Panic words

If you think you might be having a panic attack, this article is for you. Be reassured that while you might be feeling as though you’re about to die, there is nothing dangerous about a panic attack and you are actually quite safe. Some common symptoms of a panic attack include a rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, hyperventilation, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, dry heaving, shakiness, change in body temperature, feelings of losing control, fear of dying and a sense of impending doom. While I know you would love to know how to stop a panic attack, the truth is that usually once a panic attack starts, there’s not much you can do to stop it. However, you can absolutely learn to how cope with it while it passes through your body. Again, it can absolutely feel very scary and uncomfortable but it’s important to remember that while it may feel very unpleasant, it is not harmful. Here are 7 things you can do to help yourself cope if you’re having a panic attack.

Diaphragmatic belly breathing

Place your hand on your belly, take a deep breath in and ensure that your belly expands on your inhale and deflates on the exhale. Make your inhale last for 4 counts and the exhale last for 8 counts. Breathing in this manner will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is the relaxation nervous system. Continuing to breathe like this will eventually lower your panic symptoms and prevent your panic attack from getting worse.

*In some instances, especially for those who are hyperventilating, a breathing technique should not be your first skill because focusing on your breathing may actually make the hyperventilation temporarily worse.


Use your 5 senses to engage with your current environment. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Focus your full attention and senses on these things. It’s often helpful to touch something soft and warm or to smell something with a strong scent such as cinnamon. This is known as grounding. Engaging your 5 senses sends signals to your brain that you’re safe and eventually the panic attack will subside as a result.


If you are alone, force yourself to slowly sing a simple song or your favorite song. Singing reduces cortisol in the bloodstream and leads to oxytocin and endorphin release, all of which will work to lessen panic symptoms. Singing can also help you regulate your breathing without being overly focused on it and as you read above, slow and deep breathing can trigger your calming nervous system.

Positive Self Talk & Riding the wave

Remind yourself that you are not in danger. Identify the symptoms you are experiencing, reassure yourself that it’s not a medical crisis and that you are simply having a panic attack. For example, “I can feel my heart racing and I feel dizzy but I know that I am not in any danger and that these symptoms are going to pass”. All panic attacks behave like a wave. They have a beginning, peak and ending. No one has ever had a panic attack that did not end. Imagine yourself surfing a wave. You can say to yourself “I am riding the wave of my anxiety, I think I am getting to the top of the wave and soon I will be surfing down the other side of the wave”.

Call a loved one

If you are able, call a friend or family member to speak with until the panic attack passes. Often the sound of another person’s comforting voice can be grounding enough to anchor you into a calmer state and at the least help you to feel supported while the panic waves are moving through your body. Let your loved one know that you are having a panic attack and ask if they can stay on the phone with you until it passes. Knowing that you’re not alone can also help calm your nervous system.

Ice cold water

Splashing your face continually with cold water can lower your heart rate which in turn can decrease some of the other distressing symptoms. Using cold water to regulate your anxiety is a popular DBT distress tolerance skill. You can learn more about DBT here.

Don’t Fight it

Resisting the panic attack will only make it stronger. The very act of trying to stop your panic attack sensations will cause your body to release even more adrenalin and ultimately make your panic attack symptoms stronger. What you resist will persist. Instead, approach your panic attack with acceptance and openness. You can say “hello panic attack, do your thing, I am going to just let you hang out until you decide to pass on your own”. The bottom line is that even if you do absolutely nothing, the panic attack will eventually subside and this usually happens in less than 30 minutes.

If you would like to know more about panic attack treatment in Chicago or anywhere in Illinois, our therapists are ready to help you. Contact us today!

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