Strategies for Calming a Panic Attack

Dr. Susan Turner is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, where she frequently treats patients with panic disorder. Through a holistic approach, Dr. Susan Turner incorporates mindfulness, meditation, and other alternative techniques to help her patients make their way through panic attacks.

A panic attack is a distressing experience. It causes intense feelings of fear and loss of control as well as such physical symptoms as shortness of breath, sweating, heart palpitations, and nausea. Often, the brain’s experience of these symptoms can make the patient feel as though he or she is not going to survive.

The only way to make it through a panic attack is to ride it out, but there are strategies that a person can use to get through it faster and with less distress. Many experts recommend that individuals ground themselves by noticing their sensory experience of their surroundings, such as what they can hear, see, or smell, in order to ground themselves in the present moment. Slow and deliberate diaphragmatic breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth, can have a similar effect.

Many people with panic attacks also find that it helps to remind themselves that the attack is temporary, that they are not going to die, and that the experience will pass. The brain often perceives a panic attack as life-threatening, particularly if shortness of breath leads to reduced blood oxygen levels, and a conscious reminder of what is actually happening can calm this response.

All persons experience panic attacks differently, of course, and no strategy will work for everyone. It is important for anyone who struggles with panic to consult with a mental health professional to develop an actionable treatment plan.