Exactly How To Stop A Panic Attack Cold

The no meds, no paper bag, nothing crazy way to overpower your panic.

Panic attacks are common.  And intense and terrifying.

They can creep up on you when you least imagine, or when you are in a situation that brings up fear, like public speaking or driving in inclement weather.  Unfortunately, they can also cause you to limit your activities in order to avoid future panic attacks, and impact your relationships with others.

Sometimes panic attacks can be caused by a medical condition. Often, though, they are caused by overwhelming stress, triggered by a nasty divorce or unexpected job loss, or merely the buildup of many stressors.

Whatever the origin, you know it when you’ve experienced it (although at the time you think you are going to die).

Panic symptoms

If you’ve had one, you are familiar with the symptoms. Everyone’s experience is slightly different, and you may have only suffered a few of these:

  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling weak or faint
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Feeling spaced out or detached (out of body)

What’s happening is your body is on full alert, and responding to danger although the danger isn’t even real. The body falsely feels under attack, and it’s your job to make it understand that it’s not.

The first time I had a panic attack I was told to breathe into a brown paper bag.  Well, folks, first, I’m no longer brown bagging it, and second, it didn’t work anyway.

What you need to know is that these nasty spells can be controlled -- even stopped, within a minute of starting -- without paper bags, jumping on one foot, or any other unusual tactics.  As always, check with your healthcare practitioner to make sure these actions are appropriate for your particular situation.

Here are 8 simple ways to immediately seize a panic attack:

1.       Breathe slowly

Put your hand on your stomach. Take a regular-sized breath.  Hold the breath for a few seconds, then release the air slowly through pursed lips. The aim is to restore the balance of carbon dioxide in your system, which is out of whack when you’re breathing too rapidly during a panic attack.  When you can control your breathing, you can reduce your symptoms significantly.

Lying on your tummy may slow down your breathing, particularly if you are hyperventilating. I’ve heard some people can wake up with panic if they’ve slept on their stomachs.  But, if you’ve been hyperventilating from a panic attack during the day, laying down on your stomach may slow down your breathing enough for you to try another tactic.

 2.       Spray some Rescue Remedy

Keep a bottle of Rescue Remedy in your purse or car so that it’s handy. I recommend that you do 2 sprays in the mouth right away, then focus on the other techniques. This fantastic potion of Bach flowers is good for any anxiety, and an overall tonic for emotional well-being. 

3.       Get fresh air

If you are indoors or inside a car, open a window and breathe in some fresh air.  Mindfully focus on it against your face.

 4.       Inhale some lavender

Aromatherapy can be heaven sent when you’re experiencing panic. A whiff of lavender can especially do wonders to calm and restore.  Other essential oils can be beneficial for anxiety and panic, too such as frankincense, vetiver, and bergamot. Carry a rollerball with you. You can often find these at health food stores or online specialty shops. Important note: aromatherapy and some medications don’t mix, so check with your doctor to be sure it’s a safe option for you. 

 5.       Go to your happy place

Picture the place that evokes happiness and calm. It might be a beach, a garden, or at home with your family. If you can safely close your eyes, that's even better. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, notice the breeze through your hair, and listen to the waves coming into the shoreline. Engaging all of your senses, allows you to shift your focus entirely away from whatever started your panic attack.

 6.       Use self-talk

As much as it feels like you are going to take your last breath, remember that this just panic, and not a heart attack. Say it out loud: “Stop!” “This is just my body freaking out. I am and will be fine.” Interrupt the inaccurate messages being sent to your brain. Telling yourself that you’re going to be ok will remove the fear of impending doom.

 7.       Ignore it

Carry on as usual. Act normally. Don’t give into your fear and your body’s overreaction to a stimulus.  Panic needs fuel to keep going.

 8.       Refer to a panic cue card

Combine all of the steps above by creating a reference card to refer to during a panic attack.  On the back of a calming picture or photo of a loved one – or simply on a 3 X 5 recipe card, write out your strategy for dealing with a panic attack.  For example, in bold, colourful letters write out:

  • STOP
  • I’m not dying. This will pass.
  • Take Rescue Remedy.
  • Open window.
  • Breathe slowly.
  • Sniff lavender.
  • Imagine my happy place.
  • Proceed as usual.
  • Reward myself.  I did it.

Of course, the best way to deal with panic is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This might mean reducing stress by getting adequate sleep, eliminating caffeine, exercising moderately, meditating, keeping up to date with physicals, and working with a coach or therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioural and mindfulness approaches.

Master the steps to control a panic attack and you will finally kick it in the butt, get back your life, and start enjoying it more fully.