How to Cope With Panic Attacks

Three Parts:Handling Panic Attacks in the MomentManaging AnxietyGetting Help

While most everyone experiences some level of anxiety, panic attacks can make you feel out of control. Panic attacks are typically unexpected, intense bursts of fear and anxiety. You may feel like you're losing control in the moment and are unable to avoid future attacks.[1] You may suddenly feel as though you can't function, are being smothered, or even think you're having a heart attack. These episodes can be debilitating and keep you from enjoying your life. Simply knowing more about what panic attacks are and how they can affect your life can be a great first step in learning to cope with them.[2] Once you understand the nature of your panic attacks, learn coping mechanisms to help you regain control of your life.

Part 1
Handling Panic Attacks in the Moment

  1. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 6
    Breathe deeply. When in the middle of a panic attack, it’s likely you will struggle to breathe naturally. The best way to work through a panic attack is to turn your attention to your breathing. Focusing on your breath and learning to deepen it will help you relax and work through the panic attack. Breath awareness can end a panic attack and decrease their frequency overall.[3]
    • Take a moment to notice the sensation of your breath entering your nostrils or mouth as it travels down your airway into your lungs. After a few breaths, try to notice any other sensations that might accompany your breathing. Becoming more aware of the subtle sensations in your body can help you influence how your body responds to emotional spikes.
    • First, practice deep breathing exercises when you are calm and not in panic. By practicing in safe and calm environments, you can be more prepared when experiencing a panic attack or intense anxiety. Practicing deep breathing will help you relax and can help you work through any future panic attacks.[4]
  2. 2
    Stay present. Whatever you are doing, focus on that. If you are driving your car, focus on the sensation of your hands on the steering wheel and your body making contact with the seat.[5] Tune in to your senses and listen to what noises you hear. If you are alone, sit down. Feel the coolness of the tile against your skin or the softness of carpet. Focus on what sensations your body feels: the fabric of your clothing, the heaviness of shoes on your feet, if you’re leaning your head against something.
    • Return to your rational mind. Allow yourself to think clearly. Don’t go immediately to judgments (“I can’t believe this happened, this is embarrassing”) but allow yourself to recognize that you are okay and that nothing is happening that is life-threatening.
  3. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 3
    Pinpoint the physical symptoms of panic attacks. Panic attacks can happen out of the blue: one moment you are fine, and the next moment you are convinced you are about to die. Since symptoms of panic attacks can mirror some of the main indicators of a heart attack or stroke, some people fear they are experiencing a heart attack when it is actually a panic attack. You won’t actually pass out or have a heart attack from having a panic attack.[6] Symptoms of a panic attack can include:[7]
    • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
    • Pounding heart
    • Intense cold or hot flashes
    • Shaking or trembling
    • Blurred vision
    • Feeling like you’re choking
    • Strong stomach pains
    • Headaches
    • Chest pain
  4. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 4
    Look for stress triggers. Panic attacks occur more often with stressful life events, like the loss of a loved one, a major life event such as going to university, getting married or having a baby, or psychological trauma like being robbed.[8] If you’ve experienced stress recently and tend to be more of an anxious person, this can heighten your vulnerability to experience a panic attack.
    • If you’ve had a panic attack in the past and are experiencing current stressful events, know that you may be at higher risk to experience another panic attack. Spend extra time taking care of yourself.

Part 2
Managing Anxiety

  1. 1
    Manage your stress. Don’t let stress pile up in your life. Manage your stress by engaging in activities each day that help you relieve stress.[9] This can include yoga, meditation, exercise, writing, drawing, or anything that you find helpful in relieving stress.
    • One excellent way to manage stress is to get plenty of sleep, around 7 to 8 hours. This can help you handle the stresses of daily life.[10]
  2. 2
    Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Practicing relaxation helps you cope with stress and anxiety on a daily basis and can help prevent anxiety over the long-term.[11] To practice muscle relaxation, lie down and relax your body. Tense and then release one muscle group at a time. Start with your right hand and forearm by making a fist, and then relaxing. Move to your upper right arm, left arm, then your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, hips, right and left legs and feet.Take your time and feel yourself let go of any tension within your body.[12]
  3. 3
    Expose yourself to panic symptoms. After experiencing a panic attack, some people develop a fear of panic attacks themselves. This can lead to avoiding situations that might induce panic. You can lessen the fear the more you expose yourself to symptoms.[13] If you have persistent panic attacks, you might try to recognize the unique body signals related to your panic attacks, such a tightness in the throat or shortness of breath. When you notice these signs, remind yourself that no physical danger will actually come from a panic attack.[14]
    • Practice holding your breath, shallow breathing, or shaking your head from side to side. Mimic the symptoms you experience and do them in your own control. Recognize that you are okay and no harm will come to you.
    • Do this in a controlled setting, so that if it happens uncontrolled, it won’t be as fearful.
  4. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 7
    Get plenty of exercise. While exercise helps your overall health, it is closely related to helping you handle panic attacks.[15] Since panic attacks are tied to physiological effects related to heart function-- like a rise in blood pressure or decreased oxygen-- working on your cardiovascular health can reduce the effects panic attacks have on your body.
    • Go for a run or a hike, take a dance class, or try martial arts. Do things that you find fun and get you moving!
  5. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 9
    Avoid stimulants. Try not to use nicotine products or caffeine, especially in situations where you've had panic attacks in the past.[16] Stimulants speed up many of your physiological processes, which could make a panic attack more likely. They may also make it harder to calm down from a panic attack.[17]
    • For example, if you’ve had panic attacks before and are someone who is typically anxious meeting new people, think about skipping that cup of coffee before going on a blind date.
  6. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 10
    Consider an herbal treatment or supplement. If you're experiencing mild anxiety (not a full blown panic attack) the herbal supplements chamomile and valerian root have been shown to relieve mild anxiety to some degree.[18] Be sure to check for any medication interactions before taking them and always follow the packaged instructions. There are also other supplements available that can reduce the effects of stress and anxiety. These include:
    • Magnesium. Check with your doctor to see if you have a magnesium deficiency, which may be making it harder for your body to deal with past stresses.[19]
    • Omega-3 fatty acids. You can take a supplement, like flax seed oil. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce anxiety.[20]
    • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). If you're deficient in this acid, which is a neurotransmitter, you may have trouble calming your nerves, get headaches, and experience palpitations, among other things. Take 500 to 1000mg of GABA a day or eat more broccoli, citrus, bananas, or nuts.[21]

Part 3
Getting Help

  1. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 12
    Engage in Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT). When seeking out treatment, find a mental health professional that practices CBT. Your therapist will help you identify unproductive thinking patterns which might lead to anxiety or dysfunctional responses, as well as possible triggers for your panic attacks. Gradually, you'll be exposed to the specific conditions you may be afraid of or uncomfortable around.[22] This can desensitize your anxiety. CBT functions to train your thoughts and behaviors to support you and not to cause you problems.
    • Practicing CBT along with breathing techniques can be helpful tools for calming your panic and focusing on whatever else is happening in the present moment.
  2. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 13
    Identify situations that trigger your panic attacks. You may want to make a list of the kinds of situations in which panic attacks happen for you. This can also help you identify when panic attacks seem to happen. This way, you'll be prepared to use coping techniques like gradual exposure (CBT) and awareness/breathing techniques.
    • Being proactive towards panic attacks can make you feel more in control and buffer the effect panic attacks will have on your mood and behavior.
  3. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 14
    Let people who are close to you know about your panic attacks. Explain your situation as clearly as possible. If you're struggling to describe attacks, print off information about panic attacks for them to read. This can be helpful for people who don't get panic attacks, who may have a hard time understanding what they are. People that care about you will appreciate knowing how you're actually feeling. You may be surprised at how supportive they will be, and how helpful their support might feel.
    • Strong social support systems have been shown to be essential in dealing with stress, especially in cases of anxiety disorders.[23]
  4. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 15
    Talk with your doctor about prescription medications. Prescription medications such as tricyclic antidepressants, beta blockers, benzodiazepines, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) can significantly lower the likelihood of panic attack episodes.[24] Check with your doctor to see if one of these types of medications might be right for you.
  5. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 2
    Reflect on your family history. Panic attacks and anxiety disorders can be traced through families.[25] By understanding your family history, you may get a better understanding of what triggers anxiety in your family members, how they cope, and what you can learn from their experiences.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask your family members about their experiences with anxiety. Reach out and have honest conversations with your family about anxiety so you can better understand what is going on within yourself.
  6. Image titled Cope With Panic Attacks Step 5
    Realize that you are not alone. Keep in mind how many people experience panic attacks every day. Some estimates suggest that six million people in America alone have panic attacks, with women suffering from them almost twice as often as men.[26] But, the number of people who have had a single panic attack at some point in their lives is probably much higher. Many of these people get help from various types of support groups.[27]
    • If you want to speak face to face with other people who have had panic attacks, don’t be afraid to attend a meeting and share your story with them.


  • When you feel better, help someone else get help. There are so many scared people out there of all ages, so tell them your story. You really can help others just by talking and sharing experiences.
  • Calm down and think of positive things. Try listening to calming nature sounds or take a relaxing nap.
  • Drinking a glass of water may help, or taking a small nap.
  • Remember that it is temporary.
  • Meditate, do the mindfulness mediation program (on your own or in a class).
  • Don't turn to alcohol or drugs to help you cope. They will only hinder your healing and add to your problems. Acceptance, professional help and educating yourself are much more productive.

Sources and Citations

  1. Santos, M., D’Amico, D., & Dierssen, M. (2015). From neural to genetic substrates of panic disorder: Insights from human and mouse studies. European Journal of Pharmacology, 759, 127–141.
  3. Barrera, T. L., Grubbs, K. M., Kunik, M. E., & Teng, E. J. (2014). A Review of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Panic Disorder in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: The Rationale for Interoceptive Exposure. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 21(2), 144–154.
Show more... (24)

Article Info

Categories: Panic Attacks