What to do when you feel a panic attack coming on

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | May 24th, 2018

A panic attack can come on suddenly and feel scary. You might feel dizzy, sweaty, terrified and completely helpless. Your heart is racing and you’re fearful of what’s happening to you. You wonder if it will ever end and if you’re ever going to get back to “normal.” So what do you do when you feeling like you’re losing control?

It seems like there’s no easy answer to this question, but there are things that you can do to help yourself get through a panic attack. Panic attacks are stressful, there’s no doubt about that.

It’s not your fault

The first thing to remember when you start to feel a panic attack coming on is that this is not within your control. You didn’t cause it to happen. Your body and mind decided that there was imminent danger and they are trying to protect you from a potential threat. Panic is a mental health issue, just like depression or bipolar disorder.

Now that you know it’s not your fault, tell yourself in your head “this is a panic attack.” You can even say it out loud if you need to. Some people find that verbalizing it aloud makes them feel more grounded in the moment. When you identify what you’re experiencing, it helps you to know how to cope. You’ve likely been through this before and therefore you know you can get through it.

Don’t run from panic attacks

The more you try to avoid panic, the worse it gets. Don’t run away from it, but rather embrace it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable but accepting your mental state is crucial in order to make it through a panic attack.


Part of the reason you experience physical symptoms associated with panic is that you forget to breathe. Lack of oxygen to the brain causes dizziness, feeling faint and numbness and tingling in the body. Take back control of your mind and body by choosing to breathe. Wherever you are in this moment, close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Your breath reminds you that there’s something you’re able to control.

Go outside

Panic can make you feel like the walls in the room are closing in. As soon as you feel that uncomfortable feeling coming on, go outside and breathe some fresh air. This immediately resets your brain and communicates to your body to calm down as well. Although you might not have control over your physical symptoms, getting oxygen to where it needs to go will help to alleviate uncomfortable sensations in your body. And where can you find the most oxygen? In the outside world! So get out there and breathe some air.

Name five things you see

Your mind is completely overwhelmed and over stimulated when you’re having a panic attack. So here’s a grounding exercise you can do to help your brain calm down. Name five things you see around you. These could be objects, people or even colors. Say those things out loud or in your head. You can say: red, green, purple, blue and yellow. Saying these simple colors aloud gives your brain something to focus on rather than the exhausting feeling of panic.

You can get through this!

Finally, the most important thing to tell yourself when panicking is: I can do this.

And keep in mind that panic doesn’t last forever. You will get relief, but it might take some time. Be patient with yourself and accept your feelings. I promise you, they will pass.

Read more about panic and anxiety here:


Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

About the author:

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.

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