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Panic attacks can grip someone in the midst of nearly any activity. For the average person, they only occur during situations of extreme stress or excitement. For those who suffer from panic disorder, they can occur during any mundane activity from driving to watching television, so learning how to stop a panic attack is an essential skill. Most doctors recommend a series of steps that involves self control and discipline to shut down the attack.
In order to understand how to stop a panic attack, it is important to understand what one is. A panic attack is caused when too much adrenaline enters the body. Some occasions call for this rush of adrenaline, since this is the hormone that improves the body's response to emergencies. The brain senses an emergency and sends a message to the adrenal glands to send adrenaline pumping through the body, which in turn raises heart rate, and opens blood and air vessels. Adrenaline is fully in place in about three minutes and remains there until the body releases the emergency signal, at which time the adrenaline burns off and the body returns to normal conditions.
Panic attacks occur when the body sends an emergency signal in improper situations, or is unable to shut off the signal when the emergency situation has ended. The body continues to produce adrenaline, and can cause elevated heart rate and breathing, sometimes leading to hyperventilation. Many who suffer from panic attacks claim that, in that moment, they feel as though they are going to die.
Most specialists agree that in order to stop a panic attack, the sufferer must learn to control the brain, and shut down the emergency signals through will power. There are a number of techniques used, but most come down to 4 basic steps. The person must acknowledge the attack, distract the brain away from the negative thoughts, breathe, and refocus.
When the attack first begins, it is important to recognize what is happening. Panic attacks tend to escalate quickly and it is best to pick up on signals that one is beginning as soon as the first inkling begins. Sufferers report that thoughts immediately go negative once a panic attack begins, with thoughts like "I'm going to die" and "I can't stop this" being among the most common. To stop a panic attack, those thoughts must be shut down since they are essentially sending the emergency signal to the body. Some suggest thinking "stop" over and again while others recommend reassuring statements like "I'll be fine," or "I can do this."
Since a panic attack will naturally open the airways, deep breathing is necessary to calm the body and prevent hyperventilation. Once the attack has begun to quell, it is best to look back and assess what the triggers may have been, and to quickly refocus on an activity that is separate from that trigger. If that is not possible, such as when in the middle of a traffic jam, maintain the flow of calming and positive thoughts. Other techniques include deep breathing while perhaps distracting the brain with music, or a book on tape. Using simple steps such as these, most sufferers have found it easier to stop a panic attack than expected.
I used to suffer from agoraphobia myself, so the very thought of leaving my house to go shopping or run errands would trigger panic attacks. My doctor recommended a psychiatrist who specialized in anxiety disorders like mine. He suggested I visualize one of the happiest places I could think of, real or imaginary. I pictured having a picnic under a shade tree by a beautiful, calm lake. Whenever I felt a panic attack coming on, I was supposed to visit that place in my mind and stay there until I felt better.
When I was younger, I would experience panic attacks in large public spaces, like a shopping mall or school building. It had something to do with a lot of frenetic activity going on around me. I would start seeing things, like evil hitmen hiding behind benches. It was truly scary, even though part of me knew none of it was real.
I finally had to learn to seek out a secluded space and do some deep breathing exercises. I'd close my eyes and keep repeating "this isn't real" until my mind stopped racing. As I got older, these panic attacks became less frequent. Now I recognize the early warning signals and find somewhere to sit down for a few minutes until the anxiety passes.
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