Panic attacks can be overwhelming—with random waves of fear, stress, and dread, leaving you uncomfortable and even temporarily immobilized.

The good thing is that simple strategies, like taking deep breaths, can help you manage most panic attack episodes.

Here we discuss the most common symptoms of panic attacks and the most effective management strategies according to medical consensus.

What Is a Panic Attack

A panic attack is a sudden burst of extreme fear that manifests in intense physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, chest pain, increased heart rate, heavy breathing, and shortness of breath.

It may look like a heart attack, but unlike heart attacks, panic attacks are quite common with as many as 13% of people suffering a panic episode at least once in their life [1]. Panic attacks are very common because modern society is very stressful. Over half of the modern population suffers a degree of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Over half of the population has some degree of stress and anxiety

Panic attacks are triggered by external factors, which can range from severe to mild stressors such as surviving a road accident, failing to meet work deadlines, giving a presentation, or dealing with bills.

Anxiety ICD 10

The ICD (International Classification for Diseases) is the governing body responsible for globally identifying disease and health conditions. Several codes, such as the ICD-10 (revision ten), make it easier for health practitioners to identify and relay the type and scope of condition they are dealing with..

Under the ICD 10 set of codes, the F41.0 code is used for anxiety and panic attacks. Code F41.9 is used when the condition is identified to be anxiety related but it’s scope isn’t quite clear.

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?

Panic attacks feel like repetitive surges of fear washing over their victim. Many people lose control over their bodily functions such as breathing, focus, and mobility, with most victims describing a choking feeling and chest pressure.

Although not fatal, many people often mistake the episode for a heart attack as their heart beats faster than usual during the ordeal. Hot flushes is another common symptom that typically precedes lightheadedness and fainting. You may also experience churning in your stomach, making you feel nauseated.

How Long Does a Panic Attack Last?

On average, a panic attack lasts roughly 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the stress trigger and your personal tolerance. On rare occasions, you may experience a panic attack that lasts up to an hour or more.

What to Do During a Panic Attack

If you or your loved one struggles with anxiety attacks, here are some practical techniques you may use to manage an episode:

  • Stay in the present: When you focus on the present, you help stay attuned and align your thoughts, allowing better control over any intense reactions.
  • Move away from hazardous objects: During a panic attack, victims are susceptible to fainting and falling. Try to get away from anything that can cause injury, such as table edges, sharp tools, etc.
  • Move to an open area: Panic attack victims may experience difficulty in breathing and dizziness. Move to an open area such as an outdoor field or a driveway to allow more oxygen to flow into the body. Loosen any tight clothing to allow better air movement.

Tips on How to Stop a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are unpleasant, the sooner they pass, the better for you. In conjunction with the three strategies listed above, below are more tips to help you limit the duration of a panic episode.

1. Take Deep Breaths

By controlling your breathing, you're less susceptible to hyperventilating. Hyperventilation, if unaddressed, makes people lose focus, enhances the panic, worsening the episode.

Start by taking deep breaths through your mouth and feel the air slowly fill up your chest, then slowly exhale. Try counting down from five with each breath as this will help regulate your breathing, calming your mind.

2. Close Your Eyes

When you close your eyes, you focus less on the environment, which could be the likely cause of your trigger.

By diverting your attention elsewhere, you help stave off your panic attack and simultaneously block out any negative influences that can cause it to worsen. This helps maintain control over your symptoms and makes it easier to regulate your breathing.

3. Recognize That You're Having a Panic Attack

Panic attacks may randomly take over a person's rational thoughts, replacing them with the feeling of anxiety and fear. By recognizing that you're experiencing an episode instead of something severe as a heart attack, you help ground your thoughts and feed yourself on optimism.

In turn, this takes away any impending thoughts of doom, reassuring you that your life is not in danger.

4. Make Use of Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Muscle relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, minimizes physical symptoms such as trembling and muscle spasms. Start by consciously focusing on each twitching organ, such as your fingers, and work your way up to the rest of the organs.

You may be tempted to focus on the more adversely affected areas of your body, but that isn’t usually the best approach. Begin with the least affected organs. They are usually faster to control and the quick recovery will encourage you when you take on the more affected organs.

Learn how each muscle moves during your panic attack and try to relax them. With enough practice, you can effectively learn how to stop a panic attack as soon as it manifests.

5. Benzodiazepine Medications

While most approaches to managing panic attacks involve non-medicative approaches, benzodiazepine pills are an effective medication to stop an attack before it peaks.

Because episodes may be sudden, as is the case with the Dan Harris Panic Attack, having a stash of benzodiazepine tablets such as Xanax will help stop panic attacks right on their tracks.

Benzodiazepines are highly addictive, so only take them per the doctor’s instructions.

How to Calm Down From a Panic Attack

Panic attacks can leave victims feeling disoriented, scared, and unable to regain composure. If you or your loved one experiences a panic attack, here’s how you can calm them down, and restore them to normal function.

1. Take a Nap

Panic attacks can be both mentally and physically draining. Resting can make you feel better, refreshed, and revitalized. It can also help you forget the emotional anguish experienced during your panic attack.

If you’re at work, excuse yourself and take a twenty-minute nap in your car or staff room. In Dan Harris Panic Attack's case, it was challenging to leave the room while broadcasting which led to his complete episode on air.

2. Take a Walk

Getting some physical exercise such as going on a walk around the block can divert your attention from the recent episode. If you're still feeling shaken up, consider getting a colleague or friend to accompany you, as this will help bring you back to your senses and ease your nerves.

3. Meditate

Meditation is a good strategy for training your mind to focus and can also help alleviate some physical and psychological symptoms of panic attacks [2]. It’s hard to get into deep meditation during an episode, so make meditation a habit and train your mind. When an attack is triggered, the discipline to align and realign your thoughts, obtained from meditation, will prove useful.

In the book 10% Happier, Daniel Harris speaks about how he uses daily meditation as a tool to curb insecurities and anxiety, both of which caused his panic attack in 2004  [3].

4. Eat Well

Magnesium rich diets can ease the effects of anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Aim to consume whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to replenish your energy and maintain blood sugar, preventing you from feeling giddy and worsen your anxiety [4].

A recent journal reviewed that low magnesium diets tend to increase anxiety-related characteristics in mice [5]. Consider foods rich in magnesium, such as leafy greens, spinach, kale, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.

Magnesium-rich foods significantly reduce anxiety

Other anxiety-calming foods and diets include:

  • Zinc sources such as liver, beef, egg, and cashew are proven to cure symptoms of anxiety disorder in rodents [6].
  • Omega-3 fatty acids in fish. A study by the National Library of Medicine reviewed that omega-3 supplementation can lower anxiety and inflammation in humans [7].

How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

Someone experiencing panic attack symptoms may be increasingly restless, anxious, and unable to think clearly, causing them to spiral further into chaos and dread. If you recognize such a person during an episode, you can help relax them by doing the following:

  • Communicate positively and reassure the person that all will be well.
  • Avoid lengthy sentences and speak to them in short and simple words.
  • Make your moves predictable to avoid startling them.
  • Be present with the person and comfort them.
  • Encourage the person to participate in breathing exercises with you to help stabilize their irregular breathing and heart rate.
  • Offer medicine if available or ask if they have an anxiety disorder prescription.
  • Ask the person what they need and offer to help them.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Calm Down From a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks and panic disorder can incur extreme physical symptoms over the victim's body, such as shortness of breath limiting the brain's oxygen supply. This can quickly get out of control and cause more fear, anxiety, and panic, resulting in the person fainting or collapsing. To prevent this, here are a few relaxation methods to reduce panic attacks.

  • Drink chamomile tea: Herbal teas such as chamomile are great anxiety treatment options valued as relaxants since the ancient Chinese dynasty. A recent study reviewed that chamomile can treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and minimize seizures from panic attacks [8].
  • Monitor your breathing: Find a comfortable place and breathe in, and gently exhale a few times to reduce any discomfort after suffering from a manic episode. Deep breathing will recenter your focus and may help ease a pounding heart.
  • Consider therapy: If you find it hard to cope with frequent attacks and panic disorder symptoms on your own, consider seeking medical advice and treatment from an accredited professional. They may help you identify panic triggers and show you ways to improve your mental health.

Panic Attack: What to Do?

When panic attacks happen, the body automatically jumps into "fight or flight" mode causing muscles to tense up. Try letting go of this tension by allowing it to pass in the moment or through exercise.

Suppose your shoulders are stiff, try rolling them back to loosen them or do a few reps of shoulder lifts to help ease tensed muscles. This can also include unclenching the jaw, hamstrings, glutes, and fists as these muscles typically tense up.

Next, take time to align your thoughts and think positively by doing something like repeatedly chanting a mantra or going to a mirror and reciting an affirmation such as "I will pass through this easily" or "I am strong" until things feel better.

Alternately, if you're still experiencing dreadful feelings or are shaken up by the event, then pass by your local healthcare facility for medical advice and medication treatment.

Until your condition is reviewed, you may have to identify your triggers and try to get things under control. For this purpose, consider online therapy sites such as Betterhelp and Talkspace to help you get to know the root of your high functioning anxiety.

How Long Can a Panic Attack Last?

Panic attacks typically last between 5 and 10 minutes but can last up to 20-60 minutes, depending on the individual.

People who don't exercise regularly and are constantly stressed are prone to experiencing frequent symptoms that occur several times weekly.

Conclusion

While they don't endanger your life, panic attacks can be something worth avoiding by eating right, doing exercise, and understanding how to cope with stress triggers.

There are also plenty of treatment options available to alleviate symptoms and help people regain control over their bodily functions.

By adopting some of the above strategies on time, you can endorse a healthy and well-rounded life away from the stress and feelings of a panic disorder while improving your mental health.

References:

  1. de Jonge, Peter, et al. “Cross-National Epidemiology of Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks in the World Mental Health Surveys.” Depression and Anxiety, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5143159/.
  2. “Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 20 Nov. 2020, adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/mindfulness-meditation-anxiety.
  3. Gross, Terry. “Anxious? Meditation Can Help You 'Relax Into The Uncertainty' Of The Pandemic.” NPR, NPR, 19 May 2020, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/19/858551813/anxious-meditation-can-help-you-relax-into-the-uncertainty-of-the-pandemic.
  4. “Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety.” Harvard Health Blog, 29 Aug. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441.
  5. Sartori, S B, et al. “Magnesium Deficiency Induces Anxiety and HPA Axis Dysregulation: Modulation by Therapeutic Drug Treatment.” Neuropharmacology, Pergamon Press, Jan. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864/.
  6. HN;, Torabi M;Kesmati M;Harooni HE;Varzi. “Effects of Nano and Conventional Zinc Oxide on Anxiety-like Behavior in Male Rats.” Indian Journal of Pharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24130388/.
  7. Kiecolt-Glaser JK;Belury MA;Andridge R;Malarkey WB;Glaser R; “Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Inflammation and Anxiety in Medical Students: a Randomized Controlled Trial.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21784145/.
  8. Srivastava, Janmejai K, et al. “Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine of the Past with Bright Future.” Molecular Medicine Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Nov. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/.
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