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How To Calm A Panic Attack: 5 Effective Tips

Panic attacks are sudden episodes of fear combined with physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and respiration. Other symptoms include but are not limited to, chest pain, shaking, sweating, nausea, dizziness, numbness and hot or cold flashes. People experiencing a panic attack who have not had one before can feel like they are having a heart attack, or even dying. 

A senior Indian man grabs his chest in pain

It’s important to note that you may want to seek medical help if you experience any panic attack symptoms. Since panic attack symptoms can resemble those of heart attacks and other health issues, it’s important to alert your primary care provider to rule out any other underlying medical issues. 

Learn more about effective tips on how to calm a panic attack. That way, you will be armed with the necessary information and techniques if you or a loved one were to ever experience symptoms. 

Understand That Panic Attacks Don’t Last Forever

An older man is seen gripping his head in pain leaning against a wall

When you are in the midst of a panic attack, time can appear to slow down as your mind begins to race. It may feel like the panic attack will not end. In fact, panic attacks peak “within minutes.” When you are aware of this fact, this alone can prevent a panic attack from spiraling. You can tell yourself “This moment is very upsetting, but it will pass.” You can also tell yourself, “I am not dying, I am having a panic attack.”  

Put an Ice Cube in Your Hand or use Cold Water 

Close up of an older woman drinking a glass of cold water

This may sound silly, but focusing on the cold of an ice cube in your hand, and then switching hands when the cold becomes uncomfortable, can help divert your focus from the panic attack. Splashing cold water on your face repeatedly or putting an ice pack on your forehead can reduce anxiety. This process activates the divers reflex which lowers heart rate and breathing when exposed to cold water. Do not splash cold water on your face if you have a history of cardiac issues without first talking with your doctor.

Paced Breathing

An Asian senior woman is seen sitting cross legged on a couch taking deep breaths

Most people are aware that deep breathing can help with panic attacks, but they have trouble using the technique when a panic attack comes on. The secret is to practice deep breathing at other times so you will be ready when a panic attack comes. Breathe in for 6 seconds through your nose like you are trying to sniff flowers. Hold for 6 seconds. Then,  breathe out for 6 seconds through your mouth as if you are trying to inflate a balloon.  

Paired Muscle Relaxation

A wife comforts her distraught husband as he clenches his fists

Breathe deeply and practice tightening your muscles. Make a fist with your hand for 10 seconds. Then, let go of all the tension and relax. Continue with other muscle groups in your body. Practice paired muscle relaxation when you are not having a panic attack so this strategy will be more effective when/if you were to have one.

Complete a Grounding Exercise

A Black senior man looks distressed as he sits on the couch

Grounding exercises make you feel more connected to yourself and to your surroundings. They help you slow down when your mind is racing. Here are some examples of grounding exercises: Try counting backward from 100 in groups of seven. Another idea is to count the objects in your room, or you could even find ten purple objects in your house. 

Another great technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Try to find: 

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

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If you are experiencing any symptoms of a panic attack, do not hesitate to contact a mental health hotline. At Iora, we care about our patients’ mental and physical health. Our Behavioral Health Specialists can help you manage your mental health by providing useful techniques like these. 

Now that you have a few techniques for how to calm a panic attack, see how you can keep your mental health in check with these free apps to relieve daily stressors.

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References
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT skills training manual. New York: The Guilford Press.

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