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What to Do If You Are Having a Panic Attack

Apr 6, 2021 | Overwhelmed, Mental Health

Ever had a sudden feeling of debilitating fear accompanied by a frightening physical reaction to perceived danger? Suddenly, you feel like you are going to hurl. Your hands and legs are shaking, and your heart is about to come off your chest. Worse still, for that period, you cannot seem to catch a breath. You were having a panic attack.

A panic attack is part of anxiety disorders. While it may not have an apparent cause, addictions, addiction withdrawal, traumatic experiences, and depression trigger panic attacks. Research also places history of panic attacks in the family, chronic stress, and personality trait as triggers.

Understanding a Panic Response

Panic attacks develop suddenly. Its manifestation peaks ten minutes into the attack. It is characterized by trembling, heart palpitations, abdominal discomfort, chest pains, and an overwhelming sense of fear. Knowing how a panic attack occurs is necessary to understand your body’s response and the solutions behind the condition.

Your body has a defense mechanism against perceived threats. It prepares you for fight or flight. The response is regulated by hormones and neurotransmitters that control the sympathetic part of the nervous system.

Hormones from the adrenal glands and a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine affect cardiovascular functioning. They increase your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. The increase boosts oxygen levels in your muscles in preparation for fight or flight. Your skin gets pale as blood flow moves from the skin surface to the muscles. Additionally, your muscles become tense in preparation for defense; that is why you tremble in anticipation of defense.

The adrenal gland hormones also stimulate the release of cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for amassing energy for fight or flight. Part of cortisol’s response is in your abdominal region. It stops operations in your digestive tract diverting that energy for your body’s defense. The sudden urge to empty your bowel, vomit, and appetite suppression keeps your gut empty so that your body can focus on responding to the impending danger.

The effects of a panic response are crippling – especially when the threat is not real. It interferes with your life by making you chase paper tigers. It does not help that the attack appears suddenly. If you are vulnerable to panic attacks, here are solutions to help you calm down.

Employ Relaxation Techniques

The hormones at work during a panic attack increase tension and agitation. You can counter these effects by relaxing your body and mind. One way to relax is by controlling your breathing. Close your eyes and slowly breathe through your nose and exhale at the same pace through your mouth. Controlled breathing not only distracts your mind from the false perception of danger but also reduces the strain in your body.

You can also calm your body down by counting to ten slowly until you run out of breath. The counting distracts your attention from the threat and relaxes your body. The technique slows down your body.

Try Light Exercises

Exercising is an excellent way of releasing pent-up energy and tension. Although there are conflicting conclusions on the efficacy of exercising in curbing an attack, light physical activity will do you good. So long as you are not hyperventilating during an attack, you can take a walk or a jog to release the energy gain. Light exercising also lets you synchronize your breathing with every action taking your focus away from the false alarm.

Engage in Activities You Love

Take your attention away from the threat and listen to your favorite song. Turn the radio up and dance, make some art and craft, or play a game or an instrument. Engaging in your favorite pastime activity releases endorphins that reduce the internal uproar spurred by stress hormones. Endorphins also induce feelings of pleasure and security. Therefore, get that massage, meditate, and get a good laugh in the company of friends and loved ones to boost your endorphin release.

Limit Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a psychoactive compound. Its effect on the body is similar to those of a panic or anxiety attack. Caffeine interferes with your cardiovascular functioning and breathing to maintain alertness. It also increases your tolerance to pain and sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep is fuel for anxiety and other forms of mood disorder.

According to a study on the effects of caffeine in inducing panic disorder, it was established that caffeine exacerbates the symptoms of the disorder. The research findings showed that taking more than 400mg of caffeine increases susceptibility to developing panic attacks for people with panic disorder and depression.

Value Your Rest

Sleep disruption is both a symptom and a mood disrupter. It instigates and worsens panic attacks. Your rest and wakefulness pattern is regulated by an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. In this sleep-wake cycle, your body needs eight hours of rest. The sleep part of the cycle has stages that influence brain activity. Sleep deprivation interfering with deep slow-wave sleep, a dimension that slows down the overactive part of your brain, increases the chances of anxiety disorders. Having an eight-hour sleep period is vital for you to reduce panic attack episodes.

Avoid Addictive Solutions

There are destructive ways of getting rid of a panic attack. For instance, alcohol consumption is not a healthy way to reduce the effects of the attack. Alcohol releases endorphins giving you that feel-good temporary high. However, it also makes you dependent on it because of its addictive properties. Withdrawal from alcohol also induces panic attacks.

Another destructive endorphin-inducing activity is sex. Keep away from anything that increases your dependability for relief. Instead of freeing you, it only introduces you to a different master. Take on positive hobbies and habits.

It is Only a Panic Attack, Not a Death Trap

When going through a panic attack, remind yourself that it is just a nervous system reaction. It is going to pass. Do not become alarmed by the attack. Now that you know the signs and how long it lasts, take charge of the situation. You have the power to control your body. Therefore, go ahead and conquer this dragon.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.