Having a panic attack can be debilitating. It’s hard to predict when one is coming, leaving you scrambling to cope when it hits. If you find yourself stuck in a panic response and unable to get out, the following five tips will help you self-soothe and get back to a healthy and positive mental state.
Find Somewhere Safe
The first step to coming down from a panic attack is to find somewhere safe and calm to relax. If you’re in a crowded social situation such as a party or work event, try to step away and find a quiet bathroom or closet where you can escape the stressor that’s causing your panic. If you’re at home and someone specific is triggering you, do your best to find a space away from them where you can come down on your own, without any more stress triggering a deeper response. When you have somewhere safe to cope, your body will automatically start to come down.
Apply Soothing Pressure
Next, apply some soothing pressure to certain areas of your body. If you have access to something cold, putting an ice pack or even a cold water bottle over your chest can stimulate your vagus nerve, a crucial part of your sympathetic nervous system. Stimulating this nerve can help regulate your adrenaline response, calming and soothing your panic attack. Additionally, putting pressure over your chest will give you something external to focus on, rather than just the feelings in your mind.
Relax Your Body
Third, you need to focus on relaxing your body. Physically, a panic attack is an overreaction of your fight or flight adrenal response. One of the ways your body handles this rush of adrenaline is by tensing your muscles. This response has evolved to prepare you to either run from danger or fight it off. However, when there is no true danger and your mind is simply anxious, this muscle tension does more harm than good.
Once you’re in a safe place, focus on how your body feels. Can you feel your muscles still tensing up and preparing to fight? What happens if you flex those muscle groups and let the tension out? Is it more comfortable when you let go? Sometimes, you may need to run your hand over each individual muscle group and tell yourself to relax to break through the panic, but it can help eventually.
Regulate Your Breathing
Next, it’s important to regulate your breathing. If you’re still panting and gasping in desperate breaths, your cells aren’t getting the appropriate amount of oxygen, and the panic response will continue. It may be difficult at first but focus on breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth.
If you need to, pull up a timer on your phone or watch to breathe with. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and breathe out for four seconds. Concentrate on the feeling of your lungs expanding and pushing air out steadily, and you’ll feel the panic start to recede.
Try Some Affirmations
The final step is to try some affirmations. These may feel a little silly at first, but audibly telling yourself that you’re safe, you’re loved, and you’re stronger than your panic has measured calming effects. If you’re alone, try to whisper them quietly to yourself.
- “I am safe.”
- “I am in control of my anxiety.”
- “I can handle this.”
- “I am stronger than my mental illness.”
These may feel like only words, and they may feel a bit strange to speak out loud to an empty room, but the more you repeat them both aloud and to yourself, the more you’ll believe them. Talking about yourself positively doesn’t have to be reserved for when you’re panicking. By adopting a standard of positive self-talk, you can help regulate your anxiety and possibly prevent panic attacks before they happen.
Overall, having a panic attack can be incredibly scary. With these tips, you can bring yourself out safely and calmly.