Stop panic attacks in five simple steps

How to stop panic attacks? They are so overwhelming and terrifying that you may feel like you would do almost anything if it would stop your panic attacks for good. Like most sufferers, an end to panic attacks is probably right at the top of your wish list, way ahead of winning the lottery, a new car or even finding true love, because without good health how could you really enjoy those things anyway?

During an attack you may find yourself frantically pacing the floor or tensing every muscle to prevent being overwhelmed by the sensations. Everything in your body tells you that you have to fight or try to run away from your symptoms. This is a completely normal reaction.

The brain, in its efforts at self preservation (which is its number one priority) thinks there is some terrible danger and primes your whole body to either fight it or run away from it. But it’s the symptoms themselves that feel so dangerous! Of course we want to try and fight them or run away from them so urgently. How could we possibly consider trying anything else?

It feels so completely contrary to every instinct to surrender and relax the body when we are about to have a panic attack or are feeling very anxious. It’s like saying – lie down in front of that roaring tiger that's just about to leap on you and it magically will disappear.

The thing is, this is exactly what will happen - it will stop panic attacks within seconds - they will disappear. The tiger becomes a kitten.

But ... how can you find a way to do this - the seemingly impossible?

The five step process to stop panic attacks

  1. Know it's safe
  2. Rag doll
  3. Breathe out
  4. Accept
  5. Let go

Later, you can memorise this list and as you are coping with panic attacks, it will be your first thought every time one threatens or you are starting to feel overwhelmed by anxiety. But first, let's look at it a little more closely:

1. The first thing is to know that this process is completely safe. There is only one situation when this would not be appropriate and that is when you are facing actual physical danger i.e. in front of a real leaping tiger, hanging onto the edge of a cliff etc. It is a process that will serve you well in many different situations, not just an oncoming panic attack. No-one ever was harmed by relaxing - except in front of the real leaping tiger and so on of course :)

2. Rag doll is another way of saying relax your body. But thinking about relaxing your body or even how to relax your body when you're trying to stop a panic attack can be very challenging. That's why this is a useful visual image. A rag doll is completely floppy, so when you 'rag doll' your body every part of you from head to toes becomes soft and floppy like a much loved soft toy.

At the same time, this is sending a very strong message to the brain that it's ok to turn off the red alert. The brain is very literal. It works on the premise that if the body is tense there must be danger, and so sends out stress chemicals to prepare for the emergency. If the body is relaxed, well there can't be anything to be worried about so the emergency must be over, or there was never one in the first place.

Practise 'rag dolling' regularly throughout the day, not just when an attack threatens. This will reinforce the message to the brain that everything is ok and it doesn't need to make you tense and ready for danger anymore. It will also make it easier to do if a panic attack feels imminent. Yoga Nidra deep relaxation is an excellent way to turn off the red alert signals and to learn what relaxation feels like.

3. Breathe out. As you rag doll, breathe out. Of course you have to breathe in as well, but focus more on long, slow out breaths as much as possible. Breathe out the tension. There is the tendency to start shallow breathing and never fully exhaling in a panic attack or when anxious. This breathing pattern by itself can create a panic attack. Breathing properly and practising some simple breathing exercises can be enormously helpful.

4. Accept your symptoms, exactly as they are. Allow them to be there. It's extremely unpleasant but it's ok to be feeling like this. You have these symptoms because your physiology is out of balance at the moment. It may take some time to get back in balance again, depending on how long you've been experiencing panic and anxiety attacks.

The process of getting back in balance again is extremely logical and straightforward (even if it's not necessarily 'easy'). Just tell yourself that you feel like this because you aren't better yet, but that you are doing what you need to do to get better. It's ok to have these symptoms in the meantime and they will get less and less all the time.

5. Let go of your focus on your symptoms. Let go of resistance to your symptoms. Let go of thoughts of catastrophe and thoughts about your symptoms. Just let go in every way you can and get on with other things knowing that this will pass. Staying occupied with non-stressful activities can help this process.

Steps 4 & 5, and tips for panic attacks in general, will tend to be a work in progress in your life overall. They go deeper to the root causes of panic attacks and causes of anxiety as a whole.

The beginning of a journey of recovery...

If you have been coping with panic attacks for some time, it is quite likely that you will experience some residual anxious feelings even when you have mastered how to stop panic attacks. It will most likely have taken some time to get to the point where you are prone to these attacks and so it may take some time to really feel 'normal' again. But learning how to stop panic attacks is the most important step.

The great news is that there is so much you can do to support your recovery from panic and anxiety disorders and that it is completely achievable. Anxiety Unravelled has lots of great tips for panic attacks, masses of information on natural treatments and remedies, meditation techniques and yoga for anxiety, even how your diet and lifestyle can help reduce your anxiety levels. Even making a few small changes will make a big difference. It will be my pleasure to help support you along the way.