How to control panic attacks right now and in the long term

If you’re wondering how to stop a panic attack, you probably already know how unsettling they are. Symptoms of a panic attack include things like headaches, nausea, chills, increased heart rate, inability to breathe and excessive fearful thoughts. The anticipation alone of a panic attack striking can provoke a lot of fear, and that can cause enough stress to lead to another one. Sometimes it feels like an endless cycle that’s out of your control.

Does this sound familiar? Panic attacks can become their own self-fulfilling prophecy, but they don’t have to be that way. By educating yourself about this condition and taking control of your thoughts and your life, you can learn how to stop an anxiety attack.

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How long do panic attacks last?

Panic attacks typically last anywhere from one to 10 minutes, according to the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. Some people also experience panic “episodes,” which consist of multiple panic attacks over the course of an hour or more. These separate attacks can roll into one another, making it feel like a single, long panic attack. 

Like the causes and symptoms of panic attacks (and as noted above), their duration can vary widely. However, it’s essential to remember that they don’t last forever. It’s possible to learn how to calm down from a panic attack, no matter how long it lasts.

panic attack symptoms

How to stop a panic attack

In the moment, it can feel impossible to take control of your breathing, mindset and emotions to stop a panic attack. Use these five tips to reveal how to stop an anxiety attack.

1. Know the symptoms

Before figuring out which ways to stop a panic attack will suit you, it’s important to understand how they manifest. Panic attacks often have a barrage of physical, emotional and psychological symptoms. You can experience a combination of the following signs:

• Shortness of breath • Racing heartbeat • Thoughts of anxiety, fear or death

• Nausea and abdominal cramps • Headaches, fever or chills • Sweating profusely

• Feeling faint or lightheaded • Numbness or tingling in various parts of the body

Once you’ve experienced a panic attack and are familiar with its signs, you can recognize it for what it is and take steps to learn how to stop anxiety attacks before they escalate.

2. Focus on your breath

woman focusing on breathing to help stop panic attack

When you feel panicked or anxious, your breathing becomes shallower. This rapid breathing then sends warning signals to your brain that make you feel even more fearful of what’s happening. Focus on your breathing when you feel an attack coming on for panic attack relief. Ground yourself by taking deep breaths, hold them in for at least 30 seconds, and release slowly.

If panic attacks occur regularly for you, implement breathing exercises into your daily routine. This practice will allow you to harness this technique more readily when an attack occurs, so you are able to learn how to control panic attacks quickly when you recognize the warning signs.

3. Engage your senses

The sense of smell is one of the most powerful; these receptors have a direct line to your brain. That’s why smells can bring back sudden, strong memories that transport us to the past. You can use this feature of the brain to learn how to calm down from a panic attack. The smell of lavender essential oil is proven to create calm, peaceful feelings. You can also use lemon or chamomile essential oil. Put the essential oil in a diffuser or carry a small vial of it with you.

Another key to how to stop a panic attack could be music. Sound therapy has been used for years, and studies have shown that classical music can help with anxiety and increase well-being. More recently there has been a trend of purposely designing music that is relaxing. The song “Weightless” by Marconi Union was designed in this way and was proven to be more relaxing than other tracks used in a study of music’s calming effects.

woman dealing with panic attack

4. Visualize a safe, calm place

When you are experiencing a panic attack, it feels like everything – including your environment – is threatening. Fear has a biological basis that intends to keep us safe. However, people who experience panic attacks have let their fear take over and spiral out of control. Many times, those having a panic attack don’t even know what they’re afraid of.

how to stop a panic attack by visualizing

To discover how to control panic attacks, visualize a safe, calm place where you can feel more at ease. Close your eyes and picture a place that you’ve been before that has brought you peace and happiness. You can also visualize your ideal environment, even if it’s not a physical place you’ve experienced. Hear the sounds, smell the aromas and feel the sensations of the sun on your face or the sand beneath your toes.

You can picture this space any time you want to stop a panic attack. If you want even more panic attack relief, you can also picture a comforting figure such as a parent, friend or guardian angel with you.

5. Engage in mindfulness exercises

There are many techniques for how to stop anxiety attacks that involve physical action, including muscle relaxation and using mantras. One of the most helpful techniques to find panic attack relief is through mindfulness exercises. When you experience an anxiety attack, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s going on around you. If you’re able to ground yourself through your senses, you can get back in touch with reality and calm your fears.

When you feel a panic attack coming on, slowly work through these five steps:

  • Look at five different things and think about each of them.
  • Listen to four different sounds and examine the similarities and differences between them.
  • Touch three different objects and compare and contrast their textures and uses.
  • Identify two different smells and explore if they spark any memories.
  • Taste one thing such as a piece of candy, a cold drink or even a fingertip.

This technique can help you feel more grounded in your body and is often an effective way of how to stop a panic attack before it really starts.

mindfulness to stop panic attacks

How to help someone who is having a panic attack

It can be stressful to watch someone you love suffer from panic attacks. If you have a friend, family member or partner with this condition, it’s important to learn how to stop a panic attack as a way to offer support.

Stay calm

Where focus goes, energy flows: If you focus on how stressful your loved one’s panic attack is, you’ll only contribute to their stress. You may need to take a few deep breaths yourself before offering your help. Count to 10 out loud – this can help both you and the anxious person relax. Center yourself and get your own emotions under control before offering help.

Offer encouragement

Focusing on the positive can have a massive effect on your life and on the lives of those around you. This principle also applies when learning how to control panic attacks. Use phrases like, “I’m proud of you,” “You can do this” and “You’re doing great” to provide encouragement and help the person shift their mindset to one of control and positivity.

Reduce stressors

If you’re familiar with the triggers that cause your loved one’s panic attacks, reduce these stressors if possible. Turn off loud music or offer headphones with relaxing music. Help them get away from crowds. Find them a place to sit. These kind acts mean a lot when it comes to how to calm down from a panic attack.

Long-term ways to stop panic attacks

Learning how to control panic attacks as soon as they start is important, but putting practices into place that prevent them entirely is even more beneficial. Here are some long-term ways to stop a panic attack before it even starts.

1. Find the cause

Living free of panic attacks will change your life, but to create that type of breakthrough, you have to learn about your state and how to change it. Your state is caused by the stories you’ve created, and those who have panic attacks have usually developed stories based on fear. Digging deeper into these stories and how they relate to your attacks is key when it comes to finding out how to stop a panic attack.

Some people experience seemingly random panic attacks and can’t entirely pinpoint the cause. Others experience panic attacks as a result of trauma, stress or poor mental health. When you identify triggers and what you’re really feeling, you can master your emotions and learn not only how to stop an anxiety attack, but also prevent future attacks.

find the cause to stop a panic attack

Think about the times you’ve experienced a panic attack – what were you doing? What were you thinking about? If you’ve experienced a few attacks, was there something similar about the moments before each one? Were you arguing with your spouse or worrying about a work incident? If you’re able to identify the cause that’s triggering your panic attacks, you can work to de-escalate your feelings of worry when those emotions begin to resurface. You can also work on the deeper issues to bring a better sense of well-being into your life.

2. Alleviate stress

Though stress is a normal part of life, excess stress can be very damaging. Everyone experiences some anxieties, but when your worries about your responsibilities or things outside your control like the past or future become so severe that you’re having panic attacks, it’s time to take action. Much of the time, alleviating stress centers around letting go of the past and surrendering yourself to the beauty of uncertainty. When you trust yourself to handle whatever comes your way without needing to control it, stress – and the related panic attacks – melt away.

what causes panic attacks

To find out which areas of your life you need to work on, take a closer look at which areas are causing you extreme stress. Is it your career? Family life? Finances? Health? Sit down and create a massive action plan. Getting clear on what you want to achieve and how you’ll reach these goals will help you feel more in charge of the situation. By doing that, you’ll reduce the levels of stress you’re feeling. Additionally, as you work through your plan, you may notice how you’re misusing your time. This can lead to a constant feeling of being rushed – and that alone is a huge trigger for panic attacks. How can you better prioritize your responsibilities to reduce your stress?

3. Get physical

When identifying how to stop a panic attack, you need to understand the strong connection between the mind and the body. Though you may not realize that your physical lifestyle affects how you think and feel, they are intricately connected. When you adopt a sustainable healthy diet, cut out inflammatory foods and drinks and drink more water, your mood will improve. Consider removing caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes from your lifestyle as they can produce more nervous energy and heighten the feelings of an attack.

exercising to help stop panic attacks

Of course, getting enough exercise also has a big impact on how well you can deal with stress and manage your thoughts and emotions. How often are you moving your body? Are you sitting down at work all day, then sitting in a car for your commute and finally sitting on your couch in the evening watching television? This lack of movement can negatively affect your mental state. How to stop an anxiety attack – both immediately and long-term – involves radically changing the state of your body through movement.

When you feel your body beginning to show signs of a panic attack, change your state immediately. Get up and go for a walk. Stand up and stretch. Do anything to shift your focus from the panic attack. Exercise isn’t a cure-all, but if you’re wondering how to stop having a panic attack quickly, it’s a good place to start. Your body will begin to feel better, and your mental state will follow.

4. Take care of yourself

routines to reduce panic attacks

People who are not taking good care of themselves often have trouble learning how to stop a panic attack. When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? Are you taking time to reconnect with yourself and engage in self-care activities? Or do you feel that everyone else’s needs and agendas come before your own?

 It’s not selfish to engage in self-care. In fact, it’s necessary if you want to find various ways to stop a panic attack and be able to give those you care about the love and support they deserve. If you aren’t putting yourself first and making sure your physical and emotional needs are being met, you cannot show up the way you want to for others. As you lose touch with yourself and begin to experience the strain of not having your needs met, panic attacks may be the unfortunate consequence.

Start training yourself to get at least seven hours of sleep per night by setting a bedtime for yourself and turning off all technology an hour before your scheduled shut-eye. Read or meditate for that hour, or spend it with family. Adding more physical activity into your routine can also help you to sleep more soundly at night.

5. Get support from loved ones

In the grips of a panic attack, you feel like something has gone terribly wrong. You feel alone, anxious and like this sensation will never stop. The reality is, you’re not alone. There are people out there who love and support you and they want you to feel safe and secure. But they can’t help you learn how to calm down from a panic attack if you don’t clue them in to what’s going on and allow them to be supportive in stressful times.

Knowing how to stop a panic attack often involves surrounding yourself with those closest to you. Let your loved ones know you’re dealing with panic attacks and spend time with family and friends to alleviate some of your stress and anxiety. Explain that you’re focusing on self-care and tell them which times you will be taking for yourself. This will help them understand when you say no to requests you would normally say yes to and help you develop healthy boundaries.

Panic attacks can be terrifying, but you have the power to de-escalate them and experience panic attack relief. It will take time, focus and practice to identify the signs and stop yourself in the midst of a panic attack. By using relaxation techniques, monitoring your stress levels and routines and reaching out for the support of friends and family, you’ll be able to conquer panic attacks once and for all.

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