A Psychologist's 5 Essential Tips For Stopping A Panic Attack

Doctor of Clinical Psychology By Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach who received her clinical psychology doctorate from University College London. She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, Business Insider, and elsewhere..

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Summertime can be a hotbed for panic attacks. Think poorly ventilated buildings, stuffy trains, and crowded places. Panic attacks are like Chinese finger traps—the more we fight them, the tighter they become. But we can't just ignore them either.

A key part of my work as a psychologist is helping people tackle the root of a panic attack. When a panic attack arises, having the tools to handle it is the most important thing. That's where simple, memorable techniques are lifesavers. We can implement them easily, and with every successful conquest, we feel more confident. Here are some tips I've learned through my work and from the holistic practitioners I work with:

1. Activate your Heart Protector.

Activating the Heart Protector acupoint (Pericardium 6) can help calm your mind and soothe overwhelming anxiety, especially if you have a feeling of tightness of pain in your chest. This spot is located three fingers down from your wrist. To activate it, press firmly in between the tendons.

According to my friend and Qigong instructor Em Burnett, the Heart Protector helps us to communicate our feelings and protects us from emotional pain. By activating it, we open up the space around our heart and bring focus back to the body.

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2. Anchor yourself in the now.

One of the scariest and most dangerous things about a panic attack is that we become trapped in our heads. We believe that we may die, have a heart attack, or be laughed at by others—everything is interpreted through a catastrophic filter. These additional stressors compound our anxiety, which causes us to disconnect from the present moment and our bodies even further.

To counter this, always have a totem that anchors you in the now. My clients have successfully used pictures of someone that calms them down, set on their phone's lock screen to a certain calming image; carried a little toy that symbolizes hope; or played extremely loud music. Another one I recommend is using essential oils, such as lavender, clary sage, and angelica.

3. Reconnect your heart and brain.

Place both hands gently on your heart, and tune into the feeling of warmth in your hands. Focus more deeply on your heart, and breathe slowly into it. Take an inhale of seven counts, then an exhale of another seven; repeat until your breathing slows. Imagine breathing your favorite color into your heart, infusing this into every cell in your body. Think about what person or thing this color reminds you of. When your breathing has settled, imagine this person or thing close to you, so you can remember it in future.

My friend and EFT/Matrix Reimprinting practitioner Benita Scott says that although the heart and brain communicate with each other, the true power lies with the heart. Therefore, regulating the heart can calm the brain down, decreasing our cortisol levels while increasing our DHEA (vitality hormone) levels. The body remembers how to do this more with each panic attack, increasing our sense of competence.

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4. Breathe deeply and purposefully, without forcing it.

Allow your breath to come in naturally, feel it filling up your lower lungs and your diaphragm. Put your hand on your stomach. Breathe in to the count of seven, then feel your lungs and diaphragm empty to another count of seven. During panic attacks, we tend to breathe quick, shallow breaths into our upper lungs, causing hyperventilation. When we breathe purposefully, we re-sync the connection between our respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

5. Acknowledge what's going on.

We feed our panic attacks by pretending they don't exist. Often, anxiety is our body's way of hollering at us that something in our life's got to change, and we give panic a loudspeaker by disregarding our experiences. If you're especially self-critical, it's easier to deny what's going on. But try telling yourself this slowly, "I am having a panic attack right now. I am feeling [this sensation] in [this body part], and it doesn't feel good. I love and accept myself anyway, and I want to help myself to heal." Breathe deeply as you say this.

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Final notes:

1. Save this list so you can refer to it easily.

2. Remember, practicing builds competence, and it will help you start to feel more empowered.

3. In summer, hydration is also important—you can achieve this by consuming more water and juices and/or less alcohol and caffeine.

4. Consider working with a professional to help you conquer your panic attacks, so you can start creating and living the life you truly desire.

5. If you have a friend who suffers from panic attacks, pass this on to them. Sharing is caring!

Related read: How To Tell If You Should Offer Advice To A Friend—Or Keep Quiet

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