Tips to Cope with a Panic Attack

By Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Exercise

A panic attack can trick you into feeling fatigued, but often the opposite is true. Instead of retreating to your couch or bed, try these activities:

Walking. During a panic attack, it may seem like nothing short of an emergency room will help you. But sometimes the most basic of activities–like a walk through a quiet park, down a street you find relaxing, or anywhere that helps you take your mind off your anxiety–can be the best medicine. Light aerobic exercise also helps your body produce endorphins. And getting fresh air and sunshine can have a positive effect on your overall outlook.

Yoga and stretching. Like deep breathing, these activities can reduce muscle tension and help you regain composure. Lie flat on your back and bring one knee up to your chest. Hold it there for 20 seconds with your hands, while also breathing deeply through your nose. Repeat with the other knee.

Or, stand with your feet a little more than shoudler distance apart and your knees straight. Bend forward from the waist, touching your fingertips to the ground. Hold that pose for 10 seconds, then gently come back to a standing position (being careful not to strain your back). Repeat these stretches as necessary.

Using peripheral vision. Let your field of vision broaden until you can see from the outside corners of your eyes. Breathe deeply and let your jaw muscles relax. This exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your body.

Confront Your Fear

The more you understand your fear, the better you’ll be able to control it. Try writing in a journal before, during, and after a panic attack; record your thoughts, ailments, and worries. When you’re feeling better, go back and reread the entry. This can prepare you for another attack (as you’ll know what to expect) and can help you look for patterns between attacks. Some other ways to understand your panic include:

Paradoxical intention. The goal of this exercise is to trigger a panic attack and stand up to it, thereby feeling in control of what frightens you. Go into the feared situation with the tools you’ve learned, and perhaps with a friend for support, and actually dare the attack to happen. This can help you train yourself to not be afraid of the situation, and give you an opportunity to learn from it.

Talk to a therapist. A therapist can help you get to the root(s) of the problem and devise a plan to overcome it. To find a therapist who’s right for you, ask for a referral from your doctor.

Join a support group. A therapist, your doctor, or a friend may be able to recommend a support group for sufferers of panic attacks. Group meetings can give you further insight into your situation, as you’ll get a chance to hear how others are coping with their problems.

As frightening as it may seem at first, once you start to learn about panic and stand up to it, you’ll experience newfound wisdom and freedom–a great first step toward all sorts of new possibilities.

 

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2007). Tips to Cope with a Panic Attack. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/tips-to-cope-with-a-panic-attack/000971
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.