If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ll know just how frightening they are for the person who is having one and for others who may be close by. Over the years there has been many theories and suggestions put forward on how to stop a panic attack, some are more effective than others. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what has worked for people in the past.
What Causes a Panic Attack and Panic Disorder?
Genes and hereditary factors: Studies have shown that between 43 and 57% of people who experience regular panic attacks also had siblings who suffered from them. That doesn’t necessarily prove that it’s a gene that causes the attacks, it could be that having a specific gene may make you prone to panic attacks.
Intelligence: One theory about the cause of panic attacks is that the more intelligent you are the more likely you are to experience panic attacks. This is possibly because intelligent people tend to spend a lot of time in their heads which may cause them to be more aware of sensations that may trigger panic attacks.
Hyper-sensitivity: There is some debate about whether hyper-sensitivity causes panic attacks or if it is the other way around. People with hyper-sensitivity are more aware of the aches and pains that we all experience every day and that awareness means that their body is moving in and out of the flight or fight response regularly.
Stress: You don’t have to be under stress to experience a panic attack but there is some evidence to suggest the presence of stress can bring on an attack. Just like a vicious circle, a panic attack can certainly make you feel more stress, and perhaps cause you to have more attacks.
Misfiring fight or flight response: It has been suggested that too much adrenaline may be one of the causes of panic attacks. There’s a possibility that the levels neurotransmitters in the brain that trigger the fight or flight response are performing erratically and are sending too much adrenaline around the body.
General health: Although rare, panic attacks can be caused by certain drugs and medications. Thyroid conditions and Lyme disease are known to increase your risk of panic attacks and withdrawal from some recreational drugs can also cause them.
What Is Panic Disorder?
Not all people who experience panic attacks meet the criteria for a diagnosis of panic disorder. Some people will experience attacks during a stressful or upsetting period in their life and may never again have a problem.
People with panic disorder live with the constant fear of having a panic attack, and the attacks that they do have come on very suddenly. Sufferers can be woken from sleep to find themselves in the middle of an attack. Although most people who develop panic disorder do so in their twenties, there are more and more children being diagnosed with it now.
How to Stop a Panic Attack: 10 Suggestions
The physical effects of a panic attack can difficult to manage, particularly when an attack comes on quickly, so having a plan for when it happens may help to calm you. It’s difficult to think clearly and remember strategies when you’re in the throes of a panic attack, but it is possible. Try to practice these techniques when you don’t need them, and it might help you to remember them when you do.
1. Deep Breathing: Focusing on your breathing will help to bring you back to yourself and will help you if you’re hyperventilating. It will take practice but take a deep breath through your mouth for a count of four, hold the breath for a second and then breathe out for a count of four. Continue deep breathing for a few minutes after you feel the attack has stopped.
2. Remind yourself that this is a panic attack and that it will pass. This is a good strategy if you experience chest pains during an attack. Reminding yourself that you’ve had panic attacks before and that they have passed before, will take some of the fear away from the situation, which should allow you to focus on some other techniques.
3. Muscle relaxation techniques can be helpful by bringing your mind back to your body and focusing on one sensation only. Start at your toes, and relax the muscles in your feet, them work your way up through the rest of your body.
4. Close your eyes. Often an attack will be triggered by the sensation of too much going on around you which is why many people suffer attacks in a crowd. By closing your eyes, you’re blocking out your environment and going within. It may also help you to count to ten in your head until you’ve calmed
5. Pick one object that you can focus on and concentrate on that, and that only. It doesn’t matter what your focus object is, many people focus on their feet or another object on the ground, to help remind themselves that they are solid. Describe to yourself what the object looks like, what it’s used for, what it would feel like to the touch, or any other details as if you were describing the object to someone else.
6. Mindfulness is like focusing on an object as it grounds you and can force you to reconnect with reality. The goal here is, again, to reconnect with something physical. Perhaps focus on the texture of your clothes, or feeling the grass under your feet, anything that brings you back to sensations other than your panic attack symptoms will help.
7. Recite a mantra or an affirmation to yourself. A phrase will work better if you’ve practiced beforehand as it can be difficult to remember when you’re having an attack. Keep it simple, something like this too will pass or I am in control of my mind and body. If a phrase is difficult for you to remember, you could use a favorite song lyric, recite your full name to yourself or even count to ten.
8. Go to your happy place in your head. This is another one that will work better if you’ve practiced beforehand. Picture the most relaxing place that you can think of. It may be somewhere you’ve been or somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. It could even be a place you’ve read about in a book. The main thing is that the place needs to be calm and relaxing. Try to imagine it as vividly as possible and notice the sights and smells around you.
9. Light exercise will help to release endorphins into your system which will have the flow on effect of improving your mood and lightening a stressful situation. If you’re hyperventilating, having chest pains, or having any problems with your breathing, don’t use this one but try one of the other techniques instead.
10. Keep lavender oil with you or close by. Lavender is known to have relaxing properties and if you’re having a panic attack rubbing lavender on your forearms may help calm you down. You don’t have to have a panic attack to make good use of lavender oil, you can also drink it as a tea, put some drops in the bath and have a soak, or put a few drops on your pillow before you go to sleep.
If you have ever experienced an episode before you’ll know that the above suggestions for how to stop a panic attack may belong in the easier said than done box. However, these techniques have stopped attacks for people in the past. The important thing to do is practice them all so that they are easily recalled when you need to use them. If they don’t work for you the first time, try them again the next time. You’ll discover that some of the techniques work better for you than others and you may even discover your own techniques.
Using Medication to Stop a Panic Attack
Some people use Benzodiazepines to help them manage panic attacks. We haven’t included those here, but this is an option you may want to discuss with your doctor. Lavender oil should not be used with Benzodiazepines as the mixture of both could cause extreme drowsiness.