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How to stop a panic attack

In 2015, Marlowe experienced his first panic attack.


At the age of 48, Marlowe says he’d always been “healthy – I’d always eaten right, watched my cholesterol and sugar intake, all that,” he shares.


“That morning, the best I could describe the feeling was a heart attack, or what I assumed a heart attack would feel like.”


Marlowe’s not alone. For many experiencing their first panic attack, it can feel like the most frightening, debilitating experience, causing the body’s emergency system to reach for its fight or flight reactions. Even with no identifiable clear or present danger, you still feel as though you’re fighting for your life, with seemingly no way of getting out.


Panic attacks don’t always have a trigger and can happen at any time. For people who’ve had at least once panic attack, the worry of it happening again – and when – is a very real fear.


“It’s been years since I had that big attack, but I’ll never forget it,” says Marlowe. “I actually still live somewhat in fear that it’s going to happen again. Talk about having no control over your body or your mind. I’m told my panic attack probably only lasted a few minutes, but that’s not what it felt like. It felt like forever.”


Symptoms of a panic attack include the following:


  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Chills
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fear of death
  • Numbness
  • Sense of impending danger
  • Detachment


Can a panic attack be interrupted or stopped?

 

The good news is that yes, a panic attack can certainly be stopped. There are a few ways to do so.


First, breathe.


It’s so important to know how to breathe during a panic attack, because panic attacks so often cause shortness of breath, which can make people panic even more!


Try this: breathe slowly through your nose, pushing out your stomach for at least five seconds. Hold that breathe for three to five seconds, and then exhale through your mouth slowly. Make sure it’s your stomach that’s doing most of the expanding and not only your chest. Keep doing this for a few minutes and visualize the stress exiting your body.


You can also get distracted.


This works best when you’re starting to feel the beginning of a panic attack. If you’re sensing its onset, get up and do something else – don’t sit there and wait for it to come. You can start cleaning, or you can get up and go for a walk. You can wash your face. You can call a friend. You can turn on a video clip on YouTube, or you can make a quick, favorite snack.


Anything that feels like a joyful mini activity that can stop your panic attack in its tracks is a good thing.


Changing your focus, or shifting your perspective, is another way to keep that panic attack at bay. So often, when we’re dealing with a panic attack, what are we focused on? The panic attack! Instead, focus on something else, like an object in the room. Really look at it. And then, to yourself or on a piece of paper, describe it in unmost detail. What color is it? What shape is it? Is it a living thing? How long have you had it? What purpose does it serve?


What this does is shift your focus from your body and your feelings to something else entirely. You can keep describing numerous items until you start to feel better.


Working out, of course, is a great go-to when managing a panic attack.


Exercise is a great eliminator of stress and anxiety. You don’t need to hit the gym or any classes; you can just put on some comfy shoes and go for a walk. You can jump up and down, or run up and down the stairs in your own house or apartment. You can dance to a few videos on YouTube, or you can do as many sit-ups as you can stand on your living room floor.  Any movement will help move your focus from your feelings and mental state to your body.

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