How To Stop Panic Attacks
To stop panic attacks you will:
First learn and understand what a panic attack is
Change your fearful thinking
Turn on your parasympathetic nervous system
Learn how to give up control to get control
1. Understand What a Panic Attack is and isn’t.
In order to stop a panic attack, the first thing you need to do is to learn and understand what is happening when you are having a panic attack.
A panic attack is NOT life threatening.
The symptoms that you experience during a panic attack are actually the body’s evolutionary response to keep us alive, also known as the fight, flight, or freeze response.
The fight, flight, or freeze response is helpful if we encounter a wild animal ready to eat us. The adrenaline that begins flowing through our bodies helps us escape and survive.
When the animal is defeated or evaded, the symptoms disappear.
For most people today, however, there is no wild animal trying to eat them. It’s a false alarm. Like a smoke alarm that goes off while cooking, the alarm is loud and unpleasant but the alarm itself is never dangerous, and the house will not burn down.
During times of stress or danger, your senses send messages to your amygdala in the brain. The amygdala is your emotional center and is responsible for causing the feeling of fear. The thinking part of your brain also gets this message so that you can determine if the danger is real or not.
When your amygdala gets the message that there is danger, it sounds the alarm and instantly your body releases adrenaline to help you react to the danger. This causes the symptoms you feel during a panic attack.
You are now ready to react to these symptoms with your thoughts and actions.
If you believe the danger is real, you will continue to have fearful thoughts and you may take action by running away or becoming over-controlled and freezing.
This reaction will continue to send the message to your amygdala that there is danger and your body will continue to release adrenaline, increasing the symptoms of the fight, flight, or freeze response.
A panic attack happens when you believe that there is danger when no danger exists at all.
2. Change Your Fearful Thinking
Changing your fearful thinking and how you communicate with your amygdala has the power to stop a panic attack fast.
Your amygdala will believe whatever you tell it. If you continue to react with thoughts that you are in danger and you believe the myths about panic attacks, then your amygdala will continue to sound the alarm.
Start responding with more accurate and helpful thoughts about what is happening.
Tell yourself that you know you are not in any danger because you know what a panic attack is.
Challenge your inaccurate and unhelpful thoughts. Ask yourself:
What do I think is happening during a panic attack?
“I feel light headed and I think I will faint.”
What facts or experiences suggest that this thought is not true?
“I learned that fainting only occurs when blood pressure is low and there is a lack of oxygen to the brain, and during a panic attack, blood pressure is actually high and there is more oxygen in the brain. Also I have never fainted before. So I will not faint.”
3. Turn on Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the “Rest and Digest” system. Although this will not stop a panic attack fast or treat the main cause of a panic attack, it is very helpful at managing and minimizing the symptoms. It produces a calm and relaxed feeling by;
Decreasing the heart rate
Dilating the blood vessels
Stimulating tear production
Stimulating the digestive system
Increasing a feeling of calm
Improves sexual arousal
You can turn on your parasympathetic nervous system with deep breathing exercises and by exposing yourself to cold temperatures.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise:
Inhale through your nose slowly by expanding from your belly first then fill your upper lungs for a count of 5.
Hold your breath for a count of 2.
Exhale slowly and forcefully through pursed lips for a count of 10.
Repeat this 5 to 10 times or do it for at least 1 minute.
Exposure to Cold
Research indicates that your sympathetic (fight or flight) system slows down and your parasympathetic system increases when your body adjusts to cold temperatures (Makinen et. al. 2008). It appears that any kind of cold exposure works such as drinking cold water, running hands under cold water, and splashing cold water on your face.
4. Give up Control to Get Control Over Your Panic Attack
This is where you change your behavior and face your fear to stop a panic attack.
In order to free yourself from panic attacks, you need to know that you can defeat and stop them.
For this to happen, you need to have the experience of actually lessening the symptoms of a panic attack, stopping it, or not having one at all.
This means staying in a panic situation or approaching a feared situation, and being able to apply these strategies at the first sign of a panic attack.
So basically you will need to be in a situation to have a panic attack.
If you have been dealing with panic attacks regularly then you will definitely get your chance to use these techniques during a panic attack.
When it comes to anxiety and panic, the more controlling you are by physically or mentally escaping, the more out of control you will feel. By increasing your level of control when anxious, you communicate to your amygdala that you are in danger, and then your amygdala sounds the alarm to dump more adrenaline into your blood stream.
Decide to give up control and allow yourself to feel the anxiety without mentally or physically escaping or avoiding. Say “Hello anxiety and panic, come on in.” This sends the message to your amygdala that there is no danger and that you can actually tolerate what you are feeling.
Steps to giving up control:
Say “Hello anxiety, welcome. I am going to sit here with you.”
Use your helpful balanced thoughts, “I know what this is, it’s just anxiety and there really is no danger. I can exercise some control by doing deep breathing.”
Begin diaphragmatic breathing;
Inhale through your nose slowly by expanding from your belly first then fill your upper lungs for a count of 5
Hold your breath for a count of 2
Exhale slowly and forcefully through pursed lips for a count of 10
Repeat this 5 to 10 times or do it for at least 1 minute
Continue to monitor your thinking and continue with deep breathing as the anxiety diminishes.
Feel proud of yourself for staying with it, tolerating the discomfort, and actually reducing the symptoms.
Realize that you just gained control by giving up control.
Rehearse these skills when not anxious.
Practice and use these skills anytime you feel nervous or anxious.
Teach someone else how to use these skills.
For More Information about Panic Attacks and Anxiety:
Check out The Fear Blog for more articles about how to stop panic attacks, cope with anxiety, and overcome fear.
The Fear Blog is dedicated to providing information and strategies to help you overcome and conquer panic attacks, fear, and anxiety.
Please purchase my book “Attacking Panic: The Power to Be Calm” for more in depth information on how to stop panic attacks quickly and how to treat the root cause (Amygdala/Sympathetic Nervous System).
The book shows you how to go beyond just giving up control and allowing yourself to experience a panic attack.
The book will show you a powerful counter intuitive strategy that will short-circuit your fight or flight system, stop a panic attack very quickly, and even prevent a panic attack from occurring.