Imagine if you could instantly stop a panic attack. As wonderful as that would be, it’s not something I can teach—but this blog will show you the next best thing. A list of techniques to quickly lower fear, panic, and anxiety.
Even if they don’t totally stop a panic attack, they’re worth trying. Reducing your anxiety even a little will help.
(P.S. I’m not a licensed therapist. The techniques in this blog are not intended to treat mental illness or diagnose any conditions.)
The 2 Main Types of Anxiety that Cause Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can arise for a bunch of reasons, but most fit into these two categories.
The first is what most people think of when picturing anxiety. Racing thoughts, overthinking, and being unable to get a voice of reason back into your head. This is mental panic.
Physical panic is something caused from a bodily experience, not thoughts. In my own life, I’ve found pain to be a big trigger of this. Getting pricked at a doctor’s office sometimes caused physical panic, despite mentally being calm.
Our bodies often react to stimuli that we’re not even consciously aware of. Sometimes our brains perceive a threat around us we don’t even mentally notice, but our body goes into fight or flight. Emotional reactions also fall into this category.
Both of these can lead to a whole slew of panicked experiences. We might end up with racing thoughts, a pounding heart, hyperventilation, chest pressure, body pain, dizziness, or more.
Using Your Body’s Biology as a Calm Down Button
There’s a hidden calming “button” in our torsos called the solar plexus nerve cluster. Putting pressure on this area of our body can calm panic. Even if the anxiety was caused from your mind, this will still calm you (you’ll just have a little added work of calming your mind down too).
The solar plexus nerve cluster is located between the bottom of your ribs and your belly button. Putting gentle pressure on this area signals your body to calm.
It’s a purely biological hack to stop a panic attack.
There are three main ways you can activate this calming center of the body. You can do a specific type of deep breathing, bend over, or use a weighted blanket/sandbag. The first two techniques are demonstrated in this video!
The key is to put pressure on this area of your body, through compression or with an object. It tells your brain to stop the fight or flight response we know so well as a panic attack.
Slow Your Actions to Stop a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are essentially a fight or flight response. Adrenaline surges, we become hyper-aware, and we breathe faster to fuel our muscles to flee or fight back against whatever we think is threatening.
If we can convince our mind and bodies there’s nothing to run or fight against, we can theoretically stop a panic attack. So, slow your actions down. Like as slow as a sleepy koala bear.
Go get a glass of water. Rise from your seat slowly, feeling the muscles in your legs. Walk deliberately and feel the rolling of your feet on the ground with every step. Grab a glass. Notice the temperature and texture. And so on.
Or pick up a pen or move a blanket or stretch—anything works, as long as you do it slowly. Continue this pace until you’re able to stop the panic attack.
By forcing your body and mind to slow down, you’re basically showing it that there’s no threat you need to run from. You’re demonstrating nothing bad will happen if you don’t act on that urge to run or fight.
Overcoming Mind-Driven Anxiety
When anxiety comes from our mind, we have to tame the physical symptoms and also address the worries circling our head too. We need a sense of resolve about our fears, to prevent them from coming right back.
So, here’s a small list of ways to transition away from a frantic state of mind to stop a panic attack.
If you can preoccupy your mind with something else, you can force it to temporarily forget the issues and worries. This may calm you down enough that you can rationally think through whatever the worry was, so that it doesn’t turn into panic again. Sometimes all we need is a moment to breathe.
Distractions must be engaging in order to work. You need to force your mind to pay attention to something else.
For instance, a timed puzzle game can keep you focused, since you can’t just put it down and get lost in thought. You have to finish before the time runs out.
A live video game works too. Something that sweeps you into a match for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes. Or maybe you train a pet or build a card tower or something like that. Anything that demands your full attention for a few minutes.
You can also do some sort of workout, ideally something that takes some focus. Maybe you take a walk and count the number of trees you pass. Or run and count the people you pass. Or a complex cardio workout, intriguing yoga flow, or dance.
Movement can also help stop a panic attack.
You can also distract yourself by paying attention to different bodily senses. Smell something enticing, mindfully eat, touch various textures. Here’s a bunch of grounding techniques you can use to calm your mind by focusing on your body.
Sometimes instead of a distraction, we need to listen to our needs, worries, and emotions. We need to validate our experience. This can be intense for a moment, but if you push through it you may find it stops your panic in a minute or two.
Most likely, you’ll cry to release what you’re feeling. These tears are good. They’re healing.
Validation can be done in many ways, but here are two of my favorites:
Write it down:
Write down your thoughts as they come. They’ll feel far less intimidating when they’re on paper and you can actually think through each one (in the moment or later when you have more energy). You’ll realize all your worries are just strings of words and sentences, while simultaneously validating what your mind wants you to know by journaling. Be sure to honor the emotions that come up by placing a hand on your heart and saying, “It’s okay to feel this.”
Answer the What Ifs:
This is my favorite exercise to teach coaching clients (and in The Prosperity Path program). Basically, fully answer all of the “What if…?” questions that pop up in your head. What would you do if that happens? How would you actually handle it? Having a plan not only validates the worry but also helps you feel empowered if that worry came true.
Preventing Panic Before It Starts:
The best way to stop a panic attack is to prevent it from ever starting in the first place. When you notice your blood pumping or your mind racing, use one of these coping methods listed right above. It’ll stop a panic attack before it even really starts.
The faster you calm yourself after noticing any anxiety (even a little), the less likely the feeling will intensify.
Panic is a unique experience for all of us, so how do you know your early warning signs of a panic attack?
Keep a trigger journal. Any time you have a panic attack, think about what happened right before (once it’s over and you can write). What were you feeling, thinking, or experiencing?
After a few entries, you may start to notice a pattern of what tends to trigger panic attacks. Even if there is no pattern, you’ll still have a list of causes. Then you know, if one of these (or a similar) situation happens again, you can anticipate some anxiety and act right away with one of the coping methods.
The more you understand your anxiety, the more likely you’ll be able to stop a panic attack.
So, have you used any of these techniques before? Which have you found the most helpful and why?
If you haven’t used any, which one do you think you’ll try next time you’re in a panic attack? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!