February 8


How To Calm Down From a Panic Attack

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

February 8, 2024

Whether it’s your first time experiencing intense anxiety, or you have frequent panic attacks, you’re not alone. Despite the sense of impending doom or the feeling that you’re dying, panic attacks are temporary and manageable with the right help. Learn more about effective ways to reduce your stress and anxiety and prevent future panic attacks in this article.

What Is a Panic Attack?

Panic attack
Image by Joice Kelly is licensed with Unsplash License

A panic attack is an episode of intense fear that suddenly triggers physical and emotional responses, including:

  • A sense of impending doom.
  • Sweating.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Shallow or shortness of breath.
  • Trembling, shaking, or chills.
  • Feelings of anxiety.
  • A racing, pounding heartbeat.
  • Fear of loss of control or death.
  • Chest pain or headache.
  • Abdominal cramping or nausea.

When a panic attack occurs, it can feel like you’re having a heart attack or that you’re dying. Although the symptoms feel severe, there’s often no real danger or apparent cause of the panic attack.

How Long Can a Panic Attack Last?

Panic attacks can last five minutes to half an hour, with symptoms typically peaking within 10 minutes. The most effective thing to remember is that panic attacks are not a permanent state, nor do they cause physical harm; the feelings will pass with time. Your symptoms may vary in intensity and feel frightening, but they’ll subside.

How To Calm Down From a Panic Attack

Several methods can be applied to help lessen the severity of panic attack symptoms or shorten the episode. Consider the below techniques to help you keep calm when you’re having a panic attack.

Take Deep Breaths

Breathing exercises involving deep breaths can provide relief during a panic attack, which often causes rapid breathing and chest tightness. These physical symptoms can worsen the feeling of a panic attack. Shift your focus from shallow breathing to taking slow, deep breaths, and observe how your breath passes through your body. Slowly count to four with each inhalation and exhalation, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. As you breathe deeply from the abdomen, watch your stomach rise as you fill your lungs with air and fall as you blow gently out your mouth.

Another effective breathing technique is the 4-7-8 exercise, which offers more focused counting to distract your mind from your physical symptoms. Breathe in for four seconds and hold the breath for seven seconds, counting steadily and calmly. Then, exhale slowly for eight seconds and repeat until the panic attack subsides.

Practice Grounding Techniques

Panic attacks can be overwhelming, as they stir up distressing thoughts and memories. Instead of getting stuck in this emotional state, concentrate on something physical in your environment to ground you. Find an object to look at and think about how it feels, who made it, and its unique features, such as its color, shape, and style.

If you have recurring panic attacks, carrying a familiar object, such as a smooth stone, hair clip, or fidget toy, can help ground you when you need it. When you focus on one stimulus, you can lessen other stimuli to reduce panic attack symptoms. If you don’t have your familiar object with you at the start of a panic attack, you can try other grounding techniques, including:

  • Closing your eyes and visualizing a safe place.
  • Listening to your favorite music or focusing on nearby sounds.
  • Concentrating on the other senses (e.g., what can you see, smell, or taste).

Find a Peaceful Spot or Change Environments

A proactive method for calming down from a panic attack involves a change of scenery. Actively removing yourself from a triggering environment that intensifies your physical and emotional symptoms can help you create a better mental space. Find a quiet place to sit down or lean against a wall and focus on your breathing or ground technique.

If you’re in a busy room, consider leaving momentarily and going for a walk. Moving your body releases endorphins — hormones that help relax your body and improve your mood. Focus on your pace’s rhythm and regulate your breathing to a calm, steady flow.

Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

During a panic attack, you may feel out of touch with reality. The 5-4-3-2-1 method combines a grounding technique with mindfulness to shift your focus away from the sources of anxiety causing your panic attack and get in tune with your five senses. The steps of this method are as follows:

  • Look at five different objects: Count and think about each for a moment.
  • Listen for four distinct sounds: Observe where they come from and what makes them different.
  • Touch three things: Find three physical objects you can touch and think about their texture, temperature, and use.
  • Identify two separate smells: These smells can be the scent of your clothes, hair, skin, or smells in the air, such as coffee, food, and flowers.
  • Name one thing you can taste: This may be the taste in your mouth or a piece of candy or food.

What To Do After a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are uncomfortable and disorienting. After a panic attack, it’s necessary to reorient yourself before continuing with your day. Practicing the following strategies can help lower your levels of anxiety and prevent future panic attacks:

  • Speak with someone you trust to ease your anxiety and feel less alone.
  • Meditate to relieve stress, regulate your breathing, and enhance your sense of peace.
  • Exercise regularly for better sleep, less tension, and more endorphins to maintain happiness and relaxation.
  • Consult a mental health professional. Therapy can help you discover the causes of your anxiety and find practical coping methods for panic attacks.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With the guidance of a neurophysical doctor, CBT can reduce stress and improve your tolerance to fearful situations, helping to prevent panic attacks.

Get a Professional Assessment Today at Neurohealth Arlington Heights

Do you experience recurring or severe panic attacks? Have they failed to improve with at-home coping methods, and do they inhibit your quality of life? These attacks may be a symptom of panic disorder, and it’s best to seek guidance and treatment from a neuropsychological professional. At Neurohealth Arlington Heights, we provide the utmost care for children, adolescents, and adults seeking professional treatment with their panic disorder. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for neuropsychological testing in Chicago, Illinois. We’re here to help you begin your journey toward better mental health.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.