Alexa felt in the pit of her stomach as she heard the words, “I’m leaving you,” leaving her boyfriend’s mouth. She started to sweat uncontrollably and could hear her heartbeat in her ears. The state of panic overwhelmed her body, and she thought that she might die! The palpitations got so bad that she couldn’t do anything but focus on her heartbeat. She felt that she wasn’t in control of her own body or mind, and she felt like she wasn’t able to do anything and found herself unable to breathe.
For Martain, it began in the office while he was stressing out about the paperwork that needed to be turned in at the end of the day. He felt like he had no control over what was happening. It started small, with him hearing a screeching sound in his ear as his heart rate began to rise and his palms got sweatier. His stomach dropped, and he had to run to the men’s room to vomit uncontrollably.
Panic attacks, or anxiety attacks, can be scary. They often seem to come out of nowhere, and the symptoms range from shortness of breath to chest pains. If you have ever had a panic attack, you know how powerful and debilitating it can be.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a panic attack is a “sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.”
The key here is that a panic attack happens when there is no immediate, tangible threat to one’s health or safety. This means that a panic attack is caused internally.
The physical symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that sometimes people who have never experienced one think they are having a heart attack, a stroke, or even dying. The experience can be isolating, and the sense of losing control can further exacerbate your panic attack.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V, some of the symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in or around your “heart.”
- Dry Mouth
- Dizziness and Sweating
- Muscle, Neck Tension
- Tingling in hands and feet
Some people who experience panic attacks feel that using self-assessment, self-awareness, and self-talk can be impactful in handling the onset of these attacks. In this article, we will go over things to say to yourself during a panic attack.
#1 “I’m Having a Panic Attack.“
As silly as this may sound, when you are in the throes of an anxiety attack, reason and common sense are not always accessible skills. Essentially, your body is going into fight or flight mode even though there is no real immediate danger.
Biology is a force, and it does its job.
When you have a panic attack, your body’s nervous system behaves the same as if you encountered a mugger, almost got into a car accident, or faced any dangerous situation. It is designed to protect you and allow you to get out of harm’s way.
This is why reminding yourself and your brain that what you are experiencing is a panic attack and NOT a life or death situation can be a productive first step in mitigating the length of your attack.
It may help to repeat this a few times in front of a mirror, out loud. Make sure you take deep, slow breaths, as this will help offset the biological changes happening inside your body.
#2 “This Will Not Last Forever.“
If there is any good news when discussing panic attacks, it is that they come to an end.
Most panic attacks will last between 5 to 20 minutes, while some may last up to an hour. But, they all do come to an end, even though it may feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending nightmare in the midst of it.
Focusing on the attack and how your body response can further fuel your anxiety and can quickly escalate the severity of your attack. Fear lends itself to more fear, and you are trapped in a vicious cycle before you know it.
Remind yourself that your discomfort is temporary as often as you can during your attack.
This will help to ensure you stay focused on the moment and do not start worrying about when it will end. Knowing that what you are experiencing will eventually pass can bring some comfort to you and, in some cases, begin to bring down the level of anxiety you are experiencing.
#3 “I Have to Breathe.“
One of the most effective and powerful tools you have to help ease the physical symptoms of a panic attack is proper breathing techniques. Breathing techniques are used to offset several things, such as stress and rapid heart rate. You can utilize different methods to communicate with your brain and tell it to relax your nervous system.
During a panic attack, your breathing can become shallow and focused mainly on your chest. You may also start to hyperventilate. It is crucial to spend time correcting your breathing patterns and, in part, restoring your natural breathing rhythm.
You can try a myriad of breathing methods, and you may find one that you prefer or one that works best for you. For beginners, the easiest way to get started is with belly breathing. Belly breathing is particularly effective with young children who may be experiencing anxiety or stress.
The following video is an excellent resource you can use:
#4 “Insert Your Calming Mantra Here.“
This will be an incredibly personal statement that you will tell yourself repeatedly during your panic attack. There is no “right” one to use here, and it is not a one-size-fits-all statement.
The mantra you choose will depend on the common themes of your fears or your most common repetitive anxiety. Your mantra will work to counteract the negative and primarily irrational thoughts you may be experiencing during your panic attack.
“A mantra is a word, prayer, or sound vibration that’s repeated to create a state of concentration, consciousness, and connection,“Kelsey Patel, LA-based empowerment coach
One of the things you may experience during a panic attack is losing connection to the world around you. Some people report feeling like they aren’t in their bodies. Repeating a mantra is an exercise in grounding and in mindfulness.
Some mantras you may want to use during a panic attack are:
“I am not going to die.”
“I am ok.”
“I am safe.”
“All is well.”
“I am loved.”
“I am in control.”
“This too shall pass.”
Take some time when you are well to reflect on and write down some mantras that you can use during your next panic attack. It is a good idea to have different ones specific to different triggers you may have.
#5 “Let’s Go to Our Safe Space.”
Removing outside stimuli is very important to reduce the severity and longevity of your panic attack. Because the crux of your symptoms is coming from your body’s fight-or-flight reaction, the sooner you can convince your body that you are safe, the faster these symptoms will subside.
We all have a space that makes us feel the most grounded and secure in our well-being. Ideally, this should be a quiet space, free from unnecessary noise and stress.
It can be indoors or outdoors.
It may be your bedroom or your home office. It could be the beach or your garden. Maybe, it’s a small park or walking trail. For some, it may be their children’s bedroom or even your bathroom, in the tub. There is no right or wrong safe space.
The important thing is to identify where you feel the cleanest, safe, and protected. Then, when you notice that you are experiencing anxiety, you will instinctively know where to retreat.
My safe place has always been my bedroom at the end of our hallway. I feel secluded and safe from the world every time I am there, regardless of whether I have a panic attack.
#6 “Stop Fighting.”
It is our nature to “fix” or solve our problems or moments of discomfort immediately. So when we know that we have a panic attack, it is easy to begin feeling frustrated with our inability to shut it down on command.
It can render us feel powerless and out of control. Our desire to control things during these episodes will only create feelings of frustration and angst, both stress-inducing emotions.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the most powerful things we can do during a panic attack is to simply stop trying to correct it or control it. The sooner you can resign to the fact that you are experiencing anxiety, the sooner you can begin implementing techniques to lessen its severity.
You cannot fight off or ward off these episodes. Remind yourself that it’s happening, it’s ok that it is happening, and you can handle it. The quicker you settle in, the faster you can get to work utilizing your coping strategies.
#7 “Be Mindful.“
Mindfulness has a profound effect on mitigating panic attacks. Mindfulness is all about focusing on concrete stimuli around your five senses. It is a way of establishing your connectedness to your immediate surroundings.
Because so much of what is causing your anxiety is a result of your thoughts, centering them on benign physical things can often trick the mind and stop the flow of irrational or unproductive thinking.
Mindfulness practice may look like this:
- Gently inhale or smell essential oils or fragrances– It is even more helpful if you use scents known for their calming properties, such as lavender or jasmine. But really, anything scented will do. Focus on each scent and think about how they make you feel. Do you like the smell? Do they trigger any memories? Does it smell sweet or strong?
- Touch random objects– Choose any objects that you may have around you. Pick them up one at a time. Spend time analyzing the feel of each one. Is it hot or cold? Does it feel smooth or rough? Is it soft? What properties does it have? What do you use it for?
- Look for things to focus on– Look around your environment and pick something to stare at. Start to notice things around you that you haven’t looked at or seen before. Pay attention to what it looks like. What things are you noticing? Think about that thing and all of the things you know or don’t know about it.
- Close your eyes and listen for sounds– Try and identify as many separate and individual sounds as possible. What are you hearing? What do you think it is? How many sounds can you identify?
These practices are designed to get your mind working hard on something. The longer you practice these mindfulness exercises, the more likely you are to break the cycle of thinking that induces and maintains your panic attacks. You can tailor your practice to your own needs.
Sometimes people will do five things to touch, four things to see, three things to hear, two things to smell, and one thing to taste. Others find it helpful to focus their exercise on one or two senses.
#8 “I Am Grateful For…“
Being grateful, or counting your blessings, is one of the easiest ways to help ground you.
It is easy to lose yourself in the dread and worry of anxiety. Your panic attack surrounds itself with doom and gloom and what-ifs. Most of the thoughts you have are negative during an anxiety attack.
That is why it is essential to challenge those thoughts with positive ones. To be effective, they have to personally mean something to you. You want to invoke emotions to counteract the intense fear you are experiencing.
Make sure that you say these out loud if you can. Sounds and repetition are very powerful, as we covered when discussing mantras and mindfulness.
Focus on the things that you have, and that are important to you. They can be your home, family members, friends, health, or pets. Anything small that reconnects you with what is meaningful in your life. Try and see how long you can make your list, or focus on 2 or 3 things and try and think about how they make you feel and the emotions you experience when thinking about them.
While it may be the last thing you feel like doing when experiencing a panic attack, physical activity can have amazing effects on shifting your body’s response to your anxiety.
It has also been shown that with regular exercise, you may be able to prevent or lower the frequency of your panic attacks.
Taking a brisk walk, going for a jog, a bike ride, or a swim can help raise your endorphin levels. These are “feel good” hormones and are a natural way to help your body handle a panic attack. The added benefit of distraction is that getting up and getting moving adds. No matter what type of exercise you choose to do, you will need to focus your attention and energy on what you are doing and where you are going.
#10 “I May Need Help.”
Now, I know how hard this one can be. You already are panicked and afraid and feeling isolated when your anxiety strikes and a panic attack begins.
Sometimes, the things that can help you the most are things you cannot do for yourself. Talking through your fear, for example, requires having someone to bounce your thoughts off of who can offer you clear and rational explanations or reasons for you to consider.
Other times, if you’re having trouble being kind to yourself, a trusted friend or family member can be there to sit with you and remind you that you will be ok. You may need someone who can tell you what your coping strategies are and what helps you relieve your anxiety.
Find someone you trust to share your most effective coping techniques with. Give them a list to keep with them when you need to reach out and be guided through them.
This can also mean seeking out the help of a medical professional. Chronic panic attacks can signify a much larger issue or disorder, and a medical professional can help guide you to the appropriate therapies and possible medications that will be beneficial.
Experiencing a panic attack is a severe and often life-changing experience.
They affect everyone differently and personally. But they are becoming increasingly more common, and you are not alone in your experience.
Being proactive and making sure to talk yourself through them with these ten prompts will help you make your next panic attack a little easier.