An Expert Guide To Dealing With A Panic Attack
An Expert Guide To Dealing With A Panic Attack

An Expert Guide To Dealing With A Panic Attack

Anyone who’s experienced a panic attack will tell you how debilitating they can be. Often triggered by specific situations or emotions, they can also happen at random – and it’s thought up to a third of us will experience a panic attack or anxiety disorder at some point. To help you know what to expect, we spoke to the experts…
By Tor West


Dr Sohom Das, forensic psychiatrist & author of In Two Minds

Use Your Breath

“A panic attack is like your normal healthy fear response, but if it was on steroids. When we sense danger or stress, we respond physically and mentally with an ancient inbuilt reflex system that helped our ancestors survive. These gear the body up for action, usually in the form of flight. Panic attacks occur when this reaction gets out of control. It no longer helps us deal with a stressful situation, and instead cripples our functioning. One of the most effective techniques to recalibrate yourself during a panic attack is to focus on the breath. Hyperventilating sends increasing panic signals to the body which can cause a vicious cycle, so try to force yourself to breathe in and out slowly, counting to three. If you can, count higher each time.” 

Get to know your own responses to stress and MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR TRIGGERS. You have MORE CONTROL than you think.

Distract Yourself

“Any strategy that involves distracting yourself can help, even just for a few minutes until the sensation passes and the adrenaline rush subsides. This could be as simple as eating a mint or doing something on your phone, such as playing chess or doing a sudoku. However, I often tell my patients that avoiding situations that trigger a panic attack is a double-edged sword. It may decrease the number and intensity of panic attacks in the short term, but it can also impact on your overall functioning (e.g. discouraging you from socialising), making it harder to eventually overcome fear of that situation in the long term.”

Keep An Open Mind

“It may sound like a cliché, but help is out there. And although the basic core treatment for anxiety and panic is much the same, it’s easier than ever to access this, especially if you’re willing to try new approaches. There are self-help workbooks and official NHS apps, which help with a range of therapies, such as CBT. Don’t dismiss an app – they can be incredibly effective. You may miss out on face-to-face contact, but on the plus side, you can fit treatment around your own schedule and some people find it more therapeutic not to have to discuss issues with a stranger.”



Alejandra Sarmiento, psychotherapist

Trick The Brain

“We can’t control the mind with the mind. In fact, so many of our problems are exacerbated by over-analysis or catastrophic thinking. It is much more effective to aim to regulate our nervous system and turn off the stress response. To do this, we must trick the brain into activating the ‘rest and digest’ response of our nervous system. A simple way to do this is to eat something – it could be chewing some gum or sucking a boiled sweet. Another trick is the ‘physiological sigh’ – inhale twice through your nose then exhale slowly through the mouth and repeat several times. This will decrease the level of oxygen in the body and increase carbon dioxide, signalling to the brain you are safe, and the stress response no longer needs to be activated. Another trick is to move your eyes from side to side quickly. Moving our eyes from side to side, not up or down, triggers the suppression of the amygdala, which is the fear centre in the brain. It may look a little strange, but it is highly effective in calming down our fear response.”

Anxiety is an IRRATIONAL FEAR. Often, it's JUST A FEELING and you are in no real danger.

Know You’re In Control

“Remember we mustn’t always believe what we feel. Emotions are data, not directives. Get to know your own responses to stress and make friends with your triggers. Our brains are wired for survival, not happiness. This means that the brain is constantly trying to keep you safe. But the brain is just part of the puzzle. Panic attacks pass, anxiety subsides. Ultimately, you have much more control than you think.”



Lisa Butcher, hypnotherapist, reiki master & shamanic practitioner

Understand Your Emotions

“It can be helpful to ask yourself what has triggered your anxiety, then ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen in that situation is. Are your feelings based on reality or your imagination? Remember, anxiety lives in the past or future, it has nothing to do with the present moment. It’s an irrational fear. Often, it’s just a feeling and you are in no real danger.”

Try The TIPP Technique

“If you are in the middle of a panic attack and are near a sink, fill it will ice cold water. Put your face in the water and hold for 20 seconds and then take two or three deep breaths. Repeat this three times, then do star jumps for 60 seconds. Then, sit quietly and take 20 long, deep breaths, breathing in for five and out for seven. This technique is called TIPP – it stands for temperature, intense exercise, pace breathing, and paired muscle relaxation. It might sound dramatic, but it works.”

Practise Grounding

“This is a brilliant way to get out of your head and into your body. Imagine yourself as a big oak tree, with the roots growing out the bottom of your feet, going through the different layers of the earth vertically and horizontally firmly grounding you. Now, imagine pushing the energy swirling around your head down through your body and into the earth.”

Get A Hand On Social Anxiety

“This is surprisingly common before an office party or family gathering. Before you set off, visualise where you are going and imagine walking through the door and how you feel when you’re surrounded by people. Try to picture all the people in the room. Now, imagine yourself sending love to everyone you come into contact with. The more you practise this visualisation technique, the more powerful it will be. If you imagine everyone happy to see you, it’s possible to manifest what will happen when you walk through the door. If you can switch your emotions from fear to thoughts of love and happiness, it will change your energy and the way you enter the room.”



If your panic attacks are becoming more regular, lasting longer and you feel they are impacting your day-to-day life, you can find support via the NHS here and you can find a therapist at Help is also available from several charities, including Mind, Anxiety UK and No Panic.


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