yourself and observe the anxiety as a thing separate from you. Imagine it as a leaf on a stream passing by or a cloud in the sky moving away. Experience it as a wave. Don’t get wrapped up in it and buy into the lie that you are going crazy or that you will die.

3. Engage

Try to focus on what you are doing, whether it is driving, working, or watching a television show. Don’t force the anxiety away, but try to attend fully to what you are doing rather than your anxious thoughts.

4. Relax

During a panic attack, your body becomes tense. Try paced breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

5. Self-Talk

Changing the way you think about a situation has a lot to do with how you actually manage it. For example, if you think, “Oh no, here it comes; I have to stop it,” you’re more likely to perpetuate the panic attack. Alternately, the following self-talk phrases can decrease anxiety:

  • This is just my fight-or-flight system at work.
  • Anxiety is uncomfortable but not dangerous.
  • I have to face my fears to get better.
  • I can do this. I can let the anxiety decrease by itself, no matter how long it takes.

Click here to read more articles by Lauren King, Psy.D.!

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