Three Steps for Dealing with Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are usually initiated by a triggering thought or collection of thoughts that are anxiety-provoking in nature. These thoughts then cause an overly exaggerated anxiety response in the body (choking sensations, dizziness, tightness, tingling, etc). These physical sensations are then often misinterpreted as serious physical problems or are perceived as being a sign that the person is losing control and might end up getting hurt, hurting someone else, or causing an embarrassing situation in public.

Panic attacks can come on suddenly and seemingly with no explanation or reason. Follow these easy steps to increase your coping with panic attacks.

1. Go to the doctor. Tell the doctor about the physical symptoms and sensations you are experiencing that you think are panic attack symptoms.

This could be shortness of breath, pounding heart, tingling, blurry vision, sweating, shaking, dizziness, etc. This step in panic attack management is very important because it rules out any real medical conditions that may be causing your physical sensations. Once you get a clean bill of health from the doctor, you will know for sure that what you are experiencing is anxiety related.

2. As soon as you start experiencing symptoms of a panic attack, tell yourself “This is just anxiety and it cannot hurt me. This is not a serious medical condition. I’m going to be ok and I’m NOT going to go crazy.” Often times panic attacks begin as physical sensations such as the following:

  • Tingling sensations in any part of the body, particularly in the hands and arms, often mistaken for signs of stroke or heart attack.
  • Shortness of breath, tight chest muscles, pain in the chest.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness to the point where you feel you might faint.
  • Fuzzy vision, racing heart, feeling that you are not real or that you are in a movie.

This is why it is most important to get a check up, and explain to the doctor the nature of your physical sensations during a panic attack; to rule out medical causes. Once you have done this, you will be able to trust your own words here that you are going to be ok.

3.  Get to a quiet, safe place where you can be alone or with a friend you trust. Inhale deeply, hold your breath for 5-7 seconds, and then exhale slowly. Inhale deeply again, and as you do so, tighten the muscles of your arms and make a fist. Hold your breath for 5-7 seconds again, and as you exhale slowly, release the tension in your arms, open your fists. Do this at least 5 times. Tensing and releasing a muscle will cause it to automatically relax. Much of why panic attacks occur has to do with anxiety in the body. Your brain often misinterprets your body’s exaggerated anxiety response as real anxiety, and a signal that something is really wrong. From there the anxiety escalates both physically and psychologically and a panic attack happens. Tensing and relaxing your muscles while deep breathing addresses the anxiety in your body.

Related Articles:
The Power of Panic Attacks
The Anxious or Agitated Experience of Depression
Traumatic Events in the News & Our Collective Apathy

© Copyright 2011 by Negar Khaefi, MFT, therapist in Los Angeles, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tonya


    November 23rd, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    For me a panic attack is something that I just have to talk myself through and tell myself that it will be ok. Kind of do some quiet time and some breathing exercises to get me refocused on the here and now, and not the panic and anxiety that I amy have felt before.

  • george


    November 24th, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    I have never experienced having a panic attack that I know of, and I guess from having talked to others who have experienced this I am glad of that. Does anyone know what necessarily causes this in some people, and why some are affected and some are not?

  • L.T


    November 25th, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    Never have I experienced a panic attack but once saw a friend go through it.And really,it was bad.He was sweating and had difficulty breathing. We were all very scared but a trip to the doctor’s office dispelled all fears and thankfully the doctor took good care of him and he’s doing fine now.It was the only time he had a panic attack.

  • Terry


    November 25th, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    I’ve got the solution! Deep breaths, good meds, and awesome wine!

  • NikkiG


    November 27th, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    The first time that I had a panic attack, which was right after the time that my sister died, I literally thought that I was having a heart attack. My heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest, I was sweating and could not breathe. I had to get my husband to get me to the ER because I thought that this was it. I did not have any doctors or nurses with much of a bedside manner that day, but they did reassure me that I was not going to die and along with that gave me the best referral out to a psychiatrist. That alone is what I think saved my life. That gave me someone safe to talk to about the emotions that I had been having since sister Dottie died, as I could not talk to my parents without the fear of upsetting them too. He helped me to get my focus back on my life and the good things that she and I had the time to share together instead of only focusing on the sadness of her being gone. And yes he gave me some things to try if I ever felt this anxiety and stress start to build again, which I sometimes do especially in the holiday season when the loss is even more profound.

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