If you have ever had a panic attack you will know how bad they are. Your heart rate goes up, you feel like throwing up and you just want to figure out a way to calm down. It is terrible and it often feels like there is no solution.
A few years ago I had a series of panic attacks and during this time I learned some pretty simple ways to deal with them. In this post I want to share with you my simple but seemingly effective ways to calm down during a panic attack.
Are you sure it is a panic attack?
Panic attacks look different in everybody but they have some common threads. During a panic attack you will feel dizzy, nauseous and your heart rate will increase. Quite often you feel like the walls are closing in and you don’t know what to do or where to turn. This feeling of hopelessness often makes the whole situation worse.
Panic attacks are said to be one of the most frightening things a human can experience.
The most important thing that you can do is go and see your doctor. If your panic attacks are occurring regularly you need to get some professional advice as it might be related to another physical or psychological problem. In the meantime you can use these suggestions to help calm you down.
How to calm down and deal with a panic attack
1. Sit down and breathe into a paper bag
The first thing that most panic attack experts will tell you to do during a panic attack is breathe. Sometimes they will tell you to breathe in to a paper bag. This is a good idea.
When you have a panic attack your heart rate will go up. You will start to breathe faster and this elevates the level of oxygen in your blood. Not a great thing. When you have too much oxygen in your blood you will be tricked into thinking you are short of breathe but in actual fact you have too much breathe! Breathing fast causes your body to hold on to too much oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide and as such you start to feel dizzy and short of breathe.
Breathing in to a paper helps balance this mess out because you are breathing in mostly carbon dioxide that you have already exhaled. This will slow down your hyperventilation and rebalance your oxygen levels.
2. Go outside into the open
After my first panic attack I was left feeling terrified and vulnerable. I had heard about panic attacks but I had never realized how bad they could be. One of the scariest things about the panic attack was that I felt completely confined and unable to escape the situation.
So the next time I felt a panic attack coming on I raced outside and down the road to the local park. This park near my house has a great big creek running through it and lots of trees and birds. It is very relaxing. I soon started to feel more open and spacious and no longer felt trapped by the panic.
Getting outside in the open is surprisingly effective. Often when we are having a panic attack we are indoors and alone. Going outside might seem like the last thing you want to do but I am certain that it helps.
3. Take a shower
As I mentioned, sometimes during a panic attack you can feel dizzy, sick and very panicked. I found that taking a nice hot shower really helped to calm me down.
Now this tip is not going to be for everyone. Some people like showers, other people don’t. If you are feeling the symptoms of an attack it might be a good idea to strip off and jump in the shower. The hot water, the repetitiveness of the water drops and the steam are all really good ways to slow down. When I had my panic attacks I used to sometimes sit down in the shower for five minutes while my mind settled.
Showering is nice because it is something physical. You get the bodily sensations as well as the mind relaxing. This body/mind combination can be really powerful – especially if you combine it with some slow breathing.
4. Practice some breathing meditation
The last thing you will feel like doing during a panic attack is sitting down and having a formal meditation session. However, I found that a simple breathing meditation really helped to calm me down.
The first thing I would do is remind myself that this panic attack was a good opportunity to learn to master my mind. If I could meditate during a panic attack surely I would be able to deal with anger, pride, attachment, etc. during normal life. This put me in good stead as I saw the panic attack as an opportunity instead of a negative event.
This is Buddhist master Mingyur Rinpoche talking about his many battles with panic and how he dealt with the panic using meditation so I thought I would let him do the explaining. Check it out:
5. Call a friend
Sometimes the best thing during a panic attack is to hear somebody’s voice. They reassure you that everything is going to be okay and they remind you that there is some perspective. Calling a friend can be a wonderful help.
However, there is a downside to relying on a friend. If your panic attacks become re-occurring events it might become tempting to call that person every time. You might make the mistake of thinking that you cannot get through the ordeal without them. This is a very bad thing. You do not want to become dependent on anyone else for your own happiness. It is important that you become strong on the inside.
Relying on a friend is fine if you need that support. Do not feel guilty about calling a friend – they will not mind – that is what they are there for. But do be careful about developing any unhealthy habits. This won’t help anyone.
6. Realize that you are going to be okay
One of the most important things to do during a panic attack is realize that you are going to be okay. Panic attacks do not last forever. You are not going crazy. You will be alright in a few minutes.
Panic attacks are thought to be caused by the part of the brain that governs our fight or flight reaction. If it feels threatened it will pump chemicals into the body that cause you to panic so you will get out of the harmful situation. This is all well and good if there were a threatening situation but most of the time panic attacks seem to come out of the blue or after a not so threatening situation.
Seeing as the panic attack is caused by a chemical reaction it is going to take some time for your symptoms to ease. Your body has just been flooded with hormones and you will not feel better immediately – even if your mind has calmed down a bit. Give yourself time and remind yourself that it will all be over soon. This goes a long way to reducing the severity of the situation.
7. Listen to some slow, rhythmic music
Music is a very powerful tool. It has the ability to change our moods in an instant. I found music to be a particularly useful tool when I was trying to deal with a panic attack.
The best music to listen to during a panic attack is something that is graceful, slow, melodic and rhythmic. I really like to turn on some Vivaldi or Mozart and listen to the happy and joyful songs of the violin and piano. Hip hop and other tracks with a bouncy and catchy baseline can also be beneficial.
See what works for you. Spend a few weeks listening to some new music and see what calms you down. Play that music during the times that you are feeling happy and relaxed (like in the bath) and then when you have an attack you can turn the music on and go back to that place.
Can you help?
If anyone out there has experienced a panic attack and has some suggestions or hopeful stories I would love you to share them. Please leave a comment and tell us what you did and what did/didn’t help. Your comment might really help someone who is going through these dreadful experiences.